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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

This is what the destruction of Fresno's Fulton Mall looks like

Fresno's pedestrian mall, one of the first in the country, is no more. A multi-year campaign by the city to remove the pedestrian and bicycle mall it and replace it with a street for cars has been successful, as (de)construction is well underway.

I took a walk down the entire length last week and took too many pictures. This post, from August, has some reference pictures as to what it looked like a year ago. Be warned, this post is long.

The north part has totally been removed. The center part looks disconcerting, with plenty of mall left but lots of destruction. The southern end has already progressed to the point that concrete is being laid for the parking areas.

The speed of this project has surprised me. Kicking off was a year delayed (original completion date was next month) but they've since moved quickly after a March groundbreaking. That's certainly good for the businesses which are in a bad shape right now. However, I was surprised to see how superficial the construction was. It appears that they scraped off the mall and are laying the new road straight on the dirt. That is, I didn't see any digging. I assume the area has very old sewer and electrical systems, and now would have been the very best time to replace those. Maybe lay some fiber cable as well? Seems short-sighted to ignore that. If the area "booms" as the project component claims, will the existing underground infrastructure support them?

Section 1: Tuolumne to Fresno


We start at Fulton and Tuolumne, which is the north end of the mall. For reference, all pictures taken lastThursday starting at around 4pm.

No work at the intersection yet, which is slated to get major pedestrian improvements.


The orphan street, which hasn't led anywhere in 40 years, is being used for staging. 


 And so we begin. A pedestrian promenade reduced to around 8 feet of walking space.


The walkway to CVS.


The former mall


Narrow walkway between construction and a parking lot.

 This would make a good Halloween maze.


Maybe a maze with a maximum security prison theme.


 Looking backwards


One of the side streets, which were also all pedestrianized. 






Ah! Suddenly the claustrophobia ebbs and fences make way for trees, a playground, and open pedestrian space. For now.


I guess it was nice of them to leave the playground a little longer. Remember, the city claimed that this project would not impact park space at all.  (Fresno is 97th in park space, out of 100).


But not all is well.


Another oasis remains, for now.

 Looking back.



Warning: Massive amount of pictures after the jump.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Is this new park the worst in Fresno?

A couple of months ago I went to visit Northwest Fresno to see the new Tesla Supercharger. It's a part of town I rarely go to, so I made the effort to hit a few other spots and see the progress on bicycle trails and the like in the area.

I stopped by point 1 on the map below to see if there had been any progress on the Veteran's Boulevard Trail, which was approved last July.



There wasn't. Looked the same as it did 10 years ago.

Returning to Herndon, I drove up the street and while waiting for the traffic signal, point 2 in the above map caught my eye.

A park. With a playground. Brand new.


Built adjacent to a regional expressway with a 60mph design speed (50mph posted), 6 lanes of through traffic, and 3 turn lanes at intersections (for a grand total of 9-10 lanes at intersections).

Unfortunately, Google Satellite Image is over a year outdated as this point, so you can't see the park or the new lanes, but you can see them taking shape.



Streetview caught the city hard at work widening away, which is not visible in the above image. The new park can be seen on the right.



One can never really have too many lanes.

The park itself is, well, it's a Fresno park. Plenty of dead grass (we're in a drought you know), modern, but boring play equipment, and trees that maybe in 20 years will provide shade.



I guess pleasant enough, except for the highway in the room.



Hard to miss.



Here's the crosswalk for the newly widened residential street. Yes, residential street. Note the yellow crosswalks, which mean this is a school zone.



The new housing development across the street is what prompted the addition of even more turn lanes.



What is interesting about this neighborhood is that access is completely blocked off except on Herndon. To the north, a private country club. To the east, a railroad. So there are only two ways in and out, shown in green.




That's not a huge surprise in Fresno. Some top tier circulation planning is at work.



However, the neighborhood was 90% developed before the new homes at the corner went in. Is the addition of those few homes really enough to warrant the addition of two new turning lanes at the intersection? I guess so.

But back to the park. Who would want to bring their kids here?



You don't have to know anything about health to know that diesel fumes from trucks and heavy traffic is not good for you or your family. And yes, Herndon eastbound will be widened in the next couple of years, to 3.5 lanes.

