Pages

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Fresno State Finally Gets Serious About Non-Car Transportation!

Fresno State, officially California State University, Fresno, has for decades been a driving university. The campus arrived at its current location in 1956, and at the time it was located far from the city. That was intentional - with agriculture as a core mission, the University purposely surrounded itself with farms. Even today, the 388-acre main campus is attached to the 1,011-acre University Farm. As such, one was expected to drive to campus. Especially because students came from all over the Central Valley.

Fresno State in the 1950's


However, much has changed since 1956. Fresno grew, and now the campus is completely surrounded by urban (or suburban) activity. The University has also grown tremendously, and now hosts a population of over 25,000 (students and staff). While commuter students still represent a large portion of the population, 8,000 students and 2,400 staff live within 5 miles of campus - an easy bicycle commute over perfectly flat land. 

Unfortunately, campus officials have been slow to respond to these changes. For decades they've operated as a car-campus, and made no efforts to change that. As recently as 2012, the transportation plan was all about driving and parking. Remember this story?
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.
In that same article, I pointed out that the campus transportation mission appeared to be a tad bit focused on one, and only one thing:
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.

 Since then, the only other articles I've written about the campus have been:
  • A 2014 plan to add bicycle lanes to Barstow - bike lanes which as of two weeks ago, still did not exist
  • A critique of the Campus Pointe Shopping development adjacent to campus, namely, how the non-motorized transportation links to it sort of suck
  • A news story on them adding electric vehicle charging stations 
Not the most exciting of headlines.


Is the focus on parking justified?

Due to the low price of parking (lowest in the entire State University system), and poor non-motorized connections onto campus, there is indeed a strong demand for parking. That's induced demand for you.

However, after adding 600 spaces just three years ago, there are again from the student body about congested parking lots. A popular request to build a parking garage won't solve the problem, and would be extremely expensive (estimated at $40 million).

Aside from a high expense of accommodating more and more drivers, that focus on the automobile has created a nasty little problem. More cars need bigger roads, which in turn result in elevated danger for everyone else. Check out this map showing the past 5 years of collisions involving bicycles (orange triangles), pedestrians (red circles), and skateboards (brown).



Notice that intersection on the bottom left? The one where they can't even fit in all the little colission triangles?



Well, when you make pedestrians cross the equivalent of 10 lanes of traffic to get to class, they get hit.

And then they probably decide that maybe they should drive instead, creating more demand for parking, and more demand for driving.

Oh, and note the top right of the crash map? All those little bicycle triangles?

They're getting hit here:



While this roundabout absolutely improved safety for drivers, it failed to accommodate bicyclists, as stated by state design guidelines. I pointed that out in my critique of the Campus Pointe development.

Oops.

Anyway, after apparently conceding that you can't build your way out of congestion and parking demand, it looks like change has finally arrived at Fresno State. And not just a small change: a wave of changes meant to encourage alternative modes of transportation, all happening within the past 6 months.
  • New campus shuttle bus
  • Partnerships creating bus service to Visalia and north to Yosemite
  • Free bus passes on FAX and Clovis Stageline for all students and staff
  • Scramble crosswalk on Cedar
  • Bicycle barns (secure bicycle parking)
  • Bicycle maintenance stations
  • High quality Active Transportation Master Plan prepared by Alta
Even their mission statement has seen a change. Compare the quoted statement above to what the website shows today:



Reduce parking demand!
    Let's dive into all these improvements. 



    1. New Shuttle Bus Service

    Bulldog Express is Fresno State's free campus shuttle service for students, faculty, and staff. Service operates Monday thru Friday from 7am to 10pm, during the fall and spring semesters.
    Bulldog Express

    Launching just last week, the new shuttle bus service accomplishes three goals:
    • Encourages students living west of campus to use the shuttle, rather than drive onto campus
    • Supports the use of existing over-flow lots east of campus, rather than building a central garage
    • Provides connectivity to new Campus Pointe shopping center. 

    On the first point, the area west of campus is not known as the safest neighborhood, in spite of (because of?) the large student population. The new shuttle serves this neighborhood, providing a safe transportation option, especially after dark. (Longtime readers of this blog will know that poor street-lighting is a frequent topic of conversation).

    On the second point, the shuttle bus makes it easier for students to utilize the existing surface parking lots around the SaveMart Center, which sit empty outside of your Justin Beiber or other occasional headline show.

    On the third point, it addresses concerns about accessing Campus Pointe, the new retail development which is not easy to get to from campus by walking or biking, and is especially far away from the off-campus housing community to the west of the academic campus.

    The shuttle can also encourage commuting students to park once and use the bus to move from one end of campus to the other, rather than attempting to move their car. For students that live in close proximity, it eliminates the craving to drive at all.

