Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review: Cozy Thai (foods) and The Lamp Post (bar)

Tried two new places downtown tonight, here are my short reviews:

Cozy Thai

Opened this summer in what used to be a ribs place. Large restaurant space, with lots of booths. We went because of a Groupon and had no expectations. Our last attempt to eat there failed when we arrived at 8:15pm to find out they close every day at 8pm. Sort of early, so take note of that (Wednesdays they remain open later, but I wouldn't expect their kitchen to serve you past 8).

Arrived tonight to find a full parking lot, quite surprising. Entering the restaurant, we were greeted by a live band playing sing-along country music. Not what we expected, but apparently Wednesday is open mic night, and at least for today, all the performers were of the country variety, cowboy hats and all.

In typical Thai fashion, the food came in enormous portions at modest prices. I, like always, ordered the Pad Thai, because I've yet to find Pad Thai in Fresno as good as I had in Boston. And like always, I was not impressed, so the search goes on. Not that it was bad, it just wasn't as good as what Boston showed me, and it lacked in bean sprouts and green onions.

Best part: Cologne machine in men's bathroom


Biggest disappointment? The cologne machine in the bathroom took my quarter, but did not dispense my requested cologne. I, for one, expect my thai-restaurant-cologne-spraying-machine to be kept well stocked.

Would I come back? Yes, but I wouldn't go out of my way, but again, that's how I feel about most Thai places in this town. The restaurant itself is odd for a Thai place (originally being a steakhouse and all), but if you find yourself in the area, I'd give it a shot.


The Lamp Post

What's odd about this little block is that it has three eat/drink establishments, a real rarity downtown. Besides Cozy Thai, there is what appears to be an old diner, now serving Chinese food. Between them both is a small bar called The Lamp Post.


As mentioned by the Fresno Bee, the bar opened (re-opened) just a couple of weeks ago, and it looks nice inside. Sort of odd for the area, with art on the walls (for sale), posters of music legends, and a vinyl collection in one corner. By the door, there is a space for a small band (with appropriate ceiling lighting), and a projector with a screen capable of adequately showing sports, concert videos and more.

The drink selection is beer and wine only. I'm not a wine drinker, so I can't tell you how great their selection is. As for beer, there are only 6 taps. 3 with local (Madera) beers, two with a couple of varieties of Shock Top and one with Stella. Many more bottled selections of course. I would have expected a beer and wine place to offer more taps, but I know little of the logistics involved with that.

Tonight was sort of lonely in there, but I can see the place being a hit on a night with a live band, as people sip wine and observe the art. Without the action, the room felt sparse and cold (literally, the door was open).

It's a hip, artsy bar, in an odd place, just like the neighbors. I'd assume the owners would have preferred setting up somewhere more appropriate, like at the Iron Bird lofts, but this was the only suitable space available. I do hope people find it, as it is walking distance from those lofts, and the decoration should be enjoyed.

Would I come back? I wouldn't head downtown just to hit this bar, but if I'm nearby trying some more food, I would. Maybe next time, we'll try the Chinese.

West end of Divisadero, a couple of small blocks from Fulton 55 and the Iron Bird Lofts.

Bonus: the Chinese diner

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mexico City Periférico construction in pictures

Besides expanding their transit system, via the Metrobus system and a brand new subway line which is currently in the final stages of construction, Mexico City has embarked on some highway expansion, but on a vertical scale.

Known as the second floor of the Periférico (ring road), this new structure towers above the existing 6 lane freeway. Access points are limited, giving the new highway an express characteristic. Supposedly, once it's all done, the upper level may be tolled.

Here are pictures from last week of the extension of the 2nd level.

We started in the far south of the city, heading north. You can see how progress is completed in stages.




Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mexico City Metrobús in pictures

I will have a full blog post about Mexico City's impressive Bus Rapid Transit system called Metrobús.

Until then, here is a load of pictures I took last week, from a car (I sadly did not have the opportunity to ride the system for myself).

The pictures are mostly from line 1, which I saw almost from end to end.

