Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why is Fresno Bee being so critical of HSR?

And why hold the project to a higher standard than anything else?

The Fresno Bee has taken to writing a front-page article about the California High Speed Rail (HSR) project every Sunday. On their part, it's an excellent idea. HSR is a huge project, not just for Fresno, but for the entire state and the country. Because Fresno is ground zero for the project, as construction is slated to start here first, it makes sense for the Bee to stake their claim and try and become the authoritative source on all news related to it. Not only will that preserve their subscription base, but it grows web readership as their articles are linked into from around the country.

To become THE source on news related to the HSR project, the Bee needs to ensure their reporting is fair, accurate and provides a good level of investigation. Unfortunately, if the past two weeks are an indication of what's to come, the Bee is trying to get cheap hits by creating controversy. The Bee is doing this by creating articles that hold the project to a much higher standard than any other form of project.

This previous Sunday, the headline was as follows:

High-speed rail construction will give Valley's bad air a big bump before reductions take hold
Fresno Bee

The report itself is certainly not false. The issue is not that the Bee is making stuff up (I'm sure the numbers are right) but that the angle doesn't make much sense. That is, is it news if it's so obvious? Instead of acting as news, it seems more like an attempt to add some controversy to the front page.

Construction causes pollution. This is true. This is not a surprise. The HSR authority has never stated that it wouldn't be the case. Its a no-brainer really.

If there was news here, it would be that the HSR project will cause x times more (or less) pollution than other construction projects. Except that the article never mentions any other form of construction at all. We are given zero comparison points. The closest the Bee gets is here:

The pollution anticipated from high-speed rail construction would be a small fraction of emissions already generated in the region. But in the Valley, already struggling to meet state and federal air-quality standards, any extra pollution is a major worry, said David Barber, of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

What exactly is a small fraction? We're given a fancy table of numbers, but for 99% of the readers, "56 tons of ROC" means nothing at all.

The only other hint of what the amount actually means is this, where the article points out some of the mitigation

Some of that money could go to the air district's incentive programs, which include helping homeowners replace gas-powered lawnmowers with low-cost electric ones, and helping businesses, farmers and industries replace or upgrade trucks and machinery, said Samir Sheihk, the district's director of strategies and incentives.

If replacing lawnmowers will cover a good portion of the pollution, then it can't be too much we're talking about, can it? ....I have no idea, the article gives us absolutely no reference points.


Besides giving us absolutely no frame of reference to what giving "bad air a big bump" actually means, the Bee fails to hold any other project accountable for similar levels of pollution that may be caused due to diesel construction vehicles and dirt being moved around.

The HSR project is of course one big undertaking, but is it more or less than the hundreds of smaller projects Fresno sees every year? The Bee has not shed any light on this.

When a new project is approved, I don't ever remember the news being accompanied with a breakdown of pollutants to be caused by the construction.

There are dozens of road projects going on in the Fresno area every year, most of them involving widening roads. How many front page stories do they get? None of course. What pollutants do they cause? No idea. There's been no reporting.

So why hold the HSR project to a standard that nothing else is held to?

I'm not just talking about small projects either. Remember the massive expansion/extension project of 180 last year?

If you recall, that project took out miles and miles of farmland, such as in this example.

From

to


It is certainly comparable to the rail project, but I can't recall the Bee trying to stir up controversy for it.




Other examples include....
-The constant widening of Herndon. Just last week yet another lane was approved near 41, which the Bee didn't bother mentioning, let alone investigating.
-The widening of all the 41 on ramps last year
-The widening of Peach...and dozens of other streets

Or even commercial projects like the massive wal-mart/dicks project...or one of the other 5 brand new wal-marts in the area. We got lots of articles on the lawsuits by folks concerned they'd be put out of business, or the future traffic impact....but pollution during the construction phase? Not really.


And what of all the little projects, that when taken together, add up to a giant impact?


On Monday, I decided to take the day off and go on a quick 45 minute bike ride. In just 45 minutes, covering well under 10 miles, here are some construction sites I went by. On their own, the environmental effects must be low....but add them all up. And then add up all the projects going around in Fresno county right now. And then add up 20 years worth of construction projects (The HSR time frame). I'm thinking the HSR project is a drop in the bucket when you add up everything.

We'll start at Shaw at Locan, which is being widened from 2 lanes...to 6. Besides a couple of months of construction by heavy vehicles, this project will result in more pollution for many, many decades, unlike HSR which has the opposite effect.

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Just north of this, a new subdivision is going in. This process involves over a year of heavy machinery. All those new homes will certainly not be reducing air pollution once they attract owners.

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A parcel north of that, on Locan and Bullard, is being prepared. That will include road widening on both Locan and Bullard.

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On nearby Gettysburg, a housing development is going in. Lots of brand new streets built by lots of heavy machinery.

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Just south of that, On Ashlan and DeWolfe, more heavy construction.

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On Ashlan and Locan, crews are getting ready to widen Locan...
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To handle the traffic generated by the hundreds of new homes
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Further south, also on Locan, they're getting ready to widen it just north of Shields.

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That's for an enormous development.

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So again, all that is happening in a 2 mile stretch of Locan Avenue, all taken this past Monday.

What are the cumulative effects of the construction on our air? Was that ever taken into account when approving the projects? As a daily reader of the Bee, have no clue.

The Bee should absolutely report on HSR, and that means being critical at times. The Bee should also definitely be concerned about our air quality, but hitting on the project that will promote clean transportation while not saying a word about the dozens of projects that will increase our local air pollution is poor reporting.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Reaction to LA bag ban shows same old story

Just a couple of days ago, the city of LA decided to implement a ban of disposable plastic bags over the course of the next year. The news caught me by surprise, as I try and follow developments regarding movements to ban or tax plastic bags.

What didn't catch me by surprise are the comments that followed the decision. I'd seen them all before.

The reason is, it's just another example of how in the internet age, ideas still travel slowly. When I wrote that just a week ago, I focused on transportation projects, but the bag ban is the exact same deal.

Banning or taxing plastic bags isn't a new idea, not even in the US. According to a 2010 article, when LA County (this time it's the city) banned the bags...

25% of the world now bans plastic bags, and Los Angeles County is one of a growing number of US communities getting on board.
KCNW

I'm sure that number has gone up.


But it doesn't matter. People like to pretend only their immediate local community matters, than that they have uniquely come up with a group of scenarios or points that have never been considered or proven wrong before.


The naysayers arrive with the same group of comments that were posted by a similar group of people when Maui, San Francisco, DC, Switzerland etc etc etc all took similar steps. They make it seem like the idea is brand new, has never been attempted, and no thought has been put into it. Whats even more worrisome is that in this case, various cities around California have already taken that step. Indeed, residents of LA can drive for 10 minutes to find themselves in areas where bag bans already exist.


A few of the comments are....

-It's a major inconvenience, it's hard to remember to carry your own bags. This will never work.

It sure is, at first, because you're used to not doing it. Once you start, it takes as much effort to remember as it does to remember to take your wallet.


