Pages

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Clovis Infill - A Photo Update

It feels a little odd talking about infill in Clovis. It doesn't quite roll off the tongue, as the city is known for its endless subdivisions. And yet in 2017, Old Town Clovis appears to have almost as much infill construction as Downtown Fresno going on.

I reported on two of these projects in July 2015, but I've added a few other ones here.

  • Centennial Plaza
  • La Quinta Inn
  • Rail-Trail Housing
  • New Library
  • Sierra Meadows Park
  • Clovis Community Hospital

Centennial Plaza


Let's start with the big one: Centennial Plaza. This is the heart of Old Town on Pollasky, and I last took a look in May 2016 when the new plaza was finished. That update was focused on the street improvements, but now new buildings are rising up to frame the plaza.

Only 3 stories tall, the new building does make an impression in a downtown where a second story is a novelty.


IMG_0090_24562

IMG_0092_24564

IMG_0095_24567

No basement here

IMG_0097_24569

Close to the street

IMG_0099_24571

IMG_0102_24574

IMG_0103_24575

IMG_0105_24577

Construction has also started on the building framing the other side of the plaza

IMG_0107_24579

IMG_0098_24570

IMG_0093_24565

IMG_0094_24566


La Quinta Inn


A wee bit south, we find construction has finally started on La Quinta Inn. I reported on this one in May of 2015. Aside from building on a vacant lot, what makes this development interesting is that the hotel will be built over parking. This signals that demand for development in Old Town has increased to the point where large surface parking lots no longer make economic sense.

It's a start.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Look at Construction on Fresno's Fake BRT, and New FAX15 service

Improvements have arrived to Fresno's bus system (FAX). The most impactful, for riders, was the introduction of FAX15 on January 9th. The initiative saw the return of 15-minute frequencies on portions of route 9 and 38, from 6am to 6pm. What most cities consider "standard service" is a luxury Fresno riders will be happy to have.

FAX15

Oddly enough, none of the marketing for the new service mentioned what routes were affected. The new webpage said "Shaw and Cedar."

fax15

ABC-30, the Fresno Bee, and all other reported the same:

The new buses will travel up and down Shaw and Cedar Avenues with pick-ups and drop-offs every 15 minutes instead of every 30 minutes. 
I was confused. No bus route serves Shaw and Cedar. Multiple bus routes serve Shaw. Only one does Cedar. 

It appears that FAX-15 operates on Routes 9 and Routes 38 as a short-turn service. That is, every other bus will only run a section of the route, providing that section with 15-minute frequencies. The rest of the line will continue with service every 30 minutes.

For Route 9, Fax-15 buses will run from Shaw and Brawley to Shaw and Cedar. The leaves an odd orphan section at the east end.

For Route 38, Fax-15 will run from Cedar and Shaw south to Cedar and Jensen. 

Route 30 is also getting 15-minute service, before the BRT branding rolls out. You wouldn't know it from the news report or the FAX website, but that's what the map and schedule shows. When the fake BRT starts, it is supposed to improve to every 10 minutes. Speaking of BRT, the end of this post has construction photos.

The route maps, and the system map, indicate the enhanced service area with a dash system.A PDF was also created that sort of shows it.


Monday, January 9, 2017

Fresno Fulton Mall January 2017 Deconstruction Photo Tour

It's been eight months since I last looked at the Fulton Mall. Back then, major construction had started in most parts, with fences everywhere. Concrete had already been poured on the parking areas at the southern end. I assumed it would be mostly done by now, but not even close. Let's take a look at the current status (current as of last week).

Note: Pictures taken on New Years Day, so most businesses closed for the holiday, but if you look closely you'll note many have been run out of business thanks to the abysmal construction staging. Also, please let me know if you have trouble viewing the image. As google has killed Picassa, which was integrated with Blogger, I have moved to Flickr. 

We start at the north end, by Warner's Theater. Nothing had happened in May, so the changes are pretty major.

IMG_0236_24706

IMG_0235_24705

The sidewalks have been built as planned, with the odd, but acceptable use of different crosswalk ramp treatments

IMG_0254_24724

As I mentioned way back when I went over the construction diagrams, this is the best part of the project. 3 wide lanes become 2 narrow lanes.

IMG_0256_24726

Having the sidewalk extension be the entire length of the box office would have been nice though

IMG_0258_24728

Nothing has happened to the orphan road

IMG_0259_24729

It is hard to get pictures in an order that makes sense because the fences are serious barriers

IMG_0260_24730

A relocated fountain is being built

Back in May

Now
IMG_0261_24731


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Can Manchester Center Mall be saved?