System Map:

Where line 1 is in relation to the Metro system (line 2 and 3 are not shown by Google)


Exclusive lanes, cars kept out by barriers that still allow emergency vehicles access

At a station




Monday, December 26, 2011

Review of Fresno/Clovis Christmas light displays

I've previously talked about how a few streets in the Fresno area have a long running tradition in which the entire street, or neighborhood, tries to outdo each other by lighting up every home with an explosion of holiday lighting and decorations.

On Christmas Day, I did a last minute visit to the three areas described in this Fresno Bee article at 8:30pm.

Cindy Lane / Wawona Estates

Not to be confused with Candy Lane, which apparently is not worth visiting anymore.

This is the most modern development, so property sizes are small, even with large homes. This means that homes are closer together, so the lighting displays appear more continuous. Further, homes are closer to the street. I'd estimate that over 80% of homes had decorated and lit up, and most went all out, with thousands of lights, figures, signs and more. It helps that the homes are in a very affluent area.

Unfortunately, because it is a modern subdivision, the series of cul-de-sacs are neither driver or pedestrian friendly (no sidewalks). It is a more recent event, so it is the less popular (well known), meaning traffic isn't bad. However, if it does become too popular, it will be a hassle to navigate. That being said, it is well worth a visit.

Huntington Boulevard / Candlelight Christmas

Major fail. Either something has gone terribly wrong to the mile long stretch of old homes, or they've decided that 9:15pm on Christmas Day is not worthy of having lights on. We saw maybe 5 houses with decorations, all pretty simple. The 2010 Bee article notes that almost 120 houses decorate, which is not what we experienced this year at all. There were a few other cars (and no pedestrians, but one cyclists) cruising the street, and a single cop car parked at one end. Sort of depressing.

Van Ness / Christmas Tree Lane

We arrived at 9:405pm, knowing that they begin turning off lights at 10pm. At the beginning of the stretch, near Shields, there was little traffic, although it was heavy (and very slow) by the Shaw exit, which we reached at 10:20pm (most lights were still on). Christmas Tree Lane has always been about the giant trees, and not the homes, as most are actually hidden behind thick vegetation, and set well back. While the tree decoration was quite nice, I do seem to remember more and better decorating from my childhood 10-15 years ago. It is still the most popular destination, with lots of police work (Van Ness has limited access points and becomes one way during the scheduled lighting times). You need patience when visiting Christmas Street lane, and I still think it would be best served as a bike/ped stroll on most days, as the traffic can make the visit unpleasant, as it is difficult to "bail out" when you want to, or to set your own pace.



This week: Pictures from Mexico, mostly infrastructure. Metrobus, Periferico and more

Thursday, December 22, 2011

20 year old arrested for hit-and-run killing of pedestrian

I recently posted a news story about how a pedestrian in a wheelchair was killed in Fresno after being hit by not one, but two cars who fled the seen. Fortunately, because it was a busy time, there were sufficient witnesses.

I lamented that stories like that rarely get a follow up...there are dozens of pedestrian deaths every year and Fresno, and most get less news coverage than a house fire (with no injuries or deaths). I've yet to see an article along the lines of "12 hit and run murderers still at large."

This time, Fresno PD and the Bee have followed up with this short article letting us readers know what has progressed in the case.

Fresno Police have arrested 20-year-old Jonathan Jason Howard in connection with a hit-and-run accident that killed a man in a wheelchair Saturday.The victim was hit by two cars on Blackstone Avenue north of Sierra Avenue. Fresno Police detective Jason Musser was able to locate and identify the drivers of both vehicles based on witness reports. Police believed Howard was the driver of the first vehicle. He was arrested in Oakhurst on Wednesday and was booked into Fresno County Jail on suspicion of felony hit and run. The investigation is still ongoing and the driver of the second vehicle may also be charged, Fresno Police said.

Fresno Bee

That's the entire article. Not exactly in depth reporting, but better than nothing. if we ever get an update on the trial and final sentencing, I'll make a note of it.

Side note: A comment left predicted that the person driving would be an illegal with no license or registration. Based on the name, and only the name, that doesn't appear to be the case. I'd put money on alcohol being involved.

I will be returning from Mexico tomorrow. Because of the holidays, I think next week will be picture based uploads, showing transportation infrastructure I've noticed over the past year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wouldn't it be nice if media followed up on hit and runs?