    The service itself seems pretty solid. Buses operate every 15 minute, but more importantly, students will be given the information they need to know if it's worth waiting:
    Later this spring, this website and the Fresno State Mobile app will be updated with real-time bus tracking and time estimates for arrival at each stop. 
    The route looks like a solid start as well.



    I prefer to understand bus routes on Google Maps, so here is what it looks like:



    At first glance, the route seems imperfect. However, looking closer, there's really not much else they can do. While the campus is ringed by parking, the center itself is pedestrianized, so there's no way the bus can travel through the campus core. The neighborhood south of Shaw has a heavy student presence, so I wondered if a loop would make sense - but none of the roads down there are continuous, making it impossible for a shuttle to operate anywhere besides Shaw.

    And this odd little jog:



    Seems to be caused by the fact that the campus is so parking intensive that it generates tons of traffic. Meaning a bus waiting to go straight through this intersection might be stuck for a long, long time waiting for a clearing:

    (Note the massive empty parking lots, part of the SaveMart Center).

    Maybe they'll add another roundabout one day?

    Oh, and one impressive piece of trivia, from the student newspaper:

    Discussions for a shuttle became more serious around September 2015, Hudson said, and university officials determined the shuttle would be able to begin service in January. 

    During the end of the fall 2015 semester, Fresno State interviewed companies interested in operating the campus shuttle. Ultimately, Chicago-based SP+ Transportation was picked to run the shuttle because of their experience in running other university shuttles and the speed at which they could begin service, Hudson said.

    It took around four months from the time the university seriously considered a shuttle and having the shuttle in operation.
    The Collegian
    Looks like someone really lit a fire over at the transportation department! (More on that at the end of this long post).


    2. New Bus service to Visalia and Yosemite

    But that's not all! Fresno State apparently has also been proactive in finding ways to help long-distance students reach the campus. After all, Fresno State attracts students from all of the Central Valley, and until recently, the only way for them to attend class has been to drive and then park.

    Fresno State has partnered with the city of Visalia to provide a new shuttle bus service to the campus. Service is 7 days a week. The bus stops include the Fresno Airport, Fresno State, and the Courthouse Park. The V-LINE stop is located at the Maple Avenue turnaround and corner of Keats Ave.

    Traffic Operations will provide free passes for the first year, Normally general tickets are $10 one-way and student tickets are at the rate of $9. For more information on the free bus service please contact the Traffic Operations Department.


    The first bus leaves Visalia at 4am (!!) arriving to Fresno State at 5:15am. The last bus leaves Fresno State at 7:45pm. While there are only six round trips a day, they are spread out, providing pretty good service for an inaugural shuttle system, and yes, you can track their real-time locations online. Even better, the service operates 7 days a week, and only sit idle on six major holidays.

    Oh, and it's not quite a school bus:
    Each V-LINE shuttle will feature comfortable seats, free WiFi, USB charging ports, storage racks, and will be wheelchair accessible.
    TCAG

    Check them out here:
    https://ridevline.com/

    Service only just started this past November.

    In addition, you might remember the news about the new YARTS service from Fresno to Yosemite. While the final destination is the highlight, the bus makes several stops along the way - including Fresno State. At the time, I thought it was a strategy to drum up ridership, but the Fresno State website hints that they were proactive is ensuring the bus service stopped on campus.

    This is certainly an asset for students who commute to Fresno State from the foothill communities.

    Finally, Fresno State realizes that these services turn the campus into a transportation hub, especially because a few private apartment complexes provide shuttles to campus as well. They are now looking into creating a true transit hub with the appropriate shelters and signage needed to support and encourage the bus systems.


    3. Free Bus Passes

    Also new as of last summer, Fresno State students and staff now have unlimited free access to FAX and the Clovis bus systems! 

    “One of the things that’s our goal – both as a campus and our work we do in coordinating with other local transit agencies –  is trying to reduce the number of single-vehicle trips to campus,” said Thomas W. Gaffery, facilities management and traffic operations manager. “Both from an air pollution standpoint and from a parking inventory standpoint.”

    The Bulldog FAX program will allow all students, faculty and staff free access to the Fresno Area Express and Clovis Transit buses with a simple swipe of their Bulldog Cards.

    The routes of transportation will vary with multiple destinations throughout the Fresno and Clovis area, said Gaffery. Some of the destinations include: Clovis, the Manchester Transit Center, the Tower District and Downtown Fresno.

    “There are a lot of areas that are covered in the city that can get you on the bus to and from campus,” said Gaffery. 