Here's a reminder of why this is bad:
Traffic-related air pollution is a main contributor to unhealthy ambient air quality, particularly in urban areas with high traffic volume. Within urban areas, traffic is a major source of local variability in air pollution levels, with the highest concentrations and risk of exposure occurring near roads. Motor vehicle emissions represent a complex mixture of criteria air pollutants, including carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (PM), as well as hydrocarbons that react with NOx and sunlight to form ground-level ozone. Individually, each of these pollutants is a known or suspected cause of adverse health effects (1–4). Taking into consideration the entire body of evidence on primary traffic emissions, a recent review determined that there is sufficient evidence of a causal association between exposure to traffic-related air pollution and asthma exacerbation and suggestive evidence of a causal association for onset of childhood asthma, nonasthma respiratory symptoms, impaired lung function, all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and cardiovascular morbidity (5).
CDC
At least 8 percent of the more than 300,000 cases of childhood asthma in Los Angeles County can be attributed to traffic-related pollution at homes within 75 meters of a busy roadway. A new study published online September 24 in Environmental Health Perspectives also indicates that previous estimates of childhood asthma exacerbation related to air pollution may have underestimated the true burden of exposure on society. The research focused on the Los Angeles basin.
Futurity.org

Maybe we shouldn't be exacerbating the problem by building new parks just steps away from our regional expressway. Fresno already has some of the worst air in the country. Do we have to rub it in by encouraging the kids to play here? 

There's a fence so kids won't run into traffic, but that fence doesn't stop the bad air. Those trees aren't doing so much either.





So how do you make this park even worse? You throw in some more traffic danger.

This is the whole park.



Some genius decided the best thing to do was to have the park extend across the roadway, at a curve built for fast speeds and low visibility (especially if people parallel park at the corner).

I mean, the "park" on the other side isn't exactly a prize the kids will be rushing to.


But why.

Why?

Oh, and the area east of the playground?

A true field of dreams. Where your soccer ball can either bounce off the high voltage electricity tower or meander off onto the highway.



I hope when the kids are having fun they keep their shoes on.

But really, why are we building this in 2016?




On the plus side, they build a new section of the Herndon bicycle trail as part of the housing development. Not exactly a fun recreational route (6 lanes of high speed traffic remember), but a vital connection for bicycle commuters who would rather not share the lane with 60mph traffic and have no other choice (remember the broken street network?)

Park on left, looking east.



Looking west


A bus stop, with a fence budget that was a tad too high...and no existing or planned bus service, looking west



The bus stop, looking east.


Not safe.



 One bollard is really more than enough.



The Herndon bike path is still a road to nowhere as many parts are missing, but one day it will be a decent route.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Fresno air service still more limited than peer cities

A few years ago, I though Fresno Air Terminal (FAT) was prime for the addition of new flights, especially as the economy picked up. Jetblue was, and still is, rapidly growing. Virgin America was ready to compete with big plans. Southwest was continuing its slow-but-steady expansion into more and more cities, and disruptive airlines like Spirit were popping up. Surely new service to Houston, Chicago, and maybe Atlanta was coming to Fresno sooner rather than later.

Yet here we are in 2016, and the only innovative or low-cost airline to serve Fresno is Allegiant Air, an airline that surprisingly was founded and headquartered in Fresno before leaving for Vegas. At one point, they offered service from Fresno to Reno, Portland, Lake Tahoe, and Long Beach. They served Hawaii from Fresno in 2012, but mostly abandoned that market in 2014. Today, from Fresno, they only serve Las Vegas and Mesa, Arizona (new for this year).

The other low cost airline to serve Fresno, Frontier, left in January of 2015. They also stopped serving Bakersfield. They flew to Denver from both markets.

Indeed, Bakersfield and Visalia have also lost service. The long-standing Bakersfield-Houston flight, established by Continental, ended earlier this year (which prompted this post). Visalia now has no air service at all, after being an Essential Air Market with flights to LAX or Burbank. Last year, you could have flown from Visalia to San Diego via a quick stop in LAX for $69. Today, you'd have to own your own plane.

Of note, Merced still has air service. After losing Great Lakes (the same airline that served Visalia) they found a replacement in "Boutique Air" which serves LAX and Oakland, also for $69. However, the turnover for these tiny airlines is very quick. Visalia quit the commercial game because they went through 3 providers in 3 years and it was no longer worth the hassle. Merced might be next.

The legacy airline that have served the Valley continue to do so, but with less options. A big reason is because they've abandoned propeller aircraft, which are cheaper to operate. Instead, they now all use small jets. Sure, they're larger, faster, and quieter, but the change has meant United no longer serves Las Vegas from Fresno and they only operate two flights a day to LAX.

Twice a day to LAX, is quite frankly, crazy.

Fresno does have two airlines serving Guadalajara, but the rumored service to Mexico City only  emerged as a Christmas charter flight.

All these changes have made flying to and from Fresno harder than ever. Already an expensive airport, less options has meant higher prices, and more trouble when delays cause a connection to be missed. Everyone who flies into Fresno frequently has experience with either being forced to spend a night elsewhere or renting a car from LAX or SFO to actually arrive. While fog can be to blame in the winter (or when going to SFO), most of the time it's because the plane scheduled for Fresno is diverted to serve another scheduled flight, leaving Fresno travelers high and dry.

