Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fancy pedestrian crossing to be installed in Clovis

Notice went up that Locan Ave north of Shaw will be closed next week for construction of a crosswalk. Why does a crosswalk require a week long road closure? It's because the crosswalk (from what was shown a year ago) will be similar to the one half a mile south, which has lights embedded in the road. Those lights begin flashing when a pedestrian starts to cross. I would have liked to see a raised crosswalk as well, but as far as I know, that doesn't exist in Clovis at all, and isn't part of their toolbox.


The crossing will connect a brand new trail connection to an elementary school. The trail was built on land donated by a church, and paid for by a nearby housing developer who was allowed to fund this trail because they didn't want to fund a trail through their own property (thus decreasing lot sizes). Because the connection is certainly important, the city agreed to that. I also agree it was a decent compromise.

LOCAN AVENUE ROAD CLOSURE

Beginning Monday, 4/2/12, through Monday, 4/9/12, Locan Avenue will be closed just south of San Jose Avenue (between Barstow & Shaw). Detours will be in place to route traffic around the area during this construction of the pedestrian trail crossing for Tract 5970.
City of Clovis

If done properly, the crosswalk will include curb extensions, lights in the street, and a new overhead street light. Also there would be appropriate signs.

I can't find a single piece of documentation online, but I'll be sure to take pictures of the construction.


Here's the location. Red is the crossing, green is the trail that was recently paved. The trail is so recent it is just concrete, there has been no landscaping or lighting done. The parcel north of the trail is a water hole, and will always look ugly like that. To the right of the church is the development that funded the trail. the school is easy to identify.

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I am not sure if they will make the crossing north or south of the road. North makes sense for the school, as it's one less street crossing for the kids. Of course, both north and south are legal crosswalks. In an ideal world, the city would build both. Scratch that, in an ideal world, the entire intersection would be a raised crosswalk, with pavers instead of asphalt.

In green, what I would like to see (full curb extensions on all sides). In red, what will likely be built. In a week we'll see if my pessimism was accurate.

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The area also needs more streetlights, but that probably won't happen either. I believe the law states that the intersection needs only one light.


Here is a crosswalk a mile south, at another trail.

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You can see the lights in the pavement.

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That's probably what we'll get.

Good? Absolutely. But could be better. Even in a residential+ school zone area, it's easy to hit 50mph. I see it all the time.

----
As stated previously, my east coast weekend begins tomorrow. My flight is in 5 hours, oh joy. See you soon Newark!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Personal - Short East Coast trip

I shall be on the East Coast this weekend, hitting New Jersey on Sunday and Philadelphia on Monday. I've never been to Philly, and I understand they have a transit system that is very similar to the one in Boston, and that's something I'm quite interested in experiencing. It's a very short trip, so I do hope to see as much as possible in the free time I have.

Any suggestions on something I must see? I arrive in Newark at 6pm Saturday and depart from Philly at 6am Tuesday.


Also, you may have noticed I haven't been posting as frequently as usual this past couple of weeks. I know, it's been hard. I have 8 or so posts partially written but I keep not having time to finish them off. Not good, not good. Don't even ask me the last time I vacuumed, if you think my blogging has been slow, imagine how I've prioritized less pleasant activities...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pro-HSR radio ad in Fresno

The Fresno Bee reports that a new ad will be airing on local radio featuring former Mayor of Fresno Alan Autry (Republican). The ad also features comedian Will Durst.

You can listen to the ad here.

The ad touches on a few key points:

-Pro-central valley, local ad, local pride.

-Touches on ways that the media and the population of LA and the Bay area frequently crap on the valley, and the way politicians have been fighting to take the money away.

-Talks about the very real brain drain, as young people who want real careers have no choice but to look for opportunity elsewhere.

-Uses a well known (locally), and Republican, spokesperson .

-Addresses "train to nowhere" and how saying that about a city that holds over a million in its metro area is ludicrous, as it essentially means the area is full of nobodies.

-Talks about thousands of construction jobs.

-Mentions thousands of future jobs created by making the valley "close" to economic centers.

And finally, the ad is 99% positive. No crapping on farmers, no dissing naysayers, just positivity.


It's a good ad, and I hope it runs on many radio stations.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Endless Expo delays coming to an end...?

I've written about construction progress on the Expo line in LA twice before. Both times it was to complain about the amazing continuous delays faced by the line. The expo line is a new light rail line that will connect downtown LA, USC, Century City and (eventually) Santa Monica. The line was supposed to open in 2010 but hasn't yet.

Now a date has finally been announced, but Metro is keeping with the theme of treating their shiny new rail line as some kind of Disney attraction, and not a critical piece of transportation. They've chosen a launch date that actually minimizes the lines use.

Lets review:

Original opening date: June 2010
Delayed to late 2010
Then early 2011, possibly by April for the inaugural festival of books at USC
From there, delayed into summer 2011.
Finally given a "finalized" opening date of November 15, where the budget alocated the money needed to run the line.

In September I talked about how the line might miss 2011 completely. That was correct. Here was the wost case scenario:
And now rumors are running around that Metro may be able to hit the November 15 start date....but they're choosing not to.

That's right, after over a year of contractor delays, now it's the operating agency wanting to hold service. And shockingly, the reason seems to be that they don't want to launch when the service would be wildly used.

I'm not even kidding. Metro is looking to avoid ridership by delaying service until March of 2012.

I wrote that in September. here we are almost exactly 6 months later, and I could be writing the same thing today.


In November I confirmed that 2011 was out of the question, and that March scenario was coming to light.

As such, it is now a 2012 opening, and probably a late February one at that. What's another month or two amongst friends? You see, it became clear a very long time ago that the Los Angeles authorities don't see transit extensions as integral parts of the commute and the economy. A highway project would be rushed to open ahead of schedule. After all, jobs are on the line, and people need access ASAP.

Wouldn't you guess it, but that's also just as relevant today.

Well, Metro didn't have to sabotage their own opening, the good private contractors did. That "can you believe it" date of March 2012? Even delayed past that.

So now a date has finally been announced.


Expo Line to open to the public on Saturday, April 28


This should be exciting news, after endless delays, the line may finally open.

But the timing absolutely sucks.


Saturday April 28th is...

....after the end of the semester at USC, meaning the students don't really have the opportunity to ride the system and plan their transportation for the next semester. They COULD try expo and see if leaving the car at home makes sense for next semester, but not with the way metro is scheduling things. USC will be the prime ridership generator on the line, but metro is choosing to minimize their "advertising" impact by not serving the students before they leave for the summer.

....a week after the enormous festival of books in expo park. Tens of thousands are expected to attend. Parking will be tight. People will be looking for any alternative mode of transportation....but metro won't provide it. Visitors will get to enjoy test vehicles gliding by, but not opening their doors to riders.

Basically, a transit system that's doing everything it can to minimize ridership.

Yes, metro can fill endless pages with excuses.

Lets look at some excuses
"Launching on a high ridership weekend might be a problem if there are service delays. That's bad press".

Except expo will be undertaking 5 weeks of pre-revenue service, which involves running the line as it would on any day, but not letting passengers on. And that's after 6 full months of other testing. If that's not enough to ensure things will operate smoothly....