    “I think that given that there’s no charge, that it’s free for our users and they have the opportunity to be able to ride the bus and read a book or do their homework,” said Gaffery. “That could be advantageous as opposed to driving, and you don’t have to buy a parking permit.”
    The Collegian 

    I think the student newspaper really buried the lede when they reported on the news in September. It's a huge change, one more students need to know about. Especially because the free service is good on the entire system, not just the buses serving the campus area.



    4. Scramble Crosswalk

    This one was a very pleasant surprise, and another example of Fresno State finally (FINALLY) realizing that the infrastructure around the campus influences which mode of transport people use.

    As I mentioned when discussing the shuttle, there is a good-sized off-campus population west of campus, as seen in the map below.



    Unfortunately, the walking/biking facilities are poor. Very bad lighting at night, narrow sidewalks, and then an intersection which strongly favors cars.



    Yup, a missing crosswalk, in order to guarantee drivers an exclusive left turn phase.

    Someone living in the Bulldog Village Apartments, for example, would have to wait to cross twice every single time they wanted to enter campus.

    This past summer, Fresno State addressed this concern by adding an exclusive pedestrian phase, so pedestrians only have to cross once. 




    (Yes, that wall is nasty and has to go)

    In 2014 the City of Fresno initially received funding for a traffic signal improvement design at Cedar Avenue/Bulldog Lane to provide a protected left-turn signal phase movement for motorists in the northbound left-turn lane. In Fall 2014, Fresno State also launched an Active Transportation Plan (ATP) to enhance walking, biking, and transit access, with improved safety, mobility, and connectivity to their campus. One initial recommendation that came from the ATP outreach was to enhance the safety, connectivity, and convenience of crossing Cedar Avenue at Bulldog Lane due to the high concentration of both housing for students and staff, as well as the athletic complex/facilities west of Cedar Avenue. Many pedestrians were crossing multiple approaches of the intersection from the southwest corner to the northeast corner, and were experiencing conflicts with motorists while crossing the northernmost crosswalk. Fresno State learned that a construction project was being funded for this location by the City, and they approached the City to see if additional improvements could be made during construction. This collaboration will benefit both residents and visitors alike with a significantly improved crossing at Cedar Avenue and Bulldog Lane.
    City of Fresno

    Here's the educational graphic they released about the new crosswalk (PDF)


    5. Bicycle Barns

    Transit and pedestrians have been covered. What about bikes?

    Well, the campus has also undertaken a project to install "bicycle barns," or securing parking facilities for bicycles.

    Thomas Gaffery, Fresno State’s parking and transportation manager, said the new bike barns will provide a safe place to leave bicycles in some of the school’s most frequently visited areas.

    “A lot of these [bike thefts] are crimes of opportunity,” he said.

    The bike barns are lit at night and will have locking gates after the project is completed.
    These gates will have an automatic lock attached that will require student IDs in order to exit the structure.
    The Collegian



    3 have been built in the past year.



    They complement the skateboard parking dock, which has been by the library for a few years, and looks like this:




    6. Bicycle Maintenance Stations

    In addition to providing secure parking, the university has taken the extra step to deploy bicycle maintenance stations. These units provide simple tools such as an air pump and an assortment of wrenches and other devices to assist in basic maintenance such as tightening brakes or fixing a flat.

    The University now has three stations.





    7. High quality Active Transportation Master Plan prepared by Alta

    Curious where many of the maps and statistics in this post came from? They're all from the Active Transportation Plan, released just this past November. Developed with help from Alta Planning, the plan makes many, many excellent recommendations for improvements to be made on and around campus, such as this map showing existing and proposed bicycle facilities.



    In fact, some of the proposals were implemented immediately. For example, the scramble crosswalk was proposed during the plan development and implemented well before the plan was finalized. The shuttle bus was proposed in the plan as well, and implemented just a month after publication. I wouldn't be surprised if many of the simple pedestrian or bicycle improvements, such as crosswalks at intersections, have also been put into place, including this intersection:




    Here are all the missing crosswalks: 



    I'd love to hear from those who frequent campus if they've seen crosswalks be added.

    You can check out the full plan HERE (PDF), which ends with a series of recommended pedestrian and bicycle improvements, organized by phase. While the phases don't have a timeline, they do provide a good idea of what can be expected in the near future. Check them out on page 112.


    *  -----  *   -----  *  -----  *  -----  *  -----  *  -----  *  -----  *  -----  *



    So what caused this massive shift at Fresno State? Well, it could be a mandate from "above", some CSU-wide push to make the campuses more friendly to bicycles and pedestrians.

    But I would put my money on it being a very simple shift in local leadership.

    Five years ago, a man named Bryan Jones was the Fresno City Traffic Engineer. If you're into active transportation in Fresno, you remember Bryan.

    Remember how almost every street downtown received a road diet? Remember how bicycle lanes were popping up everywhere? Remember how Fresno was finally painting high visibility crosswalks? Remember how Fresno developed a great bicycle master plan?