It's sad to say it, but I feel like a read a story very similar to the following every couple of weeks.

A man in a wheelchair was killed after he was struck by two vehicles while crossing Blackstone Avenue in his wheelchair Saturday evening, Fresno police Lt. Anthony Martinez said.

The man was crossing the street when he was struck by one vehicle that witnesses described as a compact car, Martinez said.

He was thrown from his wheelchair and was hit a second time by another vehicle that witnesses described as a tan-colored SUV, possibly a Chevy Tahoe.

Both drivers left the scene, Martinez said.
Fresno Bee

How can two people hit a man in a wheelchair and then flee? It's disgusting. But I doubt we will ever read about the police investigation, and if anyone is ever caught, tried and sentenced.

There's just never any follow up with crimes like this. Possibly because it's too common? It seems like at least one pedestrian is killed every week in Fresno, and yet no one seems to care.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mexico trip

I will be in Mexico for the next week. Posting will probably be light.

If I had the time, I would write about this article that just hit the Bee website.

Fresno closing flea market in 'unsafe' former Gottschalks building

One of the few buildings on the Fulton Mall with active commerce being forced to close. Amazing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Road diets: safety vs moving cars faster

I've talked about road diets a few times in this blog, most recently when I attended a meeting held by a councilman in Fresno concerning a proposed diet in his district. He wanted to give residents the opportunity to express their concerns about taking a 4 lane road (+undefined parking space) into a 3 lane road, 1 each way, and 1 for turning, and a couple of bike lanes.

Today I got to see a real world example of the enormous safety benefits a road diet provides....or really, the consequences of keeping the dangerous road design of the past.

This is Villa avenue in Clovis. On the right, a popular recreational park which includes a large regionally-important skatepark. On the left, a medium-high density residential area, filled with apartments. As you can see, there are no bike lanes, and there are no crosswalks, even though a majority of the teenagers which patronize the skatepark arrive on foot or on bike.

The speed limit is 40mph.


I'm not going to talk about that right now.

I'm going to focus on the one and only concern brought up during the road diet meeting in Fresno:

Traffic. Car traffic.

You see, Villa in Clovis is very similar to Gettysburg. They're both of similar, if not equal width. They're both signed at 40mph or 45mph, depending on the specific block, and they both are residential and recreational access routes.

During the Fresno meeting, the number one concern was possible congestion that would emerge if the road diet took place.

Indeed, even the traffic engineer sent by Fresno to promote the diet made it abundantly clear that he would never (NEVER!) consider a road diet on a high traffic road, because moving traffic was of the utmost importance.

But what about safety?

In his words, road diets would only ever be attempted in places with little traffic, where the safety benefits could be enjoyed without risk of anyone having to slow down.

The engineer and the councilman spoke a lot about the real-world safety benefits of a road diet. Even though the meeting was sort of about bike-lanes (it was bike money funding the diet) 90% of the conversation was about the benefits to motorists. This wasn't exactly a bad appeared to me that many of those in attendance came to the meeting ignorant about road diets and left convinced that they do include real-world safety benefits.

But here's what troubles me....ff there are more cars (and those pesky people inside) using a road, shouldn't it be even more important to push an important safety redesign...?

That is, according to the engineer, there is some cutoff, something like 20,000 cars per day, in which a road diet is "appropriate". But if a road has 27,000 cars per day, isn't that a much higher safety priority? Shouldn't we spend money protecting as many people as possible?

It just does not make sense that safety is only available for low traffic roads. Especially because the more traffic, the more dangerous roads like Villa become.

So what prompted this post?

This was taken at around 6pm tonight, in the area shown above:


What happened? I'm not 100% sure, but what I believe happened is that traffic was moving at ~40mph, and a driver in the left lane came to a full stop to make a legal left turn into a small side street. Because the area is full of apartments, I'd assume this is a someone common maneuver.

But this is dangerous.

It was night, so the side street is not very visible, both to the person attempting the turn, and drivers behind him who have no expectation that a turn will be made.

Brake lights obviously indicate a decrease in speed, but unfortunately, they do not indicate how quickly the driver is stopping. Someone could tap on the brakes to begin slowing down for the traffic light 1/4 of a mile away....or slamming on the brakes to make the left turn they were looking for but hadn't seen because side-streets are sometimes difficult to spot, especially if there is heavy oncoming traffic with blinding lights. The driver behind this person doesn't know which is happening.