"We can't balance the high demand of a festival and an inauguration"

Worst excuse ever. If expo can't handle events in 2012, then it was built wrong. What happens when there's an event in 2015? 2020? The city will keep growing, there will be more riders.

The point of public transit is to get ridden and handle large crowds. By skipping a big event, metro is both saying that they don't care about actually serving the taxpayer, and that they built a badly designed system.


Of course, all this gives metro the benefit of the doubt that they actually will get things open by the end of April. I for one wouldn't hold my breath. Sure, they've held their big, extra public press release with the mayor....but this is an organization that has managed to screw things up every step of the way. Botching an official launch date? Sounds like something right up their alley.


Oh, and by the way....if this post feels too negative, it absolutely should be. And remember, I love light rail, the technology isn't the problem, the implementation is. And the implementation here has been terrible.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bike Commuting: Route Challenges

This is an ongoing series about commuting to work by bike, sometimes. It will detail the problems I've faced, and the solutions I've found. Hopefully, it's helpful to someone out there.

Today's focus: Picking a route, sweat, shortcuts and traffic lights


-------

As I wrote recently, I am now commuting to work on bike, sometimes. In fact, I didn't even commute once on my bike last week due to a number of reasons, but I do have plenty to say about the two weeks prior. I'm going to hit the saddle again starting today.

The Route

The most important part about switching to a commute on bike is to find a suitable route. What's especially key is realizing that the roads you take on a car are unlikely to be the same ones you'd want to take on a bike. That is, a little bit of research is in order, because following the same path to work when switching modes may lead to bad results.

There are many reasons why you may want to use alternate streets. A big reason can be the lack of bike lanes on your car route. As I've mentioned too many times to count, Shaw is the big driving road in town, but without any bike facilities, it's dangerous and uncomfortable to cycle on.

So like me, you may find yourself forced to take a mile long detour just to feel safe. It's not all bad though. You may find that your longer route actually saves you time in places. On my commute, it means much shorter waits at stop lights, and I even get to take advantage of a shortcut not available to cars. The detour is certainly less stressful.


How do you find the route?

I'd suggest starting with google maps, activating the cycling mode, and seeing what it has to say.

Photobucket

It's very important to note that the cycling directions are far from perfect, and don't necessarily reflect reality. So once google suggests a route, explore it using the satellite and streetsview mode to confirm that it makes sense. Also take into account changes you've seen that haven't been added to the map, like a new traffic light or new bike lanes.

You can then move the line around to create a route suitable to real-world conditions.

Photobucket


Now that you've picked a route, test it out. If you rarely bike on road, then I suggest scoping out the path in a car, again to look for details that Google missed. Once you confirmed it's a safe route, then try it on your bike in a weekend.

Trying it on a bike will let you know of one very important thing that google won't tell you about, and you may not even notice in a car...

Hills.

That's right, that perfectly flat route you drove on? Actually not so flat. Only on bike do you come to realize that slight variances in slope on the route. These variances will play an important role on how much time you need so as to not get sweaty on your way to work.

This looks flat. But it's not. On a bike, you feel the difference, and it can be the difference between arriving cool and comfortable or overly warm to work.

Photobucket


So we have a route, and we know know it's safe, AND we know how much effort it will require. Excellent.

There's one last step, timing the route. If you live somewhere like Fresno, odds are, your job destination does NOT offer showers and such, meaning you want to minimize the amount of sweating you do. That came into play with the hill thing, but it also comes into play with the time you take to get to work.

I timed the 4 mile commute to work at an easy 15 minutes, meaning I was averaging 16mph. One problem though, that left me very sweaty, not at all suitable to work.

So try the route at a slower pace. I do my 4 mile commute in a relaxed 25 minutes, or biking at slower than 10mph. That means sweat is no longer a major issue.

I think those added 10 minutes are more than worth it.

NOTE: If the city had been so kind as to design all their roads to be accessible to bikes, my commute would only be 3 miles long, and take around 18 minutes.


Shortcuts

Another reason to scope out your trip is to find shortcuts you may not know exist. Off-road trails are the obvious one, but google does a good job of pointing them out. Of course, google isn't perfect, and it may take some sleuthing to find a secret bike trail that can save you time or simply offer a more comfortable route.

Here are a couple of other shortcuts I've noticed.

If there's something in the way that screws up the grid, there may be a shortcut available to pedestrians and bikes. Here, a bridge over the canal is available only to those on foot and bikes.

Photobucket


Sometimes, the thing in the way might simply be there to stop car traffic. As a bike, that's not a problem. One can simply going around this traffic diverter by legally using the crosswalk, a shortcut not available to people in cars.

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Parks are similar. They may require a lengthy detour in a car to get around, but trails within the park are open to those on bikes.

Photobucket



Sweat

You notice I mention sweat a few times. I sweat extremely easily, much more so than the average person. So making sure my commute was slow and relaxed was of the utmost importance to me because I do not want to be sweaty at work.

This may be different for you. Or it may not. That's why I highly advise doing the route on a real test on the weekend. Time yourself. When you arrive, sit down and wait 10 minutes to let your body process the situation, as the sweat may not come until you're done.

Of course, once you've got the timing and route down, this isn't something you need to repeat in the future. I now know exactly at what time I need to leave the house to arrive at work in the most optimal condition.

In a future installment, I will talk about other sweat strategies, including changing clothes and such.

Mind you, if your place of work offers showers...then sweat isn't an issue at all.


Things to look out for.

The clock just changed last week, so for most of you this won't be an issue, but if you do bike at night, as I do, then scoping out the route will also include making a note of where potholes and grates are, which you may not see after dark. In another post, I'll talk about lights, but even excellent lights may not pick out tricky potholes that can be hard to see even in the day.

On top of that, suburban streetlights are placed too far apart to provide continuous lights, so shadows can mask potholes and such.


Traffic Lights

Because my commute involves being relegated to a secondary street, traffic lights bring both big advantages and major headaches.

The big advantage is that there's a lot less waiting. Ironically, traffic on the major streets gets delayed for longer period of time due to the endless amount of time allocated to left turns, so people can get on and off the important avenue. Meanwhile, the left-turn cycle on a minor street might only last 6 seconds, just enough to let the one car waiting through. On Shaw, I've waited well over 30 seconds while the left turn phase was in progress in the direction I was going....but don't forget that the perpendicular traffic also gets a lengthy left turn phase as so many want to enter Shaw!

All that time adds up, meaning you might save time using the secondary route, depending on how the traffic signals in your area operate.

I will be writing about this in the near future.

Anyway, so less waiting at lights is good, so what's the bad part?


Well, because it's a secondary route, the traffic signals aren't as new or well kept as the main street.

So many times, they won't detect my bike.

This intersection, where I turn left, recently got a light, so the sensors are new and responsive. There's a bike specific sensor (the square one) but the car one is sensitive enough that it picks me up in advance and I don't even have to brake, as the light changes as I reach the crosswalk.

Photobucket
Not shown: there's a second car sensor behind this photo which activates the light before I even reach these two.



But I have no such luck at this one. A sensor is visible for those turning left, but impossible to see in the straight lane. I've tried multiple positions, moving around, etc, to no avail. This light simply won't change for my bike. I emailed the city, and they spray-painted the location where the sensor supposedly is (almost in the crosswalk) but I just can't get it to work.