-It hurts the poor.

Only the bold angry internet commentators seemingly care about the poor. No one else has thought up of ways to distribute free reusable bags to those who need it.


-"I use them for trash, now ill just have to buy plastic bags instead for trash, its the same thing!"

Except it's not. Last time you saw a plastic bag floating across a parking lot, stuck in a tree, blocking a drain or spoiling a field, did it look like this....

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Perhaps like this...

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Or was it one of these?

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Yeah, banning plastic grocery bags does lead to an increase in purchases of large garbage bags. No, that's not an unintended consequence that shows those behind the changes are idiots. It's an improvement.

There are three issues with plastic grocery bags, two of which get solved by the ban

1) They last forever
2) They're small, lightweight and there are billions of them
3) They're free.

Yes, those giant garbage bags DO last as long, if not longer, than the grocery bags. But because they're bigger, they don't just escape and fly away and ruin the landscape. And because one must purchase them, one is more careful with their use. Free = waste. If a grocery bag takes more than a second to get open, it gets tossed aside, as there are a hundred more right there. If you're paying for your bags, then suddenly tossing one aside isn't so much an option.



So let's do what the naysayers who fear change did not do and look at other cities.

In DC, where a 5 cent tax was implemented, the change was shrugged off as noted in this article from a few days after it took effect.

Here are some of the initial reactions on that same website

Sadly, the more hilarious comments posted on websites like the Washington Post no longer seem to be available for viewing after 3 years. I guarantee some of them were almost word-for-word the same as those you see this week in the LA Times, and you will undoubtedly see in Fresno whenever the state gets around to implementing a blanket policy.



In DC, the tax did not ban the use, but prompted people to make the changes. Many stated 5 cents would either result in no change (who gives a crap, it's just 5 cents!) or result in major economic fail (everyone would shop in Virginia or Maryland!)

Of course, neither happened.

Bag use dropped at a much faster rate than expected, resulting in less revenue

City officials had guessed the fee would raise $3.5 million to clean up the city’s Anacostia River before the end of 2010. The tax brought in a total of $1.9 million in the first ten months of 2010, according to the city’s latest data.


and with it, the pollution decreased.

A report on the Anacostia prepared two years ago found plastic bags made up about half of the trash in the river on the city’s east side. This year, an environmental group that does an annual river cleanup said it collected a third as many bags as it did in 2009.
Washington Times

The retailers benefit as well.

City officials estimated that before the fee residents used about 270 million bags a year at grocery and convenience stores. For 2010, residents are on track to use around 55 million bags. Retailers, meanwhile, are telling city officials they are buying half as many bags.


Now in 2012, the bag tax in DC is nothing worth talking about, and has even been adopted by neighboring counties.



If you have objections to the taxing or banning of plastic bags, that's fine. But before rambling off a list of reasons as to why it's the worst idea in the world, perhaps use the magic of the internet to see what has happened elsewhere.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fresno State: $4 million to turn trees to asphalt

If you've heard only one thing about the California State University system in the past couple of years, then it's probably the words "budget cuts". Details like "enrollment slashed" or "tuition hiked". "Classes eliminated". Remaining classes "doubling in size". That's what we've been reading in the news every month for the past few years.

So it's especially maddening to see this piece of news which hit every station in Fresno today.

Fresno State faculty members gathered Thursday to express dismay and confusion over the university's decision to chop down 160 mature trees, making room for 600 more parking spaces on the east side of campus.
Fresno Bee

There may not be money for silly things like classes, but adding 600 unneeded parking spots, and taking away some of the little greenery the university has?

There's always money for that.

The problem:
"We use other areas for overflow parking."
(overflow parking areas being used for parking is apparently a problem)

Sollution:
"So we want to have available parking for students on campus. The project is going to add 600 new spaces," Amy Armstrong, Fresno State Parking Administrator, said."


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Picture taken from series posted on Huron County Extract


There is not a lack of parking at Fresno State. There won't be a lack of parking in the near future, as enrollment keeps getting cut. Even if there WAS some kind of parking shortage, there are many ways to work around it, outside of dumping $4,000,000 into asphalt.

As English professor Craig Bernthal stated

"The University is set to have about 1,200 fewer students next year," Bernthal said. "How many parking spots do they need in the immediate future?"
KMPH


Take a look at Fresno State's campus.

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Do you see which portion of campus is dedicated to parking?

Let me make it extra clear.

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Forgive me if I missed a few spots.

There is no shortage of parking. Parking is only $3 a day, less if you buy a semester pass, so many students drive. But even with the incentive to drive, the lots are never full. I've never been a student at Fresno State, but I spent a large portion of time at their library last year, and when I did park, finding a spot was no harder than doing so at the local Target. The only "shortage" was a scarcity of spaces directly under shade-giving trees.

The Fresno State rep is remarkably cynical about the "improvement".

“It’s definitely hard for people to see the trees gone, but the end result will hopefully change peoples’ perspective,” said Amy Armstrong, Fresno State’s Parking Administrator.
CBS 47


That's right folks. Once you see how SMOOTH the new asphalt is, all we be forgiven. No, but seriously...it's a surface parking lot. We all know what they look like. We all know how hot they get, and how uncomfortable they can be. How exactly will the end result change ANYTHING?

At least FSU is building a state-of-the-art lot.

“We've added additional security cameras and emergency phones,” said Armstrong.

Can't wait for the ribbon cutting!


The parking lot in question is this one.

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The project will turn the "wasted" space into more asphalt. Why is that space wasted? It's for water basins. Parking lots, of course, prevent rain from entering the ground, but I guess that's not an issue at Fresno State, a school which prides itself on the agricultural focus.

Another non-issue is apparently the heat-island effect that giant lots of asphalt create during Fresno's scorching summers. Again, I guess a school with large agricultural holdings doesn't care about micro-climate-changes caused by their development.



So what could have been done instead?

Let us imagine for a second there was a parking shortage of some kind.

Here is the Savemart Center on campus, which is the basketball/hockey/concert arena. Of course, most of the year, the parking lot sits empty. Wasted. Lots of spaces for students. One solution could have been....using the existing lots!

Even during events, which happen in the evenings after classes are done, the lots never fill. I've been to sold out events at the SaveMart Center. The lot's never get full, because most people go in groups.

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But now let's imagine that these lots are full. Let's imagine that Fresno State suddenly increased enrollment. Let's imagine there are events at the arena every day. Let's imagine that students are indeed circling for parking.

Could a university filled with so many bright heads not think of a way to lower demand for parking....and not spend $4m in doing so? perhaps a way that instead of eliminating greenery, could add to it?


The formula is simple.

1)
Make parking less attractive by using demand pricing
2)
Make other forms of transportation more attractive.

Spend $1m to do so. Then use the $3m leftover for things like....education.

Fresno State is filled with students, many of whom don't drive when they arrive due to the expense of owning a car. Many already arrive to campus on foot, bike or on a bus.