    He was in charge.

    And then the City of Carlsbad poached him. Fresno was facing a serious budget crisis, and making cuts left and right, so it is no surprise that Bryan chose (or was forced) to move onto greener pastures. 

    Suddenly, all those improvement stopped. Ground to an almost complete halt. A couple more road diets went in, but many projects were killed by the city council, with no one at city hall willing to stand up and properly explain the benefits. Sure, there have been some extensions to the bike trail network, but there were probably more projects put in during 2010 alone than 2011-2016 combined.

    Why am I talking about him?

    Well, wouldn't you know it, but the man now works at Alta as a Principal Planner. The same Alta that designed this master plan! From his Linkedin profile:
    Alta Planning + Design creates active communities where bicycling and walking are safe, healthy, fun, and normal daily activities.

    I am focused on leading the San Diego office and California Region Engineering/Implementation of Active and Complete Streets.
    And it just so happens that for this master plan, he was the Project Manager.

    Of course, a consultant can propose anything they want, and that doesn't mean the client has to listen. This is especially true if the request for developing a plan came from elsewhere, and no one at Fresno State facilities or transportation gave a damn about the final product.

    But obviously, that hasn't been the case, as we can see from the speed of implementation.

    Well,  Mr. Jones penned a very (very) favorable post on his LinkedIn profile about this project.
    Fresno State might not have the best football season this year, but when it comes to Active Transportation they are truly WINNING!

    Fresno State is winning because they have a great leader in Tom Gaffery, Fresno State’s Parking & Transportation Manager who is a true champion creating positive change for the campus. Tom creates a fast-pace, collaborative environment focused on accomplishing initiatives and producing high-quality deliverables. Tom has the will and the vision and is strategic and decisive to accomplish it. Having the right people in the right positions in your organization will allow you to truly thrive.

    Tom sees the opportunity for the university campus to be the leader in the region and demonstrate to others in the central valley what can be done to improve the quality of life, safety, connectivity, mobility, and sense of community. He is focused on moving and connecting adjacent neighborhoods, students, staff, and faculty with the campus.

    A year ago Tom and Fresno State hired Alta Planning + Design as their Active Transportation On-call Consultant to serve as an extension of campus staff to help with the transformation of the campus. Our first task was to create the campus’ first Active Transportation Plan.
    LinkedIn
    Of course, it makes perfect sense to write a gushing review of your client. That's where the money is.

    That being said, I found this to be quite curious about Thomas Gaffery:

    Parking Transportation Manager
    Fresno State
    July 2014 – Present (1 year 8 months)

    Responsible for administrative oversight of parking business operations, alternative transportation programs, visitor information programs, parking facilities maintenance, planning, and project development. Ensure staffing beats are consistent with enforcement data, traffic engineering data, class schedules and other demand-based factors.

    Huh, it just so happens that Mr. Gaffery, although a longtime employee of Fresno State, was only recently promoted to this position of power. And it seems like one of his first orders of business was commissioning this master plan, and then using the recommendations to install some very necessary improvements. It seems that Bryan is correct in stating that Mr. Gaffery is a true champion creating positive change for the campus

    That's leadership. And it shows how pivotal just one person can be in steering the ship. The right person in the right position can be the difference between rapid adoption of transportation alternatives versus maintaining the status quo. We saw that at Fresno City Hall and we're seeing it now at Fresno State.

    I wonder if the 600 new parking spaces would have been created in 2012 had Mr. Gaffery been in charge of the transportation department. Unfortunately, that is in the past, but at least Fresno State seems to have a bright non-motorized future ahead of it.

    And speaking of that future, Mr. Jones also writes:

    From pedestrian scrambles to roundabouts to raised intersections to separated bikeways (cycletracks) to buffered bike lanes to green paint to curb extensions and new trails; expect to see a lot of improvements to Fresno State's transportation system in the coming months and years.




    I can't wait.



    Oh, one last thing, compare the transportation website from December 2012, to today, using the WayBack Machine.

    Then:




    Now:




    Nice.

    2 comments:

    1. It's just such a huge shame to see countries being so slow to get on the public transport network for their nation. It's not the easiest solutions to implement either. The transport network has to be very supported and there is a lot of work going into making sure that it's all coordinated with other aspects of the transport system.

      ReplyDelete
    2. Non-car transportation is really a good thing that should be continued in all states. Providing better public transportation service can be helpful in making this plan successful. Actually there are lots of problems in the public transportation system and this is the reason why people prefer to go by their own personal cars. As a result the number of vehicles on road increase which ultimately results environmental pollution heavily. These ideas of shuttle bus services can be a great way to deal with this problem. Thanks for the post.

      ReplyDelete