So I can either run the light, or go out of the way to find the pedestrian button. I push the light on my way to work because there's a lot of cross traffic. On my way home, the sensor on the other side does work, so it's not an issue. However, if it didnt work, I would run the light as I'm always the only one around.

Photobucket



Finally, some lights are activated by cameras instead of sensors.

Photobucket


The problem here is that the timing is for cars. So this light changes as I approach the intersection. Fantastic.

Except I'm moving at 10mph, not 40mph. So the light changes to green for maybe 10 seconds to let a car cruise across the intersection.

But in those 10 seconds, I haven't even reached the intersection before it changes back to red.

And then it refuses to change again, meaning I can run the light, or push the button.



It's a pain in the ass, and it's something that shouldn't exist. Signals should be properly calibrated to change for traffic. I'm traffic, these signals should work for me.

But they don't.

Keep that in mind if you ever see someone on a bike running a light. They might be on their daily commute and know that it doesn't matter how long they wait, the light won't change for them. This may not surprise you, but I also plan on writing about that as well.


That's all for today.

The next bike commuting post will be about parking the bike at work, clothes and other gear.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bus tracker technology leads to increase in riders

A few months ago, the city of Visalia, California, implemented a system which allows the public to know the actual location of buses, so they can better plan their rides. While this technology has existed around the world for over a decade, and has been slowly arriving in cities like Boston and San Francisco in the US, Visalia is the first city in the San Joaquin valley to implement the technology.

If you expected the roll-out of the technology to make some riders happy, but not have any other effects, you'd be wrong. Data from the APTA shows that ridership took a strong bump once customers were able to find out how long they'd have to wait for a bus.

A few days ago I reported on how ridership on the Fresno bus system has fallen even as national trends show ridership should be increasing. In that same post, I noted how Bakersfield has had steady ridership.

Only Visalia showed an increase, and a strong one at that. Their economy is doing just as badly as other nearby cities, so that certainly can't explain the bump. Their routes haven't changed, and while they did open a new transfer center, how many people do you know that would say "now that the transit center has new concrete, I'm totally going to ride the bus!"

That leads me to wager that the arrival of bus tracking has had a real effect on bus ridership.

Take a look at that bump and compare the ridership to the same months a year ago.

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Fresno saw no such adjustment in ridership. Indeed, ridership keeps falling.

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The bump helped define a continued increase in ridership in Visalia, including the highest ridership numbers in the small systems history.



Something not seen in Fresno or Bakersfield.






So why is bus tracking technology important?

Transit systems in cities like Fresno like to believe their riders are forced to be customers. They falsely believe that if someone has to wait in the hot sun for 30 minutes to board a bus, then so be it, because that rider has no other choice.

Around these parts, it is said that only those without a car ride the bus. That is, folks who are too poor to afford one, folks who are disabled, or those who had their license revoked. If you have access to a car, then you will use it.

That train of thought follows that if these people have no other choice than the bus, then the service can be horrendous and they'll just have to deal with it. So these people have to wait 30 minutes in 110f weather because they can't take a car. They're going to ride, period, doesn't matter how uncomfortable things get.

But that's wrong.

Let's assume for a second that the stereotype is correct, and the only people who ride transit are those that simply can't take a car.

These people actually do have a choice to ride the bus or not. They can chose not to make the trip at all.

They can stay home and forgo preventative treatment at the doctor. They can stay home and only apply to jobs or work at job locations within walking distance. They can chose to not spend their disposable income at the movies or at restaurants.

All valid choices. All choices that do have strong negative impacts on the local economy.


The alternative to depressing the local economy by forcing people to stay home is to allow people to make every trip they want to make. It's to give them a bus system that runs during the hours they want to make the trips, and reaches the locations they want to go.

And just as importantly, is to provide a service that people want to take.

It may not be possible to run a bus every 10 minutes down every street, but what is possible is what Visalia did, and give people the power to plan their trips. We all know that bus schedules (in America) are garbage. Arrival times are uncertain, and can vary greatly due to traffic and other factors. Giving people real-time information lets them plan around the variance.

If a bus runs every 10 minutes, then you never have to wait more than 9 for a bus to arrive.

If a bus runs only once an hour, and riders know that the schedule doesnt mean anything outside of the starting point, than one is forced to arrive 15 minutes early to make damn sure they don't miss the bus if it shows up ahead of schedule. If the bus is late, that's additional time baking in the hot sun.

But with bus tracking technology, the wait can be made where the rider is most comfortable. The rider can track the bus and arrive just 2-3 minutes before the bus, even if the bus only comes once an hour. That 2-3 minute wait is actually less than one might experience if a bus came every 10 minutes and didn't offer tracking.

Giving the people the power to control their commute times by providing information is critical, and it is a pretty good way to get more people to ride.

If you don't believe me, just ask Visalia.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Results of corporate experiment in bike racks

A month ago I decided that instead of rolling my eyes at the lack of bike racks at some businesses in the Fresno area, I would be a little bit more pro-active and send out customer-complaint feedback.

I decided to only do this with corporations, because of two reasons.

1) They have more flexibility in making "changes" to their property than some mom-and-pop store leasing space in a strip mall
and
2) They supposedly have established departments and standards on how to respond to customer issues.

So why send out online feedback instead of talking to the local manager? Same reasons as above. A manager has almost no authority to approve the extravagant $250 expenditure that would be the installation of a bike rack. And also it was to gauge how the corporation as a whole handles requests by customers, and not just the local reaction.


Also, I would have assumed that if a company has enough business sense to become a nationwide mega-corporation, they would realize that a small improvement that would allow customers to shop at their store is generally a good thing. Again, a bike rack comes at the grand cost of $250 and allows two customers to stop and enter their store. A single asphalt parking space costs around $8,000. it just seems like such a small prive to pay to increase business.


Anyway, I contacted:
Taco Bell (what prompted this thing)
Lowe's
Subway
....and the Fresno County Library system.


Not a long list, no, but honestly, I haven't done much shopping in the past month, outside of supermarkets....and every supermarket I've seen has at least a basic bike rack.


BTW: Go ahead and take a wild guess at who was more responsive to their customer feedback
A) The corporations who should theoretically make it as easy as possible for customers to access their stores to increase sales, and who should provide the best experience to encourage customers to promote the brand, and thus make more profit

or

B) The government-funded library whose financing has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of happy "customers". In fact, the less visitors, the lower the costs....



Onto the results then!


Taco Bell
Contact date: February 16th

Contacted the in two ways. One was via the website they post on every single sales receipt which directs you to "tellthebell.com". I mean, if they're asking for feedback, why not give it right?

I also contacted them via the standard customer service response area on their website.

Results:
Absolutely no reply from Taco Bell and their store still has no bike racks. Seriously, not even a form-reply.

Grade: Fail.

--------------------------

Subway
Contact date: February 18th

Here things get funny.

Shortly after sending in feedback, received a system-generated email response.


Dear Mr. Sinclair,

Thank you for contacting SUBWAY® Restaurants. Your feedback is important to the SUBWAY® brand and your recent inquiry has been forwarded to the appropriate areas for further review.

Sincerely,
The Customer Care Team
SUBWAY® Restaurants

Excellent, can't wait to here what the appropriate areas have to say!


