Monday, December 24, 2012

Amtrak California Ridership Update

Nothing quite says Christmas like fresh graphs and Amtrak ridership stats. Since I haven't done one of these Amtrak California ridership updates since August, I figured we were well overdue in taking a look at the most recent trends. In my last update, we had ridership stats up to May, today I have until September.

The San Joaquin continues to be the line showing the greatest gains in ridership. The Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner are not showing much growth, as they are pretty stable compared to last years numbers (up a bit, then down a bit). Next year should continue to show growth on all lines as the economy improves, resulting in more people moving about. Megabus has started service between Sf and Sacramento which may impact Amtrak ridership in that corridor.

How much has the San Joaquin grown?

In June of 2011, the San Joaquin exceeded 100k riders in one month for the first time ever. It exceeded that again in July.

This year, the San Joaquin took over 100k passengers for FIVE months in a row; April-August. 

On the other end, the lowest ridership month was January, with 83,053. Meanwhile, in 2009, 6 months had ridership below 80k, with three months in the 60's. Pretty big leaps in ridership numbers.



Ridership on all three lines, October 2008 - September 2012. All three lines show upwards growth, although the San Joaquin is growing fastest.
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All three lines, past 15 months
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San Joaquin, an easier way to visualize year on year increases
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San Joaquin, past 13 months
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Capitol Corridor, past 13 months
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Pacific Surfliner, past 13 months
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How the California lines compare nationally for July
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How the California lines compare nationally for September. The Downeastern recently got extended, and just missed the cut. Expect it to show up in the top 10 ranking soon enough. Important to note that positions 8-12 are quite competitive.
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 Enjoy your holidays!



Friday, December 21, 2012

FAX moving towards strike?

In another example of the city of Fresno not realizing the importance of a functional bus network, the council today made a move that looks to push FAX closer to a strike....a strike that will jeopardize thousands of jobs as people have to miss work and may get fired.

The city fails to understand that buses connect people with jobs, and so fails to fund a network for the city of 2012. FAX hasn't grown since 2000, and has actually cut routes since then. Bus service ends at 9:30pm, making commutes to evening jobs impossible. And now, the city doesn't want to pay the drivers.

The union has been without a contract for quite some time, and instead of coming to an agreement, the city is imposing their own terms.

The Fresno City Council on Thursday evening voted to impose a one-year labor deal on bus drivers that mandates a 3% wage cut. The vote after a nearly three-hour hearing was 4-3 with Council Members Oliver Baines, Sal Quintero and Blong Xiong voting no. The deal also changes work rules designed in an effort to reduce absenteeism and overtime.

The bus drivers union on Saturday rejected a final contract offer hammered out by union officials and negotiators from Mayor Ashley Swearengin's administration.
The more than 100 drivers at that meeting also authorized their negotiating team to call a strike if deemed necessary.
Fresno Bee

 The three councilmen who voted no represented the parts of the city with most the poverty, and most FAX ridership. They understand how many of their constituents rely on the bus to make ends meet. Clint Oliver, district 7, voted against the needs of his area. The other 3 districts barely get bus service.

Hopefully this doesn't end in a strike, but it's just another example of messed up priorities.


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Sorry for the lack of posts recently, December has been quite busy, as I'm sure it is for most of you. Expect more frequent posting as of next week.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bakerfield: Goodbye neighborhood, hello highway

If you thought the era of plowing through an established neighborhood to build a brand new highway was over, then Bakersfield and Caltrans would like to have a word with you.

I've often said that Fresno is a lot like Los Angeles of 20 years ago; mimicking many of the bad choices, eventually receiving many of the trends (yay froyo, when will cupcakes hit!?) and having a downtown that will hopefully follow the path of redevelopment that LA eventually took.

Bakersfield, smaller and less developed than Fresno, is a few years further behind. Fresno made the decision to bulldoze neighborhoods over a decade ago, when highway 180 was erected through the area between downtown and the tower district. Now it's Bakersfield's turn to do what their cool peers Fresno and LA did, and put highways before people.

The Bakersfield California reports:

After years of being in the dark, residents and business owners in the Westpark area of Bakersfield finally have some idea as to whether their homes and buildings could be torn down to make room for the Centennial Corridor highway project.

Caltrans said Thursday it is recommending the Alternative B route for what will link Highway 58 to the Westside Parkway and eventually Interstate 5.