And here's the kicker:

Because Villa is a high traffic street, higher then may be that threshold for a road diet, it becomes much harder to make a left turn, because there are less gaps in traffic. Also, vehicles are more likely to be bunched up.

AKA: the perfect recipe for a rear-end collision like this one.

So the busier the road, and the less likely the possibility of a road diet....the more likely a dangerous collision.

That doesn't make sense.

If there had been a road diet here, the driver turning left would have maneuvered out of the way of traffic into a turning lane, where he could safely wait as long as possible to make the left turn. He could have done so in advance of the street, giving him time to find where exactly the turn must be made. Other drivers would not have needed to worry about someone suddenly coming to a full stop on a 40mph road.

And as a bonus, there would be bike lanes, in an area that seriously needs them, and also safer places for pedestrians to cross. But clearly, that's not a priority, even in a very dense residential area.

In case you were wondering, this is what the block looks like.
Green: Letterman park.
On the right, you can see the dense development of apartments.
Blue: The only two marked crosswalks, exactly 1/2 a mile apart.
Red: Various roads and apartment access points where pedestrians would seek to cross to the park. While crossing is legal, it is not safe. There is no signal, crosswalk, refugee etc, and street lighting is poor.
The accident happened just north of 9th St. Fortunately, the driver of the pictured vehicle received only superficial injuries (airbag and seat belt pains + neck), and the occupants of the vehicle that was rear-ended appeared to be fine.

And as of 2:30am the next morning. 9 hours later, I can find no documentation of this collision online in the media. Just another car accident, not worthy of even a news blurb. Maybe one day, at a community meeting, it will appear as a statistic, but except for those who slowly drove by, it's almost like it never happened.

But it will happen again. Are the speeding needs of motorists always more important than making their commute safer? Personally, I wouldn't mind adding 15, 30, 45...even more seconds to my drive if it meant I wouldn't find myself in a collision like this. With the exception of traffic engineers, how many people would not be comfortable with such a tradeoff? It just seems like common sense.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Time Magazine video short: The New Poor of Fresno

In this blog, I frequently discuss effort to revitalize downtown and south Fresno. While I focus on the new residential buildings and such, it's important to look at the people who currently call the area home, even as they live without a home.

Time Magazine recently released this short (~5min) documentary about homelessness and poverty in downtown Fresno.,32068,1288182424001_2099978,00.html

Interested in exploring the shantytowns shown in the video? Thanks to Google, you can. Google maps offers four (well, five) snapshots in time of the area.

Streetview: The area has both imagery from 2009 and 2011. Well, actually, there's some late 2007 pictures in there too, but few of those. Most of the streetview images are from June 2011.

This post shows you how you can tell when the images were taken.

The overhead view (satellite) is from April 25,2011. If you switch over to the 45 degree aerial imagery, that was taken Spring 2010.

So in summary, you can see snapshots of the shantytowns in:

Late 2007 - Limited Streetviews
Feb 2009 - Some Streetview
Spring 2010 - 45 degree aerial
April 2011 - Satellite
June 2011 - Most Streetview

Heres an example of how you can see the differences.

Based on the trees, this looks like 2009

This aerial image is from a year later, Spring 2010.

2011, similar, but a few more people

Explore on your own:

Heres another collection, under the bridge:

Travel through time and watch an entire village appear


Over the past month, Fresno has found enough money its empty coffers to bulldoze most of these shelters and destroy whatever was inside. I guess when it comes to Christmas, and the choice between funding a parade or evicting people from their shelters, the choice is clear, especially when national media pokes their head in. While the shelters and tents are all gone for now, they'll be back by next summer. They always are.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fresno's downtown parade draws 30,000

A few months ago, the city of Fresno announced that they would cancel the annual Christmas parade because of financial problems. The parade has been held downtown for 82 years, and has always been successful, but this year the city said they couldn't afford it.

Fortunately, the downtown PBID (Property Business Improvement District) stepped forward to save the parade, redirecting it to the Fulton Mall (a pedestrian street). Along with the parade, there was a tree lighting ceremony at city hall, extreme sports presentations hosted by the downtown casino, and many activities for children and families (face painting and such).