On March 6th, they did indeed reply!

Welcome to the SUBWAY® Restaurant Career Website

Please click on the link below to be directed to the application page.

Subway Application

The link will be active for 24 hours. After 24 hours, please return to www.mysubwaycareer.com to request the link again.

Should you experience trouble accessing the link, please contact webmaster@mysubwaycareer.com

Wait, what? I didn't apply for a job at Subway. I was asking a question. Unless they plan on hiring me to be their bike-rack general executive, this form reply makes absolutely no sense.

And that's the last I heard from them!

Grade: Double fail.


----------------------

Lowe's
Contact date: February 16th

I actually got a real-person reply from them! Indeed, I got a reply the very next day!


Good afternoon James,

Thank you for your email. I apologize for this experience with the stores not having bike lock ups.

In order to assist you with this issue, I will need the following information:

Your phone number
Your address

Best time to call

Once I receive your reply I will take steps to assist you.
Thank you,
Kathy J.
Lowe's Customer Care

Hm, I thought the store location was made clear when I submitted the form, so I don't see why they need my address, but anyway...

There was a brief confusion about that, so this email didn't arrive until February 28th.

Good morning James,

Thank you for your email regarding wanting bike racks.

I forwarded your email to the Clovis, CA store so management back with assistance regarding bike racks. You will receive follow up within 24 hrs.

If you need additional assistance please reply to this email.

I will be waiting for your reply.

Thank you,

Kathy J.
Lowe's Customer Care

Ok, so now we're getting somewhere. Follow-up in 24 hours? I'm excited. Even if they say "screw bike racks" that still more of a customer response than the folks at the fast-food places.

Well, 24 hours came and went. Indeed, a few days came and went. On March 4th, I got this email from them:

Thank you for your interest in a position with Lowe's.

As part of the minimum qualifications for 308012BR, Weekend Customer Service Associate II, we require an assessment(s)be completed. For your application to be considered for review, all assessments must be completed within 2 days from the date of application. Failure to complete the assessment within 2 days of application will result in your application not being considered for this position. Please click on the link below to ensure your have completed all pending assessments.

...

Please click here to complete your assessment: Lowe's Store Hiring Indicator

Good luck with the remainder of the application process.

Thank you!
Lowe's Human Resources

Are you freaking kidding me? Not only did I never apply to a job at Lowe's, but instead of being told about bike racks, I'm being threatened with failure of an application? What is this?

Well, on March 5th I got another email reminder that my application was going to time-out.

So I sent along Kathy an email asking what was going on.

And then got an email being told that sadly, they have decided to pursue other candidates for the position I'd never applied to.

Being told that I'm being rejected for a job I never even applied to? That's special. Thanks Lowe's for making me sad. :(


On March 8, I got the following email:

Good Morning James,

I apologize you have not heard back from the store about the bike racks. I have made the Senior Management aware of this issue and they will be contacting you within 24 hours, have a great day!

Thank you,
Samantha H.
Lowe's Customer Care

It's now March 14th. Obviously, I was never contacted by the senior management team.

Epic fail.

I don't quite know what's worse. Is it the fact that a corporation as large and well-staffed as Lowe's can't manage the complicated task of replying to a customer in a competent way...

Or the fact that not one, but two of the companies I contacted about bike racks managed to stick me into their job application system for some unknown reason?

I thought the private sector was all about being competent. I guess not.


----------


And finally, the Fresno County Library System - Clovis Branch.


I didn't mention this last month because it's not entirely related, but I figured this post needed a happy ending. As I mentioned before, this experiment was limited to businesses who offer zero bike parking. The library obviously isn't a corporation, and does offer bike parking.

The Clovis Library actually has two bike racks, one in front and one in the back. However, the one up front is usually full. The one in the back is sort of useless. The back entrance is convenient to folks parking in the car-lot. But why on earth would someone on a bike go back there? Anyone arriving by bike would be arriving to the front door.

The front rack frequently looks like this

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App


I submitted a query about additional bike parking on the county website.

Within 48 hours, I had my response (take that corporations!)

(This reply arrived January 11th)

Dear Mr. Sinclair

My name is Mark Berner and I'm looking into your suggestion. At the moment I'm trying to determine who owns the bike racks. The county owns the building but the City of Clovis has everything else. In any event I was just outside and found the rear bike rack empty and the front one holding just one bike. I'll let you know what transpires.

Thanks
Mark


Well, it's not "I'll get right on that, an order has been placed!" but it's certainly the best reply of the lot. It's perfectly understandable too. Keep the customer informed while you gather information. Good job Mark.

I replied with my thanks, and then got a second rely on the very same day.

The library’s facilities office tells me the county is responsible for the bike racks. I’m going to monitor the situation for the next week and see how bad it gets. I’ll let you know what I find.

Mark


Again, makes sense. The library system isn't exactly rolling around in money. $250 is absolutely nothing for someone like Lowe's. For the county library system, that's an entire day in labor costs to staff the Selma branch. In fact, NOT doing research on the matter would be a misuse of taxpayer money. Makes perfect sense to see if such ane expense is prudent.


Mark didn't get back to me in a week, but he did fully follow up. A month later I got this email.

Hello Mr. Sinclair

I’ve been working with David Chavez, the library’s Facilities Manager, and we’ve determined there is adequate bike space at the Clovis Library. True, the front bike racks are full with bikes from students at Clark Intermediate across the street but there is always space to park your back in the rear of the library. Thank you making this suggestion and pointing out the problem.

Mark

Not the response I was hoping for, as I did want to see more racks, but again leaps and bounds ahead of the other people. (Corporations are people too my friends).

And again, Mr. Berner has no market-based incentive to follow-up on something like this. If I boycott the library and stop visiting....well, that may help him as it would actually keep costs down (wear and tear on the books and facilities). If he had never replied, what would happen? Absolutely nothing. His job isn't exactly dependent on replying to folks complaining about bike parking.


I shall continue this grand experiment and will keep you posted on any developments, if any. I may bug Kathy at Lowe's again about the constant lies. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

US transit ridership rises, but continues falling in Fresno

The New York Times reported yesterday that transit ridership in the US has increased drastically in the past year.

Americans took 200 million more rides last year on subways, commuter trains, light-rail systems and public buses than they did the year before, according to a new report by a leading transit association.

Americans took 10.4 billion rides on public transportation in 2011 — a billion more than they took in 2000, and the second most since 1957, according to a report being released Monday by the American Public Transportation Association.
New York Times


The NYT attributes that increase both due to falling unemployment numbers, and also rising gas prices. I agree with that those factors do play some part, but it's not the whole story. Unemployment is still quite high, by historical standards, and yet ridership is the highest it's been since the 1950's. That indicates that some people are shifting their mode of travel, even with the availability of disposable income.

Part of the reason is that the last decade saw a fair amount of investment in transit. While 2008-2012 did see service cuts and fare hikes around the country, due to massive holes in tax revenue predictions, riders were still able to enjoy a decade of expansion in transit infrastructure. In the 2000's, around the country, new buses hit the roads, light rail systems and streetcars were deployed, subways saw extensions, and commuter rail lines were restored on lines abandoned 40 years earlier.