The Centennial Corridor is the biggest and most expensive of the Thomas Roads Improvement Program projects Bakersfield has been undertaking to upgrade and expand its roads.

Alternative B would ease traffic congestion along Highway 58 from Cottonwood Road to Interstate 5, Caltrans said in a press release. It would extend Highway 58 west from Highway 99 for about half a mile along the south side of Stockdale Highway. It would then turn northwest through the largely residential area known as Westpark, thread through the commercial areas along California Avenue and connect to Truxtun Avenue and the Westside Parkway between AAA offices and the retail center that contains Paragon Salon and Moo Creamery, just east of Mohawk Street.

Caltrans estimated that Alternative B would cost $570 million

Alternative B would take out 310 residences and 121 commercial properties.
Bakersfield Californian

Only $570 million to bulldoze through established businesses and residences? What a bargain! And all to reduce congestion....in Bakersfield, a city where congestion means you got a red light and must stop for it.

The article provided an image of the proposals. Before looking closer at option B which was the chosen one, take a gander at the rejected option C.


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For option C, there were proposing a brand new highway....directly adjacent to the existing six lane highway 99! And I do mean directly adjacent. C was rejected because it would completely destroy this park located by 99.

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Did they propose some kind of system where drivers had to, I don't know, use what already exists, to continue their east-west route? Nope. Adding a lane to 99? Nope. Maybe even decking 99 as to not impact any businesses or residences? Nope. The proposal was to plop in a new 6 lane highway right next to an existing 6 lane highway, for about a mile and a half.

Alternate B isn't much smarter. It also covers the same north-south path that 99 already does, but on a diagonal, thus impacting even more properties,  and creating a neighborhood bounded by two highways. Check out the path of destruction.

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Detailed map (PDF)


The path of destruction has a much larger effect than you might think. Naturally, many families don't want to move, as they've spent many years in the same home, and might have invested thousands in upgrades that may not be fully pay paid if the state takes their property.They're not just losing sentimental value, they're losing real money.

Cadena said she's made major improvements to her home, including adding a backyard pool just a few years ago when she thought the house would avoid demolition. Now that the California Department of Transportation has said it's recommending Alternative B as the route for the project, she knows her house is on the list of those to be bulldozed.
Bakersfield Californian

It also goes beyond the homes under the path of the bulldozer. For one, the neighborhood will see immediate negative affects. How many of those homeowners do you think will pay money for maintenance or improvements, with this project looming?

And then we have the homeowners whose properties don't get taken. Suddenly, they're living right by many years of construction, and then an eternal highway. Their home values will plummet. Their quality of life as well. They already live in one of the most polluted cities in the country, and now the highway is coming straight at them.

That's not all. It will hurt the homeowners that live blocks away, who can't hear (or smell) the highway. When they look to sell their home, they'll find their value has fallen as well, as people use neighborhood benchmarks. When your neighborhood sees a large drop in values, you drop with them.

The sentimental value can't be discounted either

Cherie Cadena grew up in the house on La Mirada where she now lives with her teenage daughter, 2-year-old son and her mom. Several of her neighbors also inherited their homes from their parents, and Cadena knows them from her childhood days. But Cadena's house and 26 others on her street would come down if the Centennial Corridor Alternative B is built.

"It sucks. We've been established here for many, many years," Cadena said while taking a break from putting up lavish Christmas decorations Friday afternoon. "This neighborhood especially -- it doesn't have that high a turnaround. ... There's just a huge group of people who've been here for years. ... It's sad."

Naturally, the homeowners will do their best to fight it off. California has a long history of highway opposition.....just not in the valley, where there can never be too many lanes.

A large group of residents decided Monday night that they will fight the building of the Centennial Corridor freeway through their Westpark neighborhood. The community meeting organized by the Westpark Home Owners Association at the First Assembly of God church drew more than 250 people, so many that the meeting was moved from a room off the sanctuary to the sanctuary itself.

Brian Self, one of the organizers for the meeting, said residents in other California cities have effectively opposed Caltrans' highway projects. "It can be done," Self said. He added that the home owners association had consulted with attorneys who successfully fought Caltrans' projects. A legal defense would cost $100,000 to $300,000, including hiring experts to rebut Caltrans' environmental document once the agency releases it.
 Bakersfield Californian



Caltrans doesn't think that's going to be an issue. Doesn't matter if you like it or not, they've got asphalt to lay.