Instead of pushing them to buy a car as quickly as possible, why not make the experience worth continuing?


Look at how Fresno State fronts Shaw. A narrow, extremely ugly sidewalk lined with a metal fence.

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A fence which was actually only just added a few years ago, as this older google image shows. That's right, FSU spent money to making walking less attractive and more inconvenient.

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Start by planting trees. Widen the sidewalk. Add lights. Add a bike lane.



On the other side of campus, on Barstow, walking is more pleasant (thanks to the trees!). But bike lanes and such? Not over here either. Doesn't take much money to add those.

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As the Fresno Bee photographer points out, it doesn't take much work to find people arriving to campus using other forms of transportation.

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Bee

So what's the big problem here?

Fresno State frames transportation as parking. Walking is not transportation. Cycling is not transportation. The bus is not transportation. In some twisted way, not even driving is....just the parking.

Take a look at the entire transportation page on the university website

Transportation

Our transportation demand management objectives are to develop and maintain commuter programs, promote transportation alternative, mitigate traffic congestion and reduce parking demand.
Transportation


Reduce parking demand eh?

Not much detail on how they'd do that. So let's click on the next link....


Traffic Operations welcomes you to California State University, Fresno.

Our goal is to provide you with safe and reliable access to our campus. We are dedicated to maintaining accessible, attractive and safe parking facilities.

Our objective is to manage parking resources efficiently, emphasizing customer service, so that students, faculty, staff and visitors are able to park without difficulty and lawfully.

We are always exploring new ideas and methods to improve our existing parking and transportation system, and we welcome any suggestions that you may offer. Please take advantage of the information provided on this web site and the services we offer so you can make the most of your campus experience.

Amy Armstrong, Parking Administrator
Fresno State Traffic Operations



Adding 600 parking spaces obviously won't reduce parking demand, but when the sole focus of your job is to administer parking, it's not a surprise that the only solution to any transportation problem is "more parking".





One last thought:
Usually, in stories like this, you see some ridiculous PR attempt to save face.
IE: "Sure we're cutting down 160 trees, but they'll be replaced by 300 trees, so this is actually BETTER! More trees, yay! It's a tree planting project!"

I found it amusing that FSU couldn't even muster that.

She said the university removed 160 trees and plans to plant 148.

Come on.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Clovis PD launches bike registration program, profiling included

The local ABC news station has a good story about Clovis PD taking bike theft seriously. Due to an increase in bike thefts, one of which I talked about here, the city is pushing to get people to register their bike serial numbers with the city so it can be easier to recover them.

Since the beginning of the year, 100 bikes have been reported stolen and even though 30 have been recovered, a very small percentage have been returned to their owners.

That's because many people don't know their bike's serial numbers. The new program launched by the Clovis Police Department allows people to register their bikes with the police department so they can be more easily returned.

Sounds good. It's a low cost program that could potentially yield good results for folks who manage to get their bikes back.

An odd omission from the report is that, from what I understand, Clovis still has a law on the books requiring that all bikes be registered (with a fee). Fortunately, that law hasn't been enforced in years, and it's entirely possible the current PD doesn't even realize that law exists.

Here is what that old law entails.

Clovis PD PDF from 1998

Last I heard, cycling groups were trying to get that law repealed, which may have happened in the past year but I didn't hear about it.

The current push for registration does not involve fees. You can register online.

City website to do so



Anyway, in the title of the post, I mention that profiling is included. What do I mean by that? Well, the ABC news broadcast has a very unfortunate quote from a Clovis PD rep.

"If we stop somebody and they're on a bicycle and it doesn't look like maybe they should have that bicycle, we can run the serial number of the bike and then we can see that its owned by someone else. And then we can contact that person and see if that bike is supposed to be with that person," Calli Biaggi of the Clovis Police Department said.

That sounds exactly like a healthy dosage of profiling and it shouldn't be something that department is boasting about doing.

Unless we're talking about an adult on a bike intended for a small child, how exactly can an officer determine that "it doesn't look like maybe they should have that bicycle"? We all know what's actually going on here, and it's wrong.





------

If you were expecting a post on the final Gettysburg bike lane community meeting, sadly I got held up and could not make it in time. The same news channel has a segment on the "controversy".

That segment can be found here

Honestly, looks like I didn't miss much. Same people making ridiculous claims such as trying to argue that a bike lane actually makes it more difficult to back out of a driveway. The good news is, it looks like the councilman will be voting yes. Doesn't explain why he felt the need to stir up controversy that didn't exist, but hopefully all the delays will be coming to an end on Thursday.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Final Gettysburg bike lane community meeting today

When Fresno makes changes to a road, there is usually very little public outreach. What typically happens is that Public Works says a change is needed, it goes out to bid, the council approves the bid, and the change comes. That's how it has typically been for small changes like repaving and larger changes like widening roads. Many times, the public doesn't find out about the proposal until they read the city council agenda where the bid will get voted on.

Last year, councilman Larry Westerlund decided that the process wasn't working well, at least when the project in question was a road diet/bike lane repaving project. So he ordered up a community meeting which allowed him to delay the bike lane project for a good six months. (Part of that delay was because paving season ended).

I agree with Westerlund that public outreach and feedback is a good thing, but the project he chose to delay makes his intentions clear. Fresno spends millions widening roads all over town every year, with extremely little outreach, but the second a project dares remove a lane, community meetings are called.

Westerlund isn't concerned with the lack of outreach, he just wants to push back against badly needed bike lanes because he feels he can score political points by opposing them.


One final meeting is scheduled for tomorrow evening, before the project goes before the council again.

Already this project has been delayed for half a year, and last year a second bike lane project was questioned and then cancelled as well. It is very important that those who understand the enormous safety benefit of road diets and the importance of a bike lane network attend both the community meeting and the city council meeting to voice support.

These type of meetings are always attended by folks who generally have nothing else to do and love to say no to any form of change. It is important that everyone else, those who usually can't show up due to jobs or families make some kind of appearance to make it clear that this project serves a very real purpose.

Ibikefresno has the details

Community meeting
WHEN: Tuesday, May 22 @ 6:30pm
WHERE: Thomas Elementary School @ Millbrook & Gettysburg

Council vote
WHEN: Thursday, May 24 At around 10-11am
WHERE: City Hall


If you can't attend the meeting (I certainly can't go on Thursday), make sure to email your councilmember.


Even if you don't live in that district, roads are used by everyone, not just the immediate residents. It's important that the council sees that needless delaying of important projects is bad policy.

The IBikefresno link above includes all the necessary contact info. I will try and make the community meeting tomorrow, but be sure to also check out the ibikefresno facebook page for updates by them.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

MBTA station interiors added to Google Maps

If you've ridden a subway in a new city, you've certainly found yourself exiting a train and not knowing which way to go. Many stations offer a multitude of exit options, but which one takes you closer to your destination? It can be a confusing experience, as there are no landmarks to guide you.