Now, if you're thinking "hold on a second, where I live, the trains are falling apart!" then look back at what the transit system you used looked like in the 1970's when investment in transit was at an all time low. Odds are, that train you're complaining about didn't even exist, or was on the verge of being eliminated.

New York, for example, has come a very long way from looking like this

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But while most of the country DID see investment in transit over the past decade, Fresno did not. In fact, entire lines were eliminated, fares were raised, and the buses follow routes that do not reflect what the city looks like today.

From 1990 to 2010, Fresno grew from 354,202 to 494,665 and yet the transit system actually shrunk.

One might expect that at worst, ridership would grow only at the rate of population growth, and not a person more. But that's not true at all.

As the Fresno bus system has become less and less useful in meeting the transportation needs of 2012, ridership has fallen. Simply put, the routes don't connect people between where they live and where they want to go. And the routes that do exist are infrequent and don't run past 9:30pm.


So while APTA reports that ridership around the country is on the way up, their numbers show that ridership in Fresno is on a continuous downward slide.

One would expect a fall in 2009, as gas prices bottomed out and unemployment skyrocketed, but if the only factor at play were those, than ridership would be on the way up, like everywhere else. Sadly, that's not the case.

Here's a look at ridership from October 2007 to December 2011. The vertical axis indicates total rides for the month, in '000's.

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The highest ridership in 2011, March with 1,042,300 was actually lower than the lowest ridership number in 2009, which was 1,060,100 in July of that year.



Yes it's true that unemployment is still very high. As the Fresno Bee reported last week, unemployment is still at 16.9%.

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Now, while unemployment is still high, its down from 18.3% a year ago. But no spike in ridership.

So unemployment IS falling, but ridership is as well? What's going on?

The question is, how big of an impact are employment rates and gas prices on ridership? One way to see how the exact same variables influence ridership is to look how neighboring transit systems are doing.

Bakersfield (2010 pop 347,483) has shown that ridership in its system doesn't really vary at all.

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That same October 2008 spike is there, but besides that? Pretty damn steady. Down, yes, but not nearly as much.


Meanwhile, Visalia (2010 pop 124,442) has shown continuous growth in ridership on their smaller system. That same October 08 burst is there, but the system has since exceeded it by a fair margin.


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So the US, on average, has increasing ridership. Other nearby cities are increasing or holding steady.

Clearly Fresno is doing something wrong. Maybe it's time the council and the mayor acknowledges that FAX exists and actually does something to fix it?


Budgets are still tight, but FAX is sort of, you know, important. And we all know that the local government has no issue with splurging when it comes to road projects. Want to help lower unemployment? Then maintain a system that lets people get to work.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I am now a bike commuter, sometimes

I've written a fair amount on this blog about cycling and making the use of bikes easier in the Fresno and Clovis area. However, I've never really been able to bike to work, due to distance. That is, I frequently have used my bike to run errands, attend events and so forth, but not for commuting.


Mind you, commuting isn't that big a deal. There seems to be some inordinate focus on how people commute, but some studies have show that commuting makes up only 25% of trips. Makes sense if you do your own math. Commuting is a simple back and forth, but those shopping trips, runs to the grocer, visits to the cinema, dinners with family and friends, trips to the park and so on and so forth....well, most of the time we spend on the road it's because we're going somewhere other than work.

But the government puts all their focus on commuting. When people pull out stats like "2% of people bike" there's a giant asterisk. The stat is actually "2% of people commute to work on a bike the majority of the time".

So say everyone drove to work, but did absolutely everything else on a bike (ie 75% of road time on bike) the government stat would say "0% of people bike". What I'm getting at, is that when talking about getting people to use their bike for things, commuting isn't all that important.


The point of all this is that in the time I have lived in Fresno, I had only biked to work twice, and those two times I was aided with a bus. The fact is, I didn't work close enough to where I lived. For me anyway. I know some people are fine and dandy with 100 mile commutes. Indeed, I know one guy who would go on a 50 mile loop just to add it to his commute. As someone who values an extra 3 minutes of sleep, if possible, that blew my mind.

For me, anything more than 10 miles on a bike is an extraordinarily long trip. But now I have a new job, and it's only 3 miles away from home.

And at a distance of 3 miles, it doesn't make sense to NOT use my bike.

So I've started doing that, and it's given me a good insight into some of the difficulties in getting people to bike to work. That is, a trip to Target on a bike and a trip to work on a bike are very different animals.

When talking about cycling for recreation or errands or other personal trips, the only real concerns are safety and distance. When it comes to work, you throw in a whole load of other things that you need to worry about, like dress code, sweat, entire-day bike parking and more. So safety and distance are still the most important parts of consideration, but I quickly found out there are many personal decisions to be made as well.

Over the next few days, I'm going to be talking about my bike commute and the challenges involved. So if you're considering giving it a try, I may have some good tips for you. In fact, tomorrow I'm hitting up the store to purchase a package of disposable baby wipes. That's not something I'd ever thought I'd need, but apparently, it's an excellent addition to a bike commuting kit. I'll explain why in a few days.

One other thing, I say sometimes in the title because I won't be doing it every single day. Last Tuesday for example, it was very windy and there was a high chance of rain. So car it was.

-----


Today, I want to talk about the actual route of my trip, and an annoyance with it.

The distance between my home and the front door of where I now work is 3.3 miles....
If I drive.

If I bike it's actually 4.0 miles.

Why does my bike commute increase by more than 20% over my car commute?

Because as I've mentioned many times in this blog Shaw Ave is home to many, MANY jobs in the region. It's packed with stores, restaurants, offices for doctors, lawyers, consultants, call centers, tattoo studios and really, everything else.

Shaw is almost entirely zoned for commercial and office development, so that's where the jobs are, including my new one.

But both Fresno and Clovis don't believe that such an important corridor should be accessible to bikes. The logic is, all those jobs and such mean a lot of traffic, and bikes would simply get in the way. 6-8 lanes for cars? Absolutely, it's of vital importance to move those vehicles. Sidewalks? The minimum legally allowed. Bike lanes? None. Both cities show Shaw as a bike route on their master plans, but the plans are simply pieces of paper in a vault, and neither city has any intention of striping Shaw, even in locations where bike lanes can be added with no change in anything else.

So no bike lanes. And while biking on Shaw is legal, on both the 4 foot sidewalks and the 11 foot traffic lanes, it certainly isn't safe. And indeed, both Fresno and Clovis encourage cyclists to use parallel routes, like Barstow and Gettysburg. Those two roads are certainly more pleasant for cycling, but that's a .5 mile detour....each way. Adding a mile to any trip that originates and terminates on Shaw.

That's a pain in the butt. For my trip, it adds 20% to the distance.

For me, personally, I don't think I would bike more than 5 mile to work (each way). So imagine my job was 4.5 miles away. Great, I can bike! Add the detour and it's now 5.5 miles away, making me a car commuter.

Is that the right message to send? That forcing people on bikes to take a 1 mile detour is ok, but those in cars need the quickest and shortest route?


This is Shaw. 40-50mph speed limits. Tiny sidewalks, no bike lanes. It's where the jobs and destinations are, but cyclists are told to go elsewhere.

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Elsewhere is a pleasant enough ride, but why should one have to add 1 mile to their daily commute just to be able to feel safe? Isn't a safe and short commute something that should be available to all?