Built in 1955, Manchester Center Mall was Fresno's first foray into the suburban enclosed mall template*. Three and a half miles north of downtown, the Mall promised ample parking and an escape from the weather. The concept was indeed successful, and the mall expanded as the decades went by.

Well, for awhile anyway. Fresno kept expanding north (Fashion Fair opened in 1970), and Manchester Center was left behind. What was once the edge of the city became the inner city. As popularity waned, so did the investment. By the mid-90s, the mall was in serious trouble. And in 2009, when Gottschalks (139,500 square feet) closed, it was left with only Sears (186,000 square feet) as an anchor and a handful of stores catering to lower incomes.

*See the comment section for clarification

(You can learn the full history of the Center in this excellent post).

While Sears is no longer a choice retailer, their Manchester location is successful and not in danger of closing.

Since then, the question has been: What's next? Even though many urbanists are not fans of enclosed malls, having 640,000 sqft of leasable space rotting in the geographic center of Fresno would be tragic. Demolishing and replacing with dense housing and modern retail makes for a great dream, but is not feasible in Fresno's current economic climate.

Fortunately, over the past two or three years, we have heard that big changes are coming.
A new company is preparing to renovate Fresno’s nearly dead Manchester Mall. Omninet is asking the city for a small section of land to increase the appeal of the struggling shopping center.
KVPR - May 12, 2015

A year later, nothing had changed.

Retail on the first floor, mostly empty office space on the 2nd.


In fact, there had been some regression.

As the website proudly proclaimed:

The International Food Court is located at the South end of the Center on the Second Level and includes:
     Dairy Queen/Orange Julius

Yup. That's the food court. A single Dairy Queen / Orange Julius store. The two other food locations that were open last year had closed (the pretzel stand in the middle of the mall remains).

The sad state of the food court



NPR investigated:


About a year ago, Valley Public Radio uncovered a website from the property management company Omninet Capital selling a vision of a newly remolded and revitalized Manchester Center Mall including this slick video.
...
Nazarian says the company is ready to invest a handsome sum in Manchester but when pressed he declined to say how much the company is willing to spend or how long they are committed to the project.
KVPR - April 26, 2016

 Until about a couple of month ago, when real renovation plans were announced

Life for Fresno’s aging Manchester Center is about to get a lot better.
The mall owners, Omninet Capital based in Beverly Hills, and Mayor Ashley Swearengin announced on Monday long-awaited plans to transform what was once Fresno’s premier shopping destination into a new unique multi-use property in the heart of the city.

The plans include a new mall entrance, a redesigned facade with signage, a marketplace or “artisan food community” for chefs, food trucks and restaurants, an exterior shopping area and an outdoor events plaza. There will soon be new tenants too. Among them: Chipotle and The Habit in a new building on Blackstone Avenue, and nearly a handful of local restaurants (so far) in the marketplace – Green’s Family Grill, Med Wraps Cafe, Rocket Dog Gourmet Brats & Brew, and Yummyz Street Treats.

The mall renovation, at Blackstone and Shields avenues, will happen over the course of a few years with the first phase to be finished by spring 2017.

Nazarian said Monday that the goal is to have retail stores occupy the mall’s first floor and offices on the second floor. The marketplace will be located in the old Gottschalks space. A new outdoor event plaza will be built on the existing parking lot between the marketplace and Regal Manchester Stadium 16 cinemas.
Fresno Bee

Some fantastic news, but also some tidbits that make me worry.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Fresno Mayoral Election - What will it mean for sprawl?

If you support investment in a strong downtown, curtailing sprawl, focusing on infill, fighting slumlords, and supporting high speed rail, which candidate should you support in the upcoming Fresno mayoral election?

Downtown Fresno, before the removal of the Fulton Mall
The good news is that fortunately for Fresno, neither candidate is a disaster. Neither candidate has declared that downtown should be abandoned, or that bike lanes are part of a secret international agenda, for example. Unfortunately, that means that voting tomorrow becomes a little harder, because one has to conduct a little research.

The candidates are Democrat Henry Perea and Republican Lee Brand. If you only follow national politics, the choice seems simple. For whatever reason, over the last decades, the Republican Party has taken stances against sustainable transportation, High Speed Rail, and investment in infill. But we're talking about Fresno, and it's not so clear cut.

For the past eight years, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin has shown a strong interest in everything I mentioned in the opening paragraph. Although she is a Republican - born in Texas and raised in Arkansas - Mayor Swearengin strayed from the typical Republican platform in her efforts to fix Fresno's core. She was one of the strongest supporters of High Speed Rail, she oversaw the first residential development in downtown Fresno in decades, brought in $40 million in federal funding for BRT, pushed a master plan that focused on infill, and even stood her ground against the first developer attempt to ignore the master plan in building a new suburban supermarket.