Apparently, the folks at Google know that feeling well, because they have teamed up with the MBTA to offer maps of the inside of stations on the Android version of Google Maps. Previously, all that the maps would offer was a single subway station logo, giving you a good idea of where the station was, but no details on the many exit options. Now, every hallway, stair, restroom and information booth has been mapped.

A few months ago, Google launched maps of the insides of certain buildings. For example, every Home Depot in the country now has a map of the store layout available for browsing.

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You can find the same for Nordstrom and many Simon Malls.


The transit stations are in the same format, but made a wee bit more complicated due to the many levels involved.

As you an see here, South Station has multiple levels, and two are actually not even included.

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The levels are:

3 - Bus terminal (not included yet)
2 - Bus mezzanine (not included yet)
1 - Ground level, train platforms, ticketing etc
B1 - Subway mezzanine, ticketing etc
B2 - Silver line bus tunnel
B3 - Red line subway tunnel


South Station is pretty easy to navigate, but the maps have certainly shed new light in understanding how larger stations work. I've been inside the Park Street/Downtown Crossing combo station hundreds of times, but it's such a maze that it's hard to understand how the series of stairs and turns correspond to the streets above. The map actually makes it easier to decide which exit to take. That can be extra important if it's raining or extra cold and you want to cover as much distance underground as possible.

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The maps aren't perfect, as here for example I can't quite tell where the entrance into Macy's is....but look, a bathroom I didn't know existed. Hooray!

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Here we go one level down to the red line.

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The maps work best in larger stations with odd shapes. Like Harvard for example.

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It took a little bit of playing around to get the secondary entrances to display. Note it's B1 but the level thing doesn't offer that. There are still some kinks.

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There's also a much larger kink in the map for Kenmore. I loaded up what used to be my home station, and was surprised by what I saw...

Bathrooms!?! I thought the great renovation of 2005-2010 (yes it took that long) eliminated the public restrooms (isn't progress great?)

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Upon closer look, it's clear that the map is wrong. This is the Kenmore of 2005, with two token booths and no elevators....and bathrooms.

The Kenmore of 2012 has the same shape, but not the same details. Why would the MBTA submit station schematics for a station that hasnt existed in this form for years?

Odd. But there is one other thing of note....this map shows a THIRD bathroom in Kenmore. Hm. Is that still there, hidden behind an unadvertised door? MBTA policy is that all restrooms are now available to the public, so someone should go and see what the agent says.



I'm glad to see that the MBTA was the first transit system to give station schematics to Google. However, outside of 3-4 stations, it's not of much use. MBTA stations are super-simple, and the agency has a terrible policy to eliminate as many exists as possible, leaving riders with just one choice, so it's hard to get lost.

I do look forward to seeing this expand to NYC, and better yet, Paris and London. Some of those stations truly do need maps.



Bonus:
Logan Airport has maps as well, not sure if this is also new
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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Even with social media, ideas still travel slowly

This is a continuation of the post "In internet age, ideas still travel slowly" in which I discussed how hard it is for cities to adopt best design practices because ideas are still slow to travel. It doesn't matter how connected we've become, it seems like every city must "discover" an idea for themselves to be able to implement it, delaying the process immensely.

Can social media play a role in speeding up the process? You'd think so, based on the amount of hype that concept has had over the past couple of years.

There are definite advantages. Theoretically, people can see photos their friends took in NYC, London, Tokyo or Mexico City of innovative road treatments or transit methods that don't exist back home. They can then jump over to the facebook page of a council-member, city department or mayor-outreach page and post the picture with a comment asking for the same to be done at home. That should get the ball rolling and have the city be more responsive to the idea when it's raised at a community meeting.

But it doesn't quite work that way.

For one, the average person does not see a sharrow, sidewalk-extension or rear-door-boarding on a bus and think "we need this!". In fact, the average person sees it but DOESN'T see it. It simply doesn't register. It's boring. It's certainly not something you share with friends and family when you get home, or pester your city about it.

"I just came back from DC. Had such a great time. Such a fun city. So much to do and see. Can you believe that bike lane placed right down the center of Penn Ave?"

....yeah, no.

Even if it is something people would want to share, something big and flashy....the sharing doesn't get very far.

But what if people did post on their Facebook page about green-bike lanes or performance parking. Would the idea spread?


Let's think past boring street stuff for a second and look at one thing people love to share: music.

Music is fantastically easy to share. People love talking about and listening to it. The entire experience can be consumed in under five minutes. Sharing it simply involves posting a youtube link on a wall with "you've got to hear this!". We've all done it, told someone they MUST listen to this new awesome song or band.

You'd think that with the ease of sharing, and the popularity of talking about music, new songs would spread around the globe in a matter of days, unlike the old days when the record companies were in complete control of which songs people were made aware of.

It should be fast and easy, but just like with street-stuff, it still spreads slowly.


If you're reading this blog, in all likelihood you've heard Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye. It's currently number 1 on the Billboard 100, and is being played on Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop and other kinds of radio stations.

Here's the thing. It's May 15, 2012 and the song was released on....July 6, 2011. It hit number 1 in Australia during the fall of 2011 (August 15), and at that point you'd expect social-media to do its magic. It takes time for a song to build up popularity (a month in Australia), but once it hits it big, doesn't it spread like fire? Or at least, shouldn't it, with the aid of the internet?

But it didn't become a hit in England until February of this year, and took until April to top the charts in the US.

In the age where things are supposed to travel around the globe quickly, that's a super long period. If it takes such a long time for music to travel, then there's little hope that the spread of information on the best practices in infrastructure and transit to be sped up.




Monday, May 14, 2012

The new FAX bus signs

A few weeks ago I wrote about FAX taking out an ad in the Fresno Bee to promote new signs coming to bus stops. I thought it was absurd. The sign itself wasn't very good, and the concept of a bus agency taking out an ad in the paper to tell people about a new sign was baffling.

There is some good news. Kiel Famellos-Schmidt of archop posted a picture of a new sign today and I was happy to see that large route numbers were included, even though the ads didn't mention them.

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Where do those routes go? What is the service frequency? What are the service hours? Who knows, but at least the sign does do the bare minimum and inform people of the routes that stop there.

At least the route numbers are large and easy to read.

Still doesn't quite deserve an ad in the paper though.

And speaking of ads, note the TIGER logo on the sign itself, which feels ill-advised. The sign is meant to provide information to riders about the bus system, and the TIGER logo may cause confusion. The average person has no idea what TIGER means. Is it a new route? Is it some fare promotion? Is it a special branded bus? Is it paratransit?

No, nothing like that, it's just the federal grant that funded the signs. That information is completely meaningless to the rider.

On top of potentially causing confusion, it's also not great branding for the program itself, or for FAX.

So what is TIGER?