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One thing I'm going to talk about in the future is a big negative that comes with riding on a secondary road like Gettysburg. Basically, I'm forced to ignore some of the traffic lights because they simply won't detect my bike. And because there's little car traffic, the odds are, there's no car coming to activate the light for us.



I've noticed 4-5 other people biking to work, based on what I see parked around the building. However, I know that a surprisingly large amount of my coworkers live closer to the office than I do.

One girl lives .5 miles away, due north.
Another lives 1.5 miles away, south and and west.
A guy lives a mile or so away, to the south.

But they all drive. Why? They all acknowledge that the distance is very short, and they state that they'd like to try something else, but they simply don't feel safe on a bike.

We have the nations worst air quality, some of the highest concentrations of poverty, an unemployment rate more than 2 times higher than the national average, and record high gas prices.....but a city design which forces people to pay sky-high commuting costs so that they can feel safe. That's messed up.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sim City 5 details

As promised, March 6th came with the official reveal of Sim City 5. The best news from the announcement is actually that Maxis from Emeryville, the team behind the rest of the series, is in charge again.

The developer doesn't handle too many projects, so you know they've had their full focus on Sim City 5 for awhile now. Here are their projects from the past decade.

2002 – The Sims Online
2003 – SimCity 4
2004 – The Sims 2
2008 – Spore Creature Creator
2008 – Spore
2011 – Darkspore
2013 – SimCity

They've also released a concept trailer. While the trailer does not represent what the final game engine will look like, it does give a very interesting idea of the ambition going into this project.

Youtube Trailer

One thing is for sure: Don't expect your current PC to be able to run the game well. Due to its size and complexity, the series has always been a heavy drain on PC resources. This entry will be no exception.

Here is what you're going to need to run the game.

System Requirements
Processor:
AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4000+ or better or Intel Core 2 Duo Processor 2.0GHz or better

Operating System:
Windows XP/Vista/7

RAM:
Windows XP: 1.5GB
Windows Vista and Windows 7: 2GB
PCs using a built-in graphical chipset are recommended to have 2GB RAM

Graphics Card:
ATI X1800 or better*
nVidia 7800 or better*
Intel 4100 Integrated Graphics or better*

DVD-ROM:
8x or better

*Minimum of 256MB of on-board RAM and Shader 3.0 or better support.

Again, if the past entries are any indication, you better well exceed these stats if you plan on building very large cities.

Few other details have been made available, except for the mention of a small multi-player component (basically, you can interact with cities build by other people, instead of just your own).

Oh, except this one bit of good news:

The new SimCity, due for 2013 on PC and Mac, is powered by a new proprietary engine called GlassBox. It is described as "a new data-driven simulation engine" that is Maxis' "bet for the future." At a panel during Game Developers Conference, the studio detailed how GlassBox will power the upcoming SimCity "reboot" and promised that the modding community will be able to get their hands on their powerful new tools.

"We're huge fans of our modding community," creative director Ocean Quigley told the audience. "We've designed all this stuff to be moddable."

"We know modding is hugely important to our community," Quigley noted. "We know the reason why people are still playing SimCity 4 ten years later is because the modding community has kept it alive. GlassBox is built to be moddable, but beyond that we haven't announced anything"
Shack news


Also included in the official announcement were a series of slides. Enjoy those by clicking to expand this post.

Patio takeover of trail delayed, for now

The Bee has the some good news about last nights planning meeting concerning the proposed expansion of a restaurant onto the right-of-way of the Sugar Pine Trail.

Fresno's planning commission on Wednesday rejected a proposal to allow a northeast Fresno restaurant to put a patio into part of the Sugar Pine Trail -- but said the restaurant owner could return with a new proposal.


In rejecting the proposal by Yosemite Ranch owner David Fansler, commissioners asked the City Council to clarify when and how the city should allow shared use of public spaces.
Fresno Bee

As I wasn't at the meeting, it's hard to get the full tone of the message, but the news is mostly positive. At least for now, there will be no takeover of the trail.

The bad news is that the rejection was not outright. Instead of issuing a firm no, the commission bounced the issue away to the city council to come up with a policy on how to treat proposals that infringe on the trail right-of-way.

That is, the "fight" (Yosemite Ranch's description of the issue) moves on to another date in which the full City Council draws up and votes on guidelines. It is possible that those guidelines may make it very easy for private developers to take trail space. However, with proper advocacy, it would be possible to ensure that any policy completely safeguards the trail from future appropriation by private interests. At the very least, any future policy should require a considerable amount of mitigation by the developer, and a full-proof legal stance that the city could demolish the addition at any time.

The current proposal simply was "we want to do this, let us do this, it's for the best, we promise".

If the developer doesn't care about the community, the guidelines should require mitigation that does take care of the citizens of Fresno, who would be giving up publicly owned space. For example, in return for taking over half the trail, the restaurant would have to fund the full cost of the river-side trail, and, with 3 months notice, the city could require removal of the expansion at the expense of the builder. Basically, the public interest must be protected to the full extent. If the reverse was true, and the city was trying to take Yosemite Ranch's property to build a trail, I guarantee the restaurant would fight in court for every last penny.

Another bit of good news is that the planning group understands the importance of the trail.

"Since we don't have a policy , we're setting up something that could destroy the trail, which is something we want to fight as hard as we can to preserve," said commission chairwoman Jaime Holt.

This certainly sets a tone that the trail is an important asset to the city and region.

Unfortunately, even regional park assets are not always safe, as we saw last year with the approval of plans by the Chaffee Zoo to bulldoze half of Roeding Park and convert it into pavement.


I am also glad to see that even with such short notice, many people were able to make it to the meeting.

The commissioners heard an earful from a crowd of nearly 70 people.

Most of those who spoke opposed the patio, saying it would encroach on a trail that is considered a community gem.

They also said the project would benefit Fansler's restaurant at the expense of the public.

About 15 people spoke in opposition.

Many more, such as myself, were not able to attend a 6pm meeting due to work. I sent in a strongly worded email, and I hope others did as well.

Finally, the Bee article closes with this line:

After the planning commission's vote, Fansler said he was uncertain whether he would return to the commission with a reconfigured project or appeal the decision to the city council.


He absolutely will be back, and he probably will start by trying to convince the full council that the current project is good enough.

The poster that the restaurant issued was a strong indication of how the developer feels completely entitled to pave over public space at his whims. Posts on the restaurant Facebook page show a similar attitude.

Fansler, or a an employee of his posted the following:

We are trying to put a state of the art patio dining area next to the trail. It will greatly enhance the trail and, in usual Fansler style, be elegant and desingned to blend right in with the aesthetics. We have just a small handful opposing the patio and they have, appartently a strong hand on the planning commission. We have thousand of petitions signed by those who are in favor. Please join in the fight.

Fansler is taking a "war" approach to the issue, possibly because he's used to always getting his way. Instead of addressing the concerns of the community, he is trying to bulldoze over it with the brute force of money. Besides busing people to the meeting, he apparently gives diners a copy of a petition to sign. Again, as you can see the disagreement is framed as a fight. He also throws in conspiracy theories by attempting to convince us that mysterious factions have infiltrated the planning commission.