Only Alaska has grown in Fresno, such as by offering service to San Diego. They've also recently purchased Virgin America, and taken big steps to increase their West Coast presence. If any airline is to add service to Fresno in the next few years, it would almost certainly be them.

This LA Times article from Sunday talks about Alaska's expansion.  What I found interesting is how they call Southwest "California's airline" because apparently they carry more California passengers than anybody else. Not to Fresno though.

What is especially disappointing is that Southwest and Jetblue have continued to expand into smaller and smaller markets, but not Fresno.

Jetblue now serves Reno from New York City, and is planning service from Reno to Long Beach.

In fact, let's take a look at our peer cities to see how Fresno compares. I chose cities similar in size to Fresno (by metropolitan area), and similar in importance. I ignored all of Florida because you can't walk 5 feet without coming across an international airport served by 200 airlines (aka, the tourism factor). Basically, average cities that are a good distance from the nearest major metropolitan area. I also looked at Burlington, Vermont, as it gets Jetblue flights, although it is many times smaller.

Ranked by the population of the metropolitan area, (ie, the flying public), Fresno ranks 3rd from this selection of cities.

However, ranked by airline service, Fresno comes out looking pretty bad:


 
Dead last in destinations served. Only Knoxville also lacks service by Southwest and Jetblue, but they get twice the number of destinations from less airlines. In regards to airlines, I combined entities such as "American Eagle" with "American Airlines" and I went by brand, rather than actual airline (Skywest does most flights, but nobody buys a Skywest ticket). I included Burlington as an example of a very small metro area with Jetblue service....and awkwardly, more destination options than Fresno, even with a metro area more than twice as small.

Unsurprisingly, the lack of service has resulted in a much smaller number of passengers than these other cities. And that's where you get a chicken and egg problem.

Airlines don't serve Fresno because few people fly. Few people fly because prices are expensive, destinations are limited, and service is unreliable.

Sure, people can and do drive to LAX and SFO. But that's a waste of a day. The 4 hour drive usually means 5 because you have to plan for traffic or delays. And since those airports are bigger, you have to arrive 2 hours early for TSA troubles. So half the day, just to make the flight.

One day, High Speed Rail will solve this problem. But for the next 6 years, Fresno finds itself stuck in the same situation. Limited flights, high prices, and a poor position compared to peer cities. I'm no longer expecting new destinations or airlines, but who knows, maybe Alaska might surprise.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A quick look at Clovis's new Centennial Plaza

Tomorrow Old Town Clovis hosts their first ever parklet festival. When posting that reminder, I realized I never upload photos of the new Centennial Plaza and streetscape development. I talked about it back in July of 2015, and I visited the area a few months ago, but never actually posted them!

If you visit the parklet exhibitions, you will surely see the new plaza. The city planners will also be using the festival as an opportunity to celebrate the groundbreaking of two new buildings what will ride on vacant lots on either side of the plaza.

So let's take a quick look. As you can clearly see, these photos were taken in January, but aside from more greenery and less holiday decorations, the area looks the same today.

The plaza is located at Bullard and Pollasky. The project area included the intersection, the plaza, the surface parking lot (existing, it was re-organized), and the mini-section of Bullard west of Clovis Avenue.  You can clearly see the two empty lots set for development.



Looking at the plaza from the street parking on Bullard.


The new lights have outlets, probably to accommodate the numerous events held in Old Town. 

 Looking at the new streetscape improvements. Extended sidewalks for pedestrians, textured crosswalks, and low curbs. Lots of new lights as well.



Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Reminder: Clovis Parklet Festival is This Weekend!

This is a reminder that on May 14 and May 15, Old Town Clovis will be hosting a "taking it to the streets" event, where a variety of parklets are presented to the public. Parklets are mini parks installed on a street parking space to add greenery, seating, art or other amenities to downtown areas. The event is intended to build teamwork, showcase art, and provide a proof of concept to area businesses of what a permanent installation could look like.

This is what the website says:

The Old Town streets have always been a place where people gather to enjoy local life and festivities.  Streets increasingly play important ecological roles in the city, with strategies that serve to magnify the space as a livable and living, place.  Many highly beneficial social outcomes, including economic growth, increased health, and improvements in air quality are linked to well-designed streets that enable active social and ecologic life.  "Taking it to the streets" seeks to elaborate on the street’s role as an agent of social life.
This PDF map shows the planned locations. 

Attendance is free of course, and I believe they will have comment cards so people can talk about their favorite installations. 

‎Dwight Kroll, the Director of Planning and Development Services, commented on my post from February to let us know that on Saturday they will also be celebrating the groundbreaking for two new buildings scheduled to rise around the new Centennial Plaza. I talked about those proposed buildings last July.



I was going to link to my photo tour of the new plaza but, uh, I never actually posted it. Woops. I'll have that up shortly. I'm not the only blogger with too many draft posts right?

The new buildings will really bring that intersection together.