The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grant program, provides a unique opportunity for the U.S. Department of Transportation to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve critical national objectives.....Each project is multi-modal, multi-jurisdictional or otherwise challenging to fund through existing programs. The TIGER program enables DOT to use a rigorous process to select projects with exceptional benefits, explore ways to deliver projects faster and save on construction costs, and make investments in our Nation's infrastructure that make communities more livable and sustainable. "These are innovative, 21st century projects that will change the U.S. transportation landscape by strengthening the economy and creating jobs, reducing gridlock and providing safe, affordable and environmentally sustainable transportation choices," said Secretary LaHood. "Many of these projects could not have been funded without this program."
DOT


When you read that, does your mind jump to "new signs that say BUS"? Probably not. Is that really the best FAX can do when the feds offer free money. Probably not.

What's also odd is that the TIGER website map doesn't show Fresno as ever having gotten grants. Perhaps they're not too proud of it either.

New signs are good, but how about using that space taken up by the logos to give riders actual information? As I said, a destination is sort of important, especially for folks who aren't the most geographically oriented. Schedules are sort of a big deal too. Even one of those bar codes (QR) readable by smart-phones would be nice.

Friday, May 11, 2012

In internet age, ideas still travel slowly

We're all very familiar with the idea that if a volcano blows in Indonesia, a plane crashes in Paraguay or a riot breaks out in Helsinki, news of the event will reach every corner of the globe in a couple of hours. The world is of course connected and news can travel quickly.

Theoretically, ideas can travel as quickly as news, and yet it seems that it isn't the case. Indeed, new ideas, which may be fantastic, well-proven concepts, can take years to be spread and accepted.

When it comes to adopting proven best-practices, that's a huge roadblock.

Two things inspired me to write this post. One, is the announcement that the New York City bike-share system will launch this summer and be sponsored by Citibank. What caught my eye was the parade of articles about the concept that followed the press releases. The second thing that inspired me to write this post are the songs I heard on the radio today. Those two concepts might seem unrelated, but they both show how ideas still spread slowly.


With bike share, New York has been following the exact same media pattern we saw in Boston in 2009-2011. Boston, naturally, was mirrored in London during the same period. Both of course were simple repeats of what happened in Washington a year earlier. The same can be said in many, many other cities.

If you followed the introduction of bike-share in any of these cities, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you've been following it in Portland, Chicago or San Francisco, then you may have noticed the first phases. If you want a sneak peak, just read through anything that came from NYC press this past week.


Basically, bike-share is not a new concept. 3rd generation bike share has been out in force since the summer of 2007, when Paris unleashed the world's biggest system. That system has been mimicked successfully in city after city around the globe. But it doesn't matter how successful it has been in Paris or dozens of other cities, when the concept is "introduced" to a different city, it's always the same.

The comments tend to reflect the following:

It'll never work! No one will ride them! Only tourists will use them! It will be a boondoggle! There will be so many accidents, injuries or deaths!! If people wanted to bike, they'd have their own! There will be rampant vandalism! It'll cost too much!

And so on and so forth. You should know exactly what I'm talking about because every single city boils down to the same sets of (bad) arguments. And in every case, the media and the people ignore the fact that the EXACT same lines were repeated in 2011, 2010, 2009...etc in countless cities across the world.....and in every single case, the comments were off.

If you DO point it out though, there is a common answer.

"So what. We're (New York City/Boston/Chicago/DC/Mexico City/Rome/Denver/San Francisco). We're nothing like (Paris/Boston/London/DC/Mexico City/Rome/Denver/San Francisco). What works there won't work here"

But it does, every damn time.

The hoards of unbalanced tourists that will cause havoc in the street in New York, and ride straight to their death? The size of injuries will probably be very similar to that of Boston, DC, London and so on. As far as I know, the number of deaths or serious injuries can be summed up with the number zero. Traffic chaos? Sure, will be around the same as every other day. Lack of use? Absolutely, just like no one rides the train.

I get it; every city is super-unique....except when they're not. They're still people making the same choices, working similar jobs, trying to get to similar places.



It doesn't matter how connected the world is, it doesn't matter how EASY it is to look up if the scheme has been successful in other cities before, it's always the same. Those making the comments act as if we're still in 1820 where a program 100 miles away effectively doesn't exist because word doesn't travel.

Why don't the people writing articles about potential vandalism, injury, lack of use etc think for a second "hm, I wonder if I'm the only person in the world who has ever been brilliant enough to come up with these potential obstacles? There is a chance I might not be. I should look to see what was said and done elsewhere".


I really do wonder why so many in the media, which pride themselves on research and investigations fail to do the most simple of searches.


What bothers me most about this is that when ideas spread so slowly, it makes it very difficult for other cities to adopt best practices.


We see this over and over again.

Look at "sharrows" painted on roads. They were common in Portland for many years, and they began being used around the country. But even after many major cities had successfully installed them, there were huge barriers to others following suit.

For example, both LA and San Francisco organized expensive and time-consuming "studies" about sharrows. There was no need; Portland could have been taken as a multi-year field study. But no. It had to be done again.

I guarantee if someone were to propose sharrows in Fresno, for example on the Gettysburg bike lane project which lacks bike lanes, the city would say "we don't know if that would work, we need to study it".

I know that's exactly what would happen, because when I asked the city to consider back-in angled parking on Broadway, I was told it wouldn't be done because it was unproven, even though countless cities have proven it's safer and more efficient. It doesn't matter. Like all those other cities, Fresno is unique, and what works there won't work here....


The list can go on. If you live in ANY American suburb, and the city proposed or recently built your very first roundabout....I can recite the article the local paper or TV station produced without having ever read it. I guarantee they interviewed a concerned neighbor that was sure there would be many accidents. I would bet that a local politician was outraged at the congestion that would obviously occur. Of course, like in every other suburb where those points were raised, that never happened.

Change can be scary. However, part of that fear can be relieved by simply looking to see if a concept has been tried elsewhere and if it has worked. It's also important to see if the same concerns were raised and if they were also unfounded.

But how can those ideas be spread if innovation still travels so slowly?


I will have a follow up post looking at social networks and music, and the fact that even when people pro-actively share things, it can take a very long time for stuff to spread.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

One more post about Reason and Expo

I know I said any time spent discussing the Reason article proclaiming terrible Expo Light Rail ridership is time wasted, and yet here I am, typing away. They've gone out of their way to link to me, so I might as well point out a couple more problems I have with their critique of the Expo line. But then no more, I've got too much of a backlog of stuff I've been wanting to talk about.

Here is their response to my previous post on the subject, which Streetsblog picked up on.

The too-early-to-judge complaint is one you hear all the time about rail, but curiously never about cars, movies, burgers, condominiums, software, new fashion lines, tech gadgets, or pretty much any other product that is brought to market. For all the palaver about "soft launches," "slow rollouts" and the like, your opening sales figure is almost always a good indicator of how you’re going to do over the Long Tail. That’s why they call it the "Long Tail" and not the "Long Trunk" or the "Long Opposable Thumb."


Well, no actually, that's simply false, and quite obviously doesn't make much sense.