I especially enjoy the ridiculous and repeated attempts to frame the trail as a wasteland that will be blessed by the beauty of a restaurant expansion. It takes quite the personality to argue that eliminating half the trail is an enhancement and that he is essentially doing trail-users a favor by building a wall where trees once stood.


I will be sure to post again about the issue when it is brought up at the council and when the restaurant owner inevitably comes back with some kind of "compromise". Perhaps he'll offer to throw in a public bench or something. Time will tell.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Misuse of air quality funds

As you've heard me mention on this blog many times, the San Joaquin Valley, home to Fresno, has the worst air quality in the nation. So it makes sense that funding would arrive from multiple sources to attempt to clean things up. Because transportation emissions are such a large portion of the air quality problem, it makes sense to target transportation infrastructure. (The other large source of pollution is agriculture, and that's a touchy subject).


One such source of funding to help clear the air is called CMAQ

The CMAQ program was conceived to support surface transportation projects and other related efforts that contribute air quality improvements and provide congestion relief.

Under SAFETEA-LU, the program has provided just under $9 billion in authorizations to State DOTs and metropolitan planning organizations, and their project sponsors for a growing variety of transportation-environmental projects. As with its predecessor legislation, the SAFETEA-LU has provided CMAQ funding to areas that still face the challenge of attaining or maintaining the NAAQS (National Ambient Air Quality Standards).

The SAFETEA-LU expanded the focus of eligible CMAQ project types, placing more priority on diesel engine retrofits and cost-effective emission reduction and congestion mitigation projects that also provide air quality benefits.
FHA


There are many ways to spend air-mitigation funds. One way which I think makes sense is retiring old vehicles that spend all their time driving with more efficient or cleaner models. Things like diesel transit buses, ancient school buses or even garbage trucks. This type of vehicle will be on the road every day, so might as well make it as clean as possible, right? Even getting a garbage truck from 4mpg to 6mpg would be a great improvement. Buying hydrogen-fueled garbage trucks (and the necessary fueling infrastructure) would also do a good job at reducing emissions, but may not make financial sense.

Another great option would be to fund projects that get people out of cars. How about a transit system that runs past 9:30pm and covers routes relevant to 2012 live-work patterns, and not what made sense in 1960?

How about adding bike lanes and trails so people feel comfortable venturing outside of their cars? Maybe even funding sidewalks, since many parts of town still lack them.

All good choices right?

Indeed, the city even talks about all these great options.
A wide range of transportation projects and programs are eligible for CMAQ funds, including traffic flow improvements, bicycle and pedestrian pathways, and idle reduction technology, among others.

Well, here's how the City of Fresno, in conjunction with Fresno County has decided to spend a portion of their federal funds.

Staff recommends that the City Council approve the cost sharing agreement with the County of Fresno, in substantially the form attached, for the installation of a left turn lane at the intersection of North Avenue and Maple Avenue being designed and constructed by the County of Fresno through a Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAO) Grant.

The County was awarded $118,406 of CMAQ funds through the Fresno
Council of Governments (Fresno COG) to install a left turn lane in the east bound direction of North Avenue at the intersection of North Avenue and Maple Avenue
Project PDF

So to reduce air pollution, local government has opted for....road widening.

But wait, there's more.

I can understand some of the logic behind road widening as air-mitigation. Sure, in the long term it would simply encourage more driving and thus cause more pollution, but in the short term, widening could decrease delays and so save maybe 5 seconds of idling and the smog that comes from that. That's why congestion is mentioned. Congestion does indeed lead to more air pollution.

If we're talking about a narrow road, and a single vehicle has to stop for 10, 20, 40 seconds to make a left turn safely, thus stopping dozens of cars behind them, then I guess that makes sense. The left turn bay would allow them to wait without causing increased emissions for a bunch of other vehicles.

But let's take a look at this specific project. Let's take a look at the road that apparently really needs a left turn lane, to mitigate all the congestion that is filling our air with pollution.

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Really? This is the best place to spend $120,000 in air quality money? (The total project will cost $180,000...yes, 180k to add a left turn lane. Sound familiar?)

So much congestion to be relieved.

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Surely that's a fluke. Google just happened to drive by the one day there didn't happen to be a row of trucks just waiting for their chance to turn.

It's a good thing Google drove by on a different day, in the other direction. That should clear things up.

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What a waste. This project will neither improve air quality nor reduce congestion in any meaningful way. Aren't there other places where dropping $120k would make more sense?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Yosemite Ranch's unbelievable flyer

The last portion of this post has been updated.


As part of their attempt to privatize public space in an unprecedented land-grab, Yosemite Ranch is going all out to bus supporters to the planning meeting, a meeting almost nobody would have known about had it not been for Bill McEwen's column in the Bee.

They've posted a flier on their facebook page which is quite unbelievable.

Let's ignore for a second the mistakes in spelling and grammar and such (an elipses made of commas, really?) and focus on the message.

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-They've been "fighting the fight" for two years, but who were they fighting? The process was done in secret and not made public until recently. Must have been quite the fight.

-"Come see the naysayers for yourself" makes it sound like those opposing the expansion are some kind of circus freak show. Interesting way to demonize those that don't intend to bend over to a private business's land-grab.

-Apparently, the rail-trail was an eye-sore before Yosemite Ranch so generously came in and built their restaurant in 2006. First of all, that's quite the fallacy. Even IF the area was an eye-sore in 2006, has no relevance on the area today, which is well maintained (by the city) and has mature vegetation. Of course, the only reason it was an eye-sore was because the trail was bordered by a very large and very empty dirt lot. Yosemite Ranch was so kind as to come in and build in a way which completely ignored the regional trail. On top of that, a cursory review of the entrance to the restaurant shows not a single bike rack.



Don't they just make the trail so gosh-darned gorgeous?

-The rest of the message is also just a constant barrage of fallacies. "JOBS" are thrown in, but has nothing to do with the proposal at hand. Then they attempt to appeal to the "beauty" of a walled patio and claim that the naysayers apparently are blind to the wonderfulness. Quite frankly, it doesn't matter if they are attempting to build the Sistine Chapel. It should be on private land, and not the ONLY regional bike trail.

Yosemite Ranch, build your outdoor patio. But do it on private land in a way which actually enhances the pedestrian experience.

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The flyer is really quite amusing. It's amazingly childish and comes off like it was written in a drunken stupor in about five minutes. The problem is, the people behind the flyer can back up their land grab with a whole lot of money and influence. Who else can charter a double-decker bus, probably brought in from LA, to whisk people to an obscure Wednesday planning council meeting?

I wish I could attend the meeting, but those pesky JOBS are in my way, and I can't miss work. I called the planning department today to find out where I can send an email to have it entered into the record, but no one answered, even though I called at 6 separate points. I'll try again tomorrow and update this portion of the post with the proper contact information for those of you who also can't attend but want to speak up.


Update:

Finally reached someone at the city. I was told feedback should be directed at
Sophia Pagoulatos, the planner in charge of this project.

You can contact Sophia Pagoulatos at 559.621.8062 or Sophia.Pagoulatos@fresno.gov.

Rail-trail land grab

In his Sunday column in the Fresno Bee, Bill McEwen informs us of a plan by a restaurant owner to grab some of the right-of-way used by the Fresno-Clovis rail trail and convert it to private restaurant space.