This of course, has been in strong contrast to California Republicans on the national stage, such as Nunes, Denham, Valadao, and Issa. Indeed, the prime reason Mayor Swearengin hasn't had a stronger list of successes has been to the right wing reps on the Fresno City Council. Those council members have shared the following gems:

On Planning

"I always side with the free market. Who knows more about retail, Smart & Final or the city of Fresno?” says Council Member Clint Olivier, whose district includes the project site. “In a case like this, I always side with the business owner. I always side with the free market.”
Smart and Final

On Bicycle Lanes
Public support for the bike lanes on Fruit was overwhelming, but one voice prevailed. City Council Member Steve Brandau argued there was not enough bicycle traffic to justify a bike lane on Fruit Avenue between Shaw and Herndon. Brandau cited his own informal traffic study as evidence.

"I went out and parked under a shade tree, it was on a Saturday, a beautiful day and I counted in one hour 374 cars and zero bikes." 
Council Kills Road Diet 
On Public Transit
The feds and the state will pay for this bus with your tax dollars, but is that a good use of your money if we don't need the bus?
Fresno Kills BRT 
 On Infill Development 
Our citizens have always preferred bigger homes on lots with a backyard for barbecuing. They like driving cars while listening to music.

This general plan would be more at home in Sacramento or San Francisco. It is now popular in California for public policy to be made on the whimsical notions of the “intellectual elite.” They live off high six-figure salaries and have less common sense than the average Walmart clerk.
...
That said, this general plan is still focused on high-density infill development that is diametrically opposed to the free market. Until that fact changes, I cannot support this 2035 General Plan Update.
Infill Plan 

These kinds of statements extend beyond Fresno's borders into Madera:

On a plan to provide public transit between Fresno and Yosemite:
“Busing will herd visitors between set locations like cattle, and will take away from leisurely travel time that helps the local economy, giving tourists more flexibility to shop and dine,” Bigelow said
YARTS 

Fresno's "spine," Blackstone Avenue
But even against this kind of obstruction, the Mayor got her way more often than not. Of course, that included projects I personally did not support, such as removing the Fulton Mall. However, even in that case, the project was done as an attempt to bring investment to downtown. Rather than, you know, letting the free market sprawl to the sierras and back. Incidentally, the people in Fresno like what she has done. She was originally elected with 54% of the vote. She was reelected with 75%.

The point here, is that one can still be the Republican mayor of Fresno and not subscribe to the national party line.

Which brings us to the two candidates, and why strong consideration should be given to both.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Discussion begins in Fresno about prioritizing frequency over coverage on the bus network

Last month, the Fresno City Council heard a workshop on a proposed restructuring of the Fresno bus system (FAX), one that would allow for improved service on trunk routes, creating 15-minute headways in the corridors with the most transit demand. 

This type of restructuring is the bread and butter of Jarrett Walker over at Human Transit. You can read about a project he worked on in Houston here. Mr. Walker has been involved with FAX on and off for a few years now. He first gave a presentation at Fresno State in October of 2010, and was then brought in by the city to create the "Metropolitan Area Public Transportation Strategic Service Evaluation (PDF)" in early 2014. You can find more on that process here. The evaluation is in fact the foundation for this new restructuring project. Mr. Walker's team was also involved in the current proposals, which offer specific and concrete recommendations, rather than an overview of possibilities.

The problem:

Bus service in Fresno is infrequent (20, 30, or 60-minute headways), ends early (10pm), and does not reflect current service needs.

The goal:
  • Providing 15-minute bus service in areas that demand it, which in turn creates ridership by providing an attractive and dependable service. 
  • Increase service on weekends 
  • Expand into evenings

The cost:
  • Coverage to the outer reaches of the system, direct service patterns 

Why the trade-off? Because the City Council has not shown any inclination to increase funding for the bus system. That means any additional dollar spent on Route A has to be taken from Route B.

The presentation points out that one issue FAX has faced is servicing sprawl.

The example given is that FAX could service Downtown to Blackstone and Shaw with 6 buses for service every 15 minutes.

BUT, with service running to Nees, it takes 10 buses to run the same frequency.

So the idea is that by reducing coverage in the sprawl area, you can spruce up service in the core.

However, there's a major problem: The FAX system of today was designed in the early 1970's, which was the last major restructuring. Since then, the system expanded only slightly to the north, to River Park.  That is, the "outer reaches of the system" may have been the edge of town in 1980. But today, the edges are much further north, west, and east. That means the cuts will come from areas that should probably get more service today, not less.

It's hard to trim the fat when there's very little fat! Especially because compared to peer cities, FAX actually has a higher productivity - more riders on every bus.