If one was to build a new apartment complex, suburban subdivision, retail center or anything like that, one does not expect 100% occupancy rate on opening day. Is having 100% occupancy on day one a good thing? Sort of. One problem with having full occupancy is that it means you left money on the table. If you built 100 apartments, and all were pre-leased....you probably would have been better off building 110. And just because your brand new mall is fully leased out on day one, and the customers come rushing in, doesn't mean it will be sustained.

So yeah, you'd be foolish to make claims about generally anything when the product is less than a week old...and isn't even finished yet.

There's nothing curious about having very different expectations for movies, fashion lines and gadgets when it comes to popularity lifetimes. Those are usually front-loaded because they "expire" rather quickly. If your gadget is drawing crickets on day one, it's more of an issue because you only have a 6 month window before some other gadget comes and blows you away. For movies, that window can be as little as a week. But why on earth would you compare movies to a long-term infrastructure project? Such a random and useless comparison.

A better comparison would be with airports and highways. If you build a new airport or highway, and it reaches capacity during week one, then something went terribly wrong with your planning because you've now got to spend money to expand it.


That leads to something extremely important to mention that Reason simply ignores. They try and claim that a launch is a launch, but the terminus of the line is not open. The terminus is home to a massive parking garage* and will be the connecting point to many bus lines. But it's still under construction, along with one other station. That's a pretty big deal, and ignoring it speaks volume to the storyline being pushed here. Reason does mention two stations aren't open yet, but the key point is "terminus" in this case, which they don't talk about. No, not all stops are created equal.

*Not a fan of the way Metro has been so auto-focused with the expo line, but that's a whole other conversation.



However, it's actually the next part that bothers me the most, something repeated from the original article they posted.


L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky announced that actual daily ridership was a pitiful 9,000. (I have no idea where that number’s coming from. As noted in the original story, there is no visible system for ticketing. Maybe they’re reviewing security camera footage?)
and
There also does not appear to be any apparatus in place for preventing fare beaters from riding the train.

The author is writing about transit and yet apparently has no understanding of how the basics of ticketing and ridership counting is done by metro....and it's not that hard a concept to research and understand.

If the author doesn't know how ticketing is done, then it doesn't take long to find an answer. He could check the website. He could confer with people who know the system well. He could give metro a call. He could use one of the many databases, most likely at his disposal, to find any one article written over the past couple of decades that talks about Metro ridership and ticket sales. I don't have access to the LATImes database right now, but I'd bet a pretty penny there's an article in there that talks about how transit ridership is counted....and I'd hope the Reason foundation does subscribe to services which allow access to that.


Why would you write an article about ridership and revenue collection, but have no understanding of how either of those are calculated? Why not do at least the most basic of research?

What I think happened here is that the author DOES know the answer, but the ignorance card plays better for the angle of the story.


For reference, here are those answers.

Actually, let me start with a tip. if Reason will continue to ride Expo to count riders....don't buy single use tickets. The day pass is only $5.

Ticket collection on expo is via a proof of payment (not honor system) method. Every rider on the platform or train must have a ticket or pass valid for that date and time (and trip, Metro actually requires one ticket per transfer). Tickets are checked by metro staff and sheriffs, and if one lacks a ticket, they pay a steep fine, one steep enough that theoretically means it is not cost-efficient to try ones luck.

Metro of course, knows how many tickets the machines dispense and how many users have passes.

While that is a factor that goes into calculating ridership, it isn't the only one. Yes, some people ride without paying, hoping they won't be caught. Others have a monthly pass but only ride the green line, and may never ride the expo line. Many others transfer, so they take multiple vehicles using a single pass. So to calculate total ridership, metro uses standard methods employed by every transit system around the country.

One of those methods is a low tech as the way in which Reason made their estimates....guys with clickers. Unlike Reason, however, they are more experienced at counting accurately. More importantly, transit systems have decades of data to help them turn those counts into reliable projections. They've fine-tuned multipliers and such which help them reach more accurate counts. Like political polls, you need a good sample size and a proper understanding of patterns to get to your estimated total.

And while clickers are the low-tech method, most transit systems have installed automatic counters in their trains. These passive systems sit over, or next to doors and log how many people go in and out. There's no need for someone to count people, technology is so magical that they've developed a way to do that (it's quite simple). Besides being cost-effective, it's also pretty accurate.

And again, not every car or door needs to have it because a proper understanding of stats lets one turn the sample size into useable and mostly accurate data.

If Reason wanted to, they could look into how metro currently gets to their ridership numbers.



There are certainly many more points that can be discussed in the article, but there's just one more I will hit on

Finally, if we just need to wait for ridership to grow, what time frame are we talking about?

I think it's fair to say that less than a week is not enough. Neither is a month. A year is a good place to start.

People don't make commuting decisions on the fly. Commutes are based on a whole lot of variables, and take time to modify. Yes, some people (9,000 you could say) were waiting for the chance to jump on Expo. But for every one of those, there's someone that wanted to ride Expo when it was scheduled to open in 2010 but ended up buying a car. And once you make a large capital expenditure like that, it's hard to not use it. They might stay a car commuter for another month, or another year, or until they leave LA and are replaced by someone who sees an opportunity to save money by not making that purchase. There's always turnover when it comes to housing, and the commuting modes and directions will always be shifting.

There are also people who may be interested in the train but either don't know it exists or aren't aware it was opened yet. That shouldn't be a surprise either, after countless delays it's easy to lose track.

Others have opportunity opened up by the line. If one lives by a station and is unemployed, the opening means access to a huge number of jobs. They may not ride now, but if they get a job downtown in July, that's when they'll become a rider.

Finally, USC is a big anchor for the line, and they just closed up for the semester. Expect ridership to see a big boost come September.

Reason throws in a very misleading chart on Gold line ridership to try and claim ridership is actually steady. It's one hell of a Y-axis they use. The chart I used is much clearer in showing the timeline between opening a line and ridership growing before reaching a plateau.

Here's an other example, thanks again to Rubbertoe at the Transit Coalition. This one shows the Orange Line bus system.

The red box shows the first two years of service, which showed continuous growth.

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But wait, then ridership dropped! Pay very special attention to both the dates and the gas price line. September-November 2008....oh right, when the economy blew up. Yeah, ridership dropped, as did ridership on almost every transit line and highway in America. Even with the crap economy, ridership never went lower than what it was in the first six months of service, even with a fare hike!

Wouldn't it have been downright foolish to use 16,000 riders as the basis of a report? The line hasn't gone under 20,000 riders since 2006.

That graph ends in 2010, but ridership has returned to the 2008 high, and will exceed the previous record this summer, meaning the line is still growing.


Expect to see another jump, and then 2 years of increases when the extension opens this summer (on time and under budget).


Mind you, this is just LA. We can also show the same in Phoenix, Norfolk, Trenton, and many other cities that opened transit lines in the past decade.


So, Reason, if you must try and bash the Expo line's ridership, give it at the very least six months, but even that would be poor form due to seasonal variances. A year is a good place to start, but still will be inaccurate. We can talk in two years, as that will give an actual basis to make an informed observation.