While the land-grab wouldn't decrease the size of the currently paved path, it would take a large portion of the publicly held land, and so block any future improvements, including something in the far-future, like a rail-transit line. It would also remove mature vegetation which makes the path comfortable to use.

Most importantly, it would take public land, held by the city and useable by all, and privatize it. Walls would be built and only paying customers would have access during business hours. If the business were to fail, then nobody would have access to the walled off section.

McEwen is also concerned by the complete lack of public outreach on a project that has regional implications, because once one developer is allowed to privatize the right-of-way, then every other developer will be lining up to do the same.

The project also requires no environmental review because the proposal is an expansion of 2,408sqft, which just so happens to be conveniently less than 2,500 feet, which would trigger an environmental review.

Here is what McEwen had to say:
David Fansler, owner of the Yosemite Ranch restaurant in the Via MontaƱa shopping center at Champlain Drive and Shepherd Avenue, wants to build a walled patio that would take up half of the trail's 60-foot right-of-way.

I'm confident the patio would be nicely done. I'm fairly sure the patio wouldn't risk the safety of trail users. You can bet that the restaurant owner will pack the house with supporters when the Fresno City Planning Commission hears the proposal Wednesday night.

But the manner in which the project quietly has been pushed through City Hall is alarming. And if the patio is approved, what's to stop other businesses from jutting into the trail, too? The Fresno segment could be spoiled over the decades -- one piecemeal decision at a time.

The big question is, why has City Hall been so secretive about this? Changing a regional trail deserves a public hearing before it even goes to the Planning Commission. Another question: Shouldn't the city have a policy on trail changes before barging ahead with Yosemite Ranch's request?

Fresno City Manger Mark Scott, who doubles as head of the Planning Department in these tough economic times, disputes my contention that this potential public land grab has been hush-hush.

He says residents within 500 feet of the restaurant were notified and patio opponents have spread the word. In effect, Scott says, the Planning Commission meeting "will end up being that first public hearing."
Full Column


The last part is particularly aggravating to me. The city claims that by informing people who own property within 500 feet of the proposal, they've done all they have to do.

That's some major bs. This is a regional trail, not some random access alley that is only used by the immediate neighbors.

To be fair to Fresno, Clovis pulls the exact same line when concerns about projects in their city arise. Clovis also claims that all that public outreach that's needed is to send a postcard to people within 500 feet.

It's 2012. The city has a website, twitter, facebook etc. Every resident should have access to development proposals so that they can be informed and make proper recommendations.


So let's take a look at the project.

The restaurant sits at the corner, and would eat over 50% of the trail ROW, up to the red line.
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That space is currently full of mature vegetation, planted by citizens of the town
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The restaurant currently ignores the trail, even though it was built after the trail had been established. The trail was completed in 2000. The restaurant wasn't built until 2006, and made a conscious decision to almost completely ignore it.

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Now they claim they want to embrace the trail. Convenient, isn't it, when embracing the trail involves a land grab.



The report claims that the project is beneficial because it encourages pedestrian-oriented links. They also claim that it will increase safety by adding eyes on the trail.

That may very well be true.

But if these factors are so damn important....then why does Fresno approve development left and right which provides blank walls to sidewalks...? Why was this development built in 2006 without all those important pedestrian features? It seems like the "good urban policy" line is being pulled out as a convenient excuse, and not actual good planning. Maybe Fresno is changing? I'd love to believe that, but new development in other parts of town takes the exact same "back facing road" design which this restaurant deployed.

Think of it like a bank telling you they're "saving the environment" by beginning to charge money for paper bills. We all know that it's just an excuse to hide the real reason behind the change.

The report also states that the project is excellent for trail users because it will provide a great rest area, with shade and water and such.

Really? The current trail has mature trees providing plenty of shade. For free. The project will also provide nice resting spots....for paying customers. That's not a change for the better. Other portions of the trail do have benches, water fountains and such. This section COULD have those amenities as well, either funded by measure R (the regional transportation tax) or by private businesses wishing to help the community.


That also leads to one main point of contention:

The patio is not really a patio. It's an extension of the restaurant with windows that may open sometimes.

Does this look like a patio to you?

The documents propose turning this:
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Into this:
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I'm sorry, but a patio with glass doors....? That's not right.


I'm all for outdoor dining, and I'm all for improved pedestrian connections, but taking over public trail space is not the solution. The restaurant owns plenty of land they can turn into an outdoor patio area, and STILL have it interact with a street.

I've quickly drawn up some engineering plans for how to construct outdoor patio space and not steal public land.


1)
I've gone ahead and transformed a barren wasteland into a lovely outdoor patio area, with improved pedestrian access points.
In red: the proposed patio. In green: my proposed locations, which appears to be roughly the same size. Turning unused asphalt into happy, drunken customers
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2)
But wait. Even though the parking lot is enormous and never even close to capacity, those spaces MUST be preserved under all cost. 30 feet of trail can be discarded, but those parking spots must never be touched!

Ok.

There's another easy solution. Simply change the entrance to the shopping area, from a very dangerous, pedestrian-unfriendly "on ramp" to a standard driveway.

From this:

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To this:

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It's large. It leaves the parking almost intact. It provides "eyes on the street".

It's all about enhancing pedestrian amenities, right Fresno? That's what your planning document says. Nothing will enhance the pedestrian experience more than changing the entrance from a high speed ramp to a place where people can walk in peace. The current design allows cars to enter in at 20+mph, because of the gradual curve. My revision, requiring a hard right turn (like most driveways) requires motorists to come to an almost complete stop. That's the safest option for pedestrians.



You can see the planning council documents here (PDF)

The project will come up to vote on March 7th, 2012 at 6:00 pm in the City Council Chambers located at 2600 Fresno Street, 2nd floor. Once they approve it, I believe it heads to the full council in a few weeks time.

I won't be able to attend due to work, but I hope some of my readers do, and speak up against the proposal. I will however be sending in paper correspondence, but we all know that in-person feedback is taken much more seriously than an email.



Oh and one last thing, those planning council agendas? Sort of a pain to find on the Fresno website, which may or may not be intentional.

If you're interested in keeping track of what comes up, the agendas are posted here:
City Website Page

Thursday, March 1, 2012

SimCity 5 finally announced

I won't lie, this has been a day I've been anticipating for a very long time - a new addition to the SimCity series has been announced. It shall be released in 2013, and many hours of productivity will be lost. That's 10 years after the last release (!). Full details apparently are being revealed on March 6th, right now there are only a few early screenshots.

I'm posting this because I have a feeling that some of the more active readers of this blog have dabbled in the game series in the past. I'm not ashamed to admit it, but this series is one of the reason I'm so interested in city development, even though it can be far from accurate (no such thing as mixed used development for example). It sure is fun though, and it has a clever way of making 9pm become 2am in a matter of minutes.

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Maxis, the developer, certainly take their sweet time between games. I first placed the 2nd game of the series back in....1996/7 perhaps?

SimCity: 1989
SimCity 2000: 1993
SimCity 3000: January 31, 1999
SimCity 4: January 14, 2003


I do hope SimCity 5 impresses. I don't think I could stomach ten years of anticipation turning into disappointment, so it better be the best game of all time. High standards? Sure. But I think it's merited.