The 2014 report, which hypothetically eliminates many of the ends of service, directly mentions this:
For example, Route 45 was deleted, serving portions of West Herndon, Fruit, and East Ashlan. This route carries over 30 boardings per hour, which would be above average in San Jose or Sacramento, for instance. In the context of FAX’s system average of 47 boardings/hour, however, it is relatively low and it contains long segments with very little ridership. For that reason, a scenario attempting to push Fresno’s productivity higher must delete Route 45.

This map shows the 1977 FAX bus network (blue) along with the 2016 bus network (red). The two yellow lines in the north are the only lines creates since 1977. Everything else has only involved slight modifications.

(Well there were a few lines created - but they were all eliminated - Routes 4, 12, 18, 56) 

Note: If you are unfamiliar with Fresno, the unreserved area to the East is Clovis, a separate municipality. Only Route 9 serves Clovis. Clovis has shown no interest in receiving more FAX service.




You can see the areas that have seen the most growth in the past 20 years have no bus service at all.




In the 2014 presentation, the creators highlighted that a "ridership scenario" could involve sever cuts to lines in order to provide much improved service on the core routes:



Fortunately, the 2016 presentation is not as drastic. Rather than taking a hatchet to the outer lines, it instead proposes some more modest route changes and optimizations. The changes do eliminate some service, but also straighten routes to improve reliability.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

FAX to hold workshop on proposed restructuring

Tomorrow, Thursday September 1st, there will be a workshop on major changes proposed for the FAX bus system, which serves Fresno into adjacent communities. Thanks to James Sponsler who left a comment on my last post with this important tip.

This appears to be a major change by FAX standards, which runs a system that has effectively remained stagnant for 40 (yes forty) years.

The core components are:
  • Frequency
  • Grids
  • More weekend and evening service 
Effectively, the new plan reduces coverage in order to increase service. Fresno has not spent a dime in actually improving service in decades. In the past 15 years, 4 lines have been eliminated, and one was added - paid for by the Childrens Hospital. The last increase in service (to 15 minutes on core lines) was funded by a federal grant, and those improves were reveresed when the federal money dried up. While higher frequencies are fantastic, it is a shame it comes at the expense of certain neighborhoods.

I'll look into the details in a later post, but you can check out the presentation from this page.


Note: Fresno was recently awarded $8 million in cap and trade funds to improve transit.

"In combination with the opening of the initial BRT service, which has received significant federal and state funding, these investments are expected to support additional improvements to the BRT corridor, as well as supporting near-BRT improvements to the Shaw and Cedar corridors. Overall ridership improvements are expected to exceed 50% 12 months after implementation, and 90% by the final year of the project." 

It is not clear if this workshop uses any of that funding, or was an independent effort which the funding will complement.




There's some more exciting news at this meeting. The council is being asked to approve an agreement that will allow the city to receive $4,600,000 in Measure C money to build the new Midtown Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail. The good news is that this will allow construction to start quickly. The bad news is that it eats up all trail funding until 2021.

That's right, we can spend hundreds of millions on highway expansions but less than $1m a year on trails. Sigh.

Anyway, here is the project. I am unsure if this funding covers all the sections shown.



More details here.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A quick update on downtown Fresno cconstruction projects

It's been a few months since I've been able to post photos of what has been changing in downtown Fresno. Unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to explore the area and take photos, so I present to you a different type of update. Here are some photos I took in May, along with a look at what those projects look like this week, with photos sourced from friendly people around the web. It's amazing how much (and how little!) can change in 3 months.


Tuolumne Bridge - High Speed Rail Project 

When I last visited this project, it looked like this:
















And now it looks like this:

01 CAHSR
Source: High Speed Rail Authority

The bridge is slated to be completed this year.

Fulton Mall

It is very difficult to provide a summary of the Fulton Mall, because it is such a massive project. That is, every block is in a different stage of development, as you can see in my full post here. However, the most obvious changes are at the southern end, where construction began.

My photos from May:

















Steve Skibbie provides a look at progress this week from overhead.

02 Steve Skibbie

And the Fresno Bee from the ground. 

03 Fresno Bee



Bus Rapid Transit

Bus Rapid Transit is sort of under construction. I say sort of because Fresno is no longer getting anything that resembles BRT. But those sweet, sweet transit funds are being put to use. The project involves realigning some bus stops - which happens to be a perfect opportunity to rebuilt the Van Ness underpass. Indeed, it's why BRT is so expensive, most of the funding is being used to upgrade old car infrastructure, like traffic lights, and do so while spending transit funds. Sad.

I don't have a before photo, so here is a rendering of the new intersection (above the underpass)

05 BRT

And another great photo by Steve Skibbie.

04 Steve Skibbie

And one from the Downtown Fresno Partnership

06 downtown fresno part

It's not all transportation related!