The option to not build the project is unlikely, Milton said. It would happen, for instance, if Bakersfield were to lose the funding.

Other sections of the highway, that didn't require demolishing a neighborhood, are well under construction. Of course, sacrifices were made.

Bakersfield decided that riverfront property was best set as a highway corridor. While other cities are looking to demolish highways that ruin rivers, build beautiful parks, and then reap the benefits of high property values, in Bakersfield, they've decided to convert industrial land to highway. Instead of fixing past mistakes, they're going to make it worse.

Like in Fresno, Bakersfield has brand new satellite imagery. Let's take a look at what the project was doing in August.

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The good news is, this freeway which will head directly west to land that has yet to be sprawled on, will not induce any demand at all.

9.   Won’t this project induce growth?

Studies done nationally to evaluate this issue indicate that most projects are not growth inducing, but would accommodate planned growth. Growth areas are based on community planning documents, and this project would help facilitate the planned growth in designated areas. A growth inducement study will be done for the Environmental Document.
 Caltrans

That's a clever way to put it. You're not inducing sprawl if you have it in a document that sprawl would happen anyway, so might as well build.



Incidentally, I've yet to come across an article protesting the $570 million cost. I guess cost only matters if the project involves trains.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Fresno to get a new 10-story building

The Fresno office market has been pretty dry for the past few years, but it looks like things are moving again, in a pretty big way. A developer has asked the planning council to allow a 10 story, 150 foot building in northeast Fresno. The site is currently zoned for 6 stories (98 feet). 150 feet is the maximum allowed in the city outside of the downtown core, and is the upper limit of what the city defines as a "mid-rise".

The building (when eventually built, don't expect shovels any time soon) will be in an office park, nearby another relatively tall (for Fresno!) building you've probably seen off 41.

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Here's the site plan. The red will be new construction....most of it acres of parking surrounding the ten story office building. The pink was slated to be another office building, but the parcel will instead be used for even more parking, to fulfill parking requirements. I'd love to be the schmuck that gets stuck with a spot over there....although naturally no one will ever be. Like in most developments, those spots will probably be vacant forever.

 The yellow cross is the location of the planned building.

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By the way, the massive empty lot to the right will also start construction soon. 


The same developer owns this other building, which is the one most people are familiar. The new one will be similarly close to the freeway, and make an even larger impression due to its slightly taller statute.

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I'm pretty excited to see a new tower go up in the city, although it's a shame to have the growth be up in this area, when downtown has so much vacant office space available. Being up north doesn't make the site immune to traffic though. Anyone who's tried to get on 41 from Friant at 8am knows it backs up, and adding more office space obviously won't alleviate that. Downtown, conversely, is pretty free of traffic.

Another disappointment with the site plan is the previously mentioned acres of parking (4.35 acres to be exact). A garage would be a much better use of space, I'd think, and allow for commercial buildings, to serve the workers. As of now, eating out means getting in a car.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Fresno is a greener, more environmentally aware place than it was a decade ago, when the rest of the site was being built. What does that mean for those who won't be arriving by car?

Well, it'll be near the 2012...I mean 2014....I mean 2016 BRT route.

And bike parking is required!

Yes, a grand total of 20 parking slots (10 whole racks) must be built. In comparison, the site will have 934 parking spaces for cars. Quite the ratio.


On the positive side, many developers would have just stretched out their 10 stories into smaller 2 story blocks, taking up even more space. And if the project had been built a decade ago, not a single bike rack would have been required.

Here's the parking plan (not shown is the pink parcel)

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One bit of irony in the plan is under a "gateway designation".  That means, because it's one of the first thing drivers will see when they enter Fresno, it has to be extra pretty.

So how does the city make this office park a gateway? By requiring large setbacks from the freeway (110 feet)....so drivers get to enjoy beautiful vistas of the heat absorbing asphalt. I don't quite think the city has the same definition of what makes stuff look good that the rest of us have.

I was also amused that the project required a study of shadows, to make sure the building doesn't impact nearby residents. The amusing park is that with the acres of parking, a freeway on one side, and a quasi-freeway on the other, it would have to be a pretty damn massive structure to cast a shadow anywhere near another property.



So what's this bad boy going to look like? Honestly, the rendering is pretty poor, and straight out of 1980's silicon valley. Here's hoping the finished building comes out looking a little better. I'm quite fond of the existing 6-story, shown above.