And please remember we're talking about a rail line built to transport people for 100 years, not a summer blockbuster people won't remember past September.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mall to mall bike ride is tomorrow

Looking for something to do before work tomorrow? I'm not quite sure why they picked Wednesday, but IBikeFresno is hosting a group ride, with police escort.

If you come from Clovis, it is actually a mall to mall to mall ride.


Where: Starts at the Manchester Sears Parking Lot and ends at Fresno Brewing Company.
Time: Ride departs at 8:15a so you should be there a little earlier. People tend to start gathering at about 7:45a.

Presented by the Fresno County Bicycle Coalition (FCBC), hop on your bike for a fun ride straight down the middle of Blackstone.

The Fresno Police Department stops traffic and allows bikes to take back the road for a few miles. You’ll be riding alongside local elected officials, community leaders, business owners and bike enthusiasts from the Manchester Mall SEARS parking lot and down the Fulton Mall. Then hang out for snacks, pictures and community.

RIDERS FROM CLOVIS: A group ride will be leaving from the Sierra VIsta Starbucks at 6:50a to ride to Manchester Center.

I Bike Fresno


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Besides that ride, remember that every day you log miles onto their website is a chance to win a prize.

I am currently in 450th place, so perhaps you can beat me. To win prizes, your amounts don't matter, just riding at all during the previous day.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reason Foundation makes a hilarious claim about the Expo line

Does intellectual dishonesty make you mad? Then sit down and enjoy a hearty laugh instead, this* article is so bad it deserves nothing more than an extended chuckle.

*(that's where the hyperlink would usually be)



The article starts with grand claims, claims that any reporter can latch onto quickly to create a firestorm. Make no mistake, the following paragraph was carefully written to create as much outrage as possible in one easily digestible scan.

Los Angeles’ brand new $930 million Exposition light rail line is carrying so few riders and bringing in so little revenue that it will, at best, take 65 years for the train to earn back its capital investment (not including ongoing operating costs). If the project completes its next phase and establishes an at-grade train that runs through heavy street traffic from Downtown L.A. to the city of Santa Monica, it will not pay for its construction for 170 years.

Shocking claims!

$930 million is an outrage!

The super expensive train is a failure!

No one is riding it! No revenue is coming in!

There is doubt (if) that phase 2 will happen!

The trains must compete with heavy street traffic!

One should expect transit to pay off its own costs directly!

170 years to be paid off!

Get the sirens ready!


So what cutting edge masterful research went into crafting the claims that it will take 170 years for the line to pay for its construction?


That’s the most optimistic figure Reason can come up with after two days of counting weekday riders on the Expo Line.


That's right. They sent someone to count people on the first week of service.

That's it. That's the research. That's the hard work that went into this scandalous claim. A dude with a clipboard counted heads at some unspecified time at some unspecified place during week one of service....a week in which two of the stations, including the freaking phase 1 terminus, aren't even open yet.



So if you're tempted to continue reading the article, stop. If you're tempted to unleash a counter-argument, stop. If you yearn to just point out simple facts that rebuke every point made in the article, then stop.

Look, it's easy to point out that ridership in week 1 of a transit line is meaningless.

For example, this excellent ridership chart of the Gold Line in LA shows that after opening an extension (which was almost like a brand new line), after 2 years ridership still has not stabilized and continues to increase as people become aware of the line and have time to adapt their patterns to take advantage of it.

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Source, Rubbertoe on Transit Coalition

On the left of the red box, you'll note that when the extension opened, ridership did increase....but that increase was just a fraction compared to the real growth.

If after 2 years ridership is still growing as people get exposed to the line, how on earth could you make 100+ year claims on 2 days of data on the first week of service?

....oh no, I'm doing it. I've wasted valuable seconds of my time trying to point out mistakes in the article. And I know that you, reader, are itching to point out that the foundation apparently demands that the train make money but has no such expectation for roads. Don't do it.

That's time wasted that would have been just as effectively been spent questioning the "all natural" claims on bottles of soda, or the ludicrous lies sent out by Pizza Hut when they say you can get ANY pizza with ANY crust for $10 (and then charge extra for stuffed crust).




Instead of wasting time on the article, it's best to simply understand how something so ridiculous can be written.

It's simple. The article is an ad by an oil company, and as such, should be held to the same standard as health claims on bottles of soda and the word "any" in fast food advertisements.

The Reason Foundation is primarily founded by the Koch brothers. They of course, are billionaires who became rich on oil. The foundation is also funded by a fun assortment of other oil companies, and foundations that itself are funded by the same companies.

Example:

Charles G. Koch Foundation $57,000
Claude R. Lambe Foundation $857,000
David H. Koch Foundation $1,522,212
Exxon Mobil $105,000

A list can be seen here.


Instead of wasting time on that article, use your time on this excellent piece by the The New Yorker from 2010.


Covert Operations
The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.
by Jane Mayer August 30, 2010


Don't let the title fool you, the article is an excellent exposé on how and why foundations like Reason exist, and why they jump at the opportunity to release crap articles that they know will be used by other people hoping to prove a misguided point.



As for the Reason article itself, you notice I didn't link to it. Of course I will, but I prefer you didn't follow the link, Why reward crap with page views? So here's the link, if you must. But if you will reward them with a page view, reward yourself with a glance at the comment section. That's what you get for clicking.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Corporate Experiment Part 3: Stolen bike at Target

The good news is, my bike was not stolen. The bad news is, a couple emerged from Target to find one of their bikes was stolen, a bike apparently valued at $1,300. Naturally, Target management couldn't do anything, as they're not liable for what happens in the parking lot. The problem is, their bike parking facilities made it all too easy for the thief to cut the locks and get away, and the lack of security cameras means the police will have nothing to work with (the couple was going to file a report).

Remember the experiment I did a couple of months ago? I emailed a few big companies to see what they would do, if anything, when I sent them feedback about a lack of bike parking at their stores.

The result was somewhat comical. Instead of getting a response on the bike racks, I got rejected for two jobs I never applied for. So lovely. And after being told by Lowe's four different times that I would get a call in the next 24 hours, the call never came. Three months later, the store same in the same bike-rackless condition they were back then.


But I trudge on, and off I go, sending a letter to Target. Let's see if I reply.

The gist is as follows:

Like every other Target, the one at Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis has lots and lots of parking spots, spots that are never used because there are too many. In the following image, note the spots on the top left. I'd place good money on it being that those spots haven't been used in the 20, or however many years Target has been there. As indicated by the red box, Target has a whole lot of spots it shares with no one else, never mind spaces below Target that haven't been used in years since a small movie theater closed.

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Note the blue arrows? That just so happens to be the Fresno-Clovis rail trail, the one and only bike trail that crosses the cities. Target is actually on the bike "highway". They've even built a connection to the path, so people can actually get to Target (bottom blue arrow). The connection itself has a cute gazebo, although if anyone is sitting on the bench you can't really ride by because it's so narrow that you'll probably hit them....but at least the connection exists.