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To be fair, the color adds a lot to the rendering. If you want to have architectural nightmares, feast on this:

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Feel free to leave your guess as to when you think this building will open for business. As Fancher Creek and countless other developments have shown, city approval (which this will no doubt receive) doesn't actually mean construction.

I'll be an optimist and say 2015, that is unless the entire valley has become an inland sea.


If you're interested in the proposal where these details came from, you can find it here (large PDF).

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A satellite view of what's new in Fresno

Two weeks ago, Google refreshed their satellite imagery of the Fresno region with pictures taken on August 26, 2012, replacing what was seen on April 25, 2011.

Here's a brief tour of the more significant changes in that year and a half. Some good, some bad. There's a good amount of positive changes downtown, but many not so good changes on the urban edge.

I'm providing a link to the map, if you want to explore the area on your own, and also when relevant, a post I may have written on the subject.

NOTE: Google keeps defaulting to the 45 degree view, which is old, from 2010. On the right, hover over the map button and then click 45 to disable that and see the most recent images. On the other hand, this gives you a quick way to compare the changes.



Downtown we see a good amount of new development.

GV Urban finished their Fulton Village Project. You can see the solar panels.

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Map
My pictures of the construction

They were also working on the Bungalow project at the time, which has since been finished
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The location of their next project was cleared over the summer. I'll be writing about this one soon.
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The final GV Urban project has stalled due to a lawsuit. The city let them demolish two old buildings, and now they're being sued over that. While GV claims that the lawsuit has caused the delay, they wouldn't have started construction in 2012 anyway. In the 2011 pictures, the old homes were still there.

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On the north end of downtown, the new Harley dealership. Well, not new, it has been there for decades and was expanded. You may have heard the radio ads all summer. It's great to see the business chose to add a second floor rather than move to the suburbs.

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On the south end of downtown, you can see the new homeless apartments under construction. They opened last month. Note the amount of tents in the surrounding streets.

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The homeless previously lived on an abandoned bridge, which here you can see being demolished.
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West of downtown, we find the new veterans homes.
You might remember when I wrote about the government sprawl this project creates.

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Now we leave downtown.

A couple of new businesses. Fresh and Easy built another new store, but this one is unlikely to open in 2013, or perhaps ever.

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A call center changed locations, and thus we see the birth of a large new parking lot on what supposed to be something actually productive, like, you know, offices.

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And a much larger construction zone, the building of yet another monster Wal-Mart, a Dick's Sporting goods store and many more stores you've certainly seen before. A photo tour of the project, taken around the same time the satellite images were created.

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Sticking to Clovis, the Community Hospital expansion continues its multi-year march. Construction is nowhere near done.

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A wee bit south, the new animal shelter is under construction, as is a large park.....which will no longer be as large as originally planned due to the copious amount of parking added to the project.
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A little bit more south, and we can see the march of suburban sprawl, which took a brief pause during the recession, is back at full speed. Spot a single business? Nope, just homes.

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Zooming in a bit, remember the crosswalk I wrote about?

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McCaffrey started construction on their pedestrian oriented development, which has no sidewalks and blocks an existing trail connection. I had a fairly long post about that one.

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Technically in Fresno, but just a mile or so away, another massive new development. This one is interesting because of the trail along the canal (the arrows). As my photo tour presented, the trail is very badly built.

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Further south, work resumed on the long delayed Fancher Creek project. A roundabout was built on Fowler, just north of Kings Canyon. What's interesting, is that unlike most roundabouts which are designed for 20mph speeds (ie, that's what makes them safe), this one is enormous, with very slight curves....allowing for 40mph speeds. Very important for a "transit oriented development" of course.

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The bicycle transition appears to be exceptionally badly done, putting bikes to the right of a right turn lane. I'll head down there this month to look at it in person.

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If road widening is your cup of tea, boy oh boy are you in for a treat.

Everything is getting widened!

Herndon, in like 12 places.

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And of course, Peach, which involves knocking down a dozen homes

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Highway 180, which was the subject of some of my first posts is done expanding...for now.

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There are many more examples, but that would require hours of screen captures.


And finally, outside of Fresno, the scenic rolling hills have given way to the first phase of the Millerton New Town project.

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Hope you enjoyed the tour. It's always interesting to see what can change in just a year. Hopefully, Google keeps refreshing their pictures every year so I can do this again next fall.

If I missed anything significant, please let me know.