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So Target is on the bike path. There's a connection. They have a huge collection of unused parking spots and lots of land to spare.

So how do they accommodate the customers who arrive by bike? Well, there's a rack. A single rack that holds just 4 bikes, but at least there's something.

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(Clearly space is at a premium!)


Unfortunately, the rack has some serious issues, issues which facilitated the theft of I started this post with.

You see, Target can claim as much as they want that they're not liable for theft in the parking lot. Fair enough, that's standard retail-legal stuff. The problem is, while they're not liable for the theft, there are certainly many steps they can take to minimize theft, simply by building parking facilities that make sense. Doesn't it make sense to make the Target shopping experience as safe and comfortable as possible?

The points to providing safe bike parking are simple.

-Design
-Quantity
-Location
-Security


Design

For one, the current rack suck. It's not just that it only holds a grand total of 4 bikes, compared to a parking lot that probably holds 400 cars, but the design is poor. Target installed the wave rack, the rack that was designed by someone who clearly never tried to lock a bike to a rack.

If you've ever seen one, you've seen this

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and this

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Source



The wave rack lacks support for bikes, because they're set up the wrong way.

What does this have to do with security at Target? Well, besides causing very expensive bikes to topple over and being damaged, the design means there's only one point to lock up a bike. A proper rack should be long parallel to the bike, to provide both support and multiple locking points.

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Source

Nothing fancy. Just this.

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Aside from the design of the rack itself making it harder for customers to safely secure their bikes....


Quantity

Enough space for four bikes is no where near enough. Having enough parking spots is important because if the rack is full, a customer is left with a dilemma. Do they leave their bike unattended, or do they simply not shop? When I was leaving Target, and I witnessed the aftermath of the theft, a lady was looking on. She had just arrived on her bike and saw that someone else's was just stolen. On top of that, there was no room for her bike to park as the four spaces were taken. Luckily, I was leaving so she had a place to lock up.

Racks are not expensive. A single rack can last for years and years, and can be the difference between retaining or losing a customer.


Location

Out of sight, out of mind. The racks at Target aren't terribly place (it could be so much worse), but they're not well placed either.

Can you find them?

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They're close to the front door, but hiding to the side, meaning a thief is able to work without being seen. Target is a busy store, and this person was able to cut through cables and steal the bike without being stopped. If the racks had been installed in a more visible area, it may not have happened.


Security

When the manager came out to assist the couple, I asked him if there were cameras. There were, he said....pointing at the parking lot. Not a single camera was pointed at the bike racks, as clearly Target does not feel those vehicles are worth monitoring. It says a lot about the store design that not only did they feel it proper to hide the racks off to the side, but they also didn't bother to provide any form of security. While camera can't prevent theft, they can assist in the aftermath, just as they do in looking over the cars.




----

I will be sending a letter to Target expressing my concerns about their parking facilities, obviously in a much more concise form.

Why should Target care? Well I stopped by because it's actually on my way home, and is convenient. But convenience goes out the window if my method of transportation is stolen. If I don't feel comfortable leaving my bike outside Target for 10 minutes, I simply won't shop there. I'm sure the couple who lost a bike feel the same way, as does the lady that took my "spot" on the rack. Honestly, if Target does not improve the rack situation, I can't see myself stopping there after work in the future.

Target may not bother to notice, but many people do stop by on bike, probably because of the convenient location. The rack is usually full, as was my experience at 9:20pm last night, when Google drove by (as seen in the image above), and the other times I've been there.


If Target cares about providing a positive, safe experience for ALL their customers, then they should take parking lot security seriously.

I hope they do respond, and that the response is more substantial than another job rejection.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fresno Bike Month Activities

It is Bike Month, and there are a few exciting bike-related activities going on, one of which includes lots of free stuff. We may have ended April with some negative bike news but even that can be changed (maybe). Let's use bike month to push Fresno and Clovis to make cycling better for everyone. Besides the three events that are scheduled below, I'll try and finish my series on bike commuting here in the valley over the course of the month.



Let me start off with the item that has prizes, because that's probably the most exciting bit.

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Ibikefresno is once again hosting the million mile challenge. How it works is super simple. You visit their website, and then register in the top right corner. You then set a goal for how many miles you think you can ride in May. The goal itself doesn't matter - it's all for you. If you never ride your bike, set something like 5 miles, and you may be surprised when you hit it. Don't let the road racers with their 1,000 mile goals scare you off, it's all about personal achievement.

And prizes. As an added incentive this year, prizes will be given away every single day, just for entering your miles. Prizes include food, new bikes and even a hotel stay.

What's also cool is that the website tracks the miles you did last year if you also took part. Because I now bike to work, I have a feeling I may blow past what I did last year.

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And remember, joining the challenge and getting prizes is free. All it takes is a few seconds to add your daily miles...and remembering to do it.

Oh, and not sure how many miles you biked today? Not a problem, just use google maps. Set it in bike mode, and put your origin and destination. Then pull the line around to reflect what you actually did. If you're biking for fun, in a circle, you can calculate it as well by stretching the line so it follows what you actually did.

Here's how you would build a loop.

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Note: The maps aren't perfect for biking, so sometimes the map will refuse your route (especially if a trail-road connection is missing). Better than nothing though, as most of us don't have fancy computer trackers.


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There are also two races going on this month. One, we can only spectate because it is for racing professionals. The other allows people to participate in courses of various lengths.


The California Classic Weekend is exciting because it features a unique opportunity for cyclists in Fresno

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That's right, part of the rides include a trip up 168. If you're registered anyway. While the race is open to the public, you can't just join the crew onto the highway, you must have a race number.


On Saturday, May 19, join one of the three bike rides we are offering: the Rabobank Classic Century, Classic Metric and 35-Mile Mini Metric. Riders will line up inside of Chukchansi Park before being lead by a police escort to the McKinley on ramp of Freeway 168, where all riders will be released to ride as they wish. Thanks to the California Highway Patrol, City of Fresno, City of Clovis, the Fresno Police Department and the California Department of Transportation, they have made it possible for riders to ride Freeway 168 for ten miles with no vehicle traffic, from McKinley Ave to Shepherd Ave. That is why we are urging cyclists up and down the Central Valley to "Ride the Freeway to California's Year Round Playground!"

The weekend isn't just for cyclists. There's also a marathon which goes into the Zoo.


Saturday May 19, 2012
7:00am - All bike rides start
9:00am - Kids Marathon begins
2:00pm - Criterium begins

Sunday May 20, 2012
7:00am - Half Marathon and Relay begins


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Finally, the AMGEN Tour of California bring professional riders into the heart of Clovis. The 130 mile stage will bring riders from Sonora into Old Town.


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PDF Map




Some good stuff to look forward to. I also recommend checking out the IBikeFresno Facebook Page for more updates on all these events, including a promotion by the Fresno brewing Company coffee shop where people who arrive on a bike gets $1 off their drink.