According to the Fresno Bee, the events were a success

The 82nd annual Fresno Christmas Parade drew an estimated 30,000 people to the Fulton Mall and Kern Street on Saturday morning to watch floats, school bands, horses, motorcycles, entertainers and, of course, Santa Claus.

On the pedestrian mall, spectators stood more than six deep in places or perched on benches and cheered as the parade marched by. Two children in Santa hats watched the parade from atop a play structure.

I find it highly disappointing that the city would cancel the parade, and roll the dice on hoping someone would pick up the tab and organize it. While the PBID stepped forward, it is entirely possible that they wouldn't have.

Fresno's mayor lists downtown revitalization as one of her key platforms, and yet one can follow the money to see that a lot of the time, this claim rings hollow.

As I discussed in October, events on Fulton Mall always draw people, and that's an excellent way to begin revitalizing downtown.

30,000 people coming to watch the parade means 30,000 people are exposed to the stores on the mall. Even if not everyone walks into the stores to shop, the exposure is always a positive. On top of that, the family atmosphere is an easy way to help dispel the myth that downtown is unsafe and hard to get to, and this makes it more likely that people will return, either for shopping or for other events.

The PBID was formed to help Fulton Mall businesses draw customers, by enacting a new tax on themselves to fund events and such. While hosting the parade does fall into this category, I think it would have made more sense for the city to continue holding the parade, and for the PBID funds go to creating new events at other points of the year. Hosting a major event every month would keep downtown and the Fulton Mall in people's minds.

Why should the city spend tax money on something like a parade? Because sometimes, like with a private business, you have to spend money to make money. Hosting a parade means bringing people together, which in turn means local stores benefit. This of course, leads to sales tax revenue. But like I said, positive exposure to the Fulton Mall means the potential for return customers, and so a continuing increase in sales taxes. The benefits aren't just for the mall, but visitors see stores and restaurants in nearby streets, learn where to park (or arrive by bus) and think positively of the area.

Revitalization of course, means even more revenue. If enough is done to bring people downtown, and more stores open, wasted space because productive space. Along with sales taxes, property taxes and so forth increase. And unlike with sprawl, minimal money needs to be placed into infrastructure - it's already there. Roads, sewers, and even public parking already exist, and should be put to use.

Revitalization is an excellent use of public funds because it can pay for itself, more so than approving another far-flung development that will not bring in enough tax revenue to cover long-term costs.

And on the non-financial side, with an unemployment rate still north of 15%, the city should be doing what it can to liven spirits, and that includes free entertainment. A depressed city cannot become successful because those with resources prefer to flee rather than invest. A city with pride in its residents and its environment allows for innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish. Would you want to open your business somewhere in which people constantly say "sucks" or is "lame"? Of course not. Businesses open where there is buzz and excitement - positive thoughts - not somewhere people associate with negative thoughts.

Public investment in image and branding, via events that bring together the community will lead to economic development. Downtown revitalization must begin at city hall, but as long as the money keeps flowing north, that won't happen. The major needs to put money where her mouth is and find funds to support things like the Christmas parade. As I'll be writing about later this week, there's a whole bunch of money going to things we absolutely don't need.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Why is it so hard to install bikes racks properly?

Anyone who has ever pulled up to a store or office on a bike, and has looked for a rack to lock up to, has encountered a rack installed incorrectly. In Fresno, it's remarkably common. In fact, I think I see more racks installed incorrectly than correctly, and I just don't get it.

It doesn't make sense.

Not everyone rides bikes. But almost everyone has, at one point in their life, ridden a bike. And those who have never tried one, even as a child, know what a bike is, knows what it looks like, and understands the general geometry.

Bikes aren't that complicated.

So how is it that so many developers and contractors continue to install racks incorrectly? How does it happen that during the process of drilling into the concrete, nobody says "hey guys, I think if we put it this way, it will be useless"?

Everyone knows the general size of a bike right? You wouldn't design a parking space 5 feet wide, because even someone who doesn't drive could dig deep into their mind and think "hm, I think cars need more space than this".

I would understand if we were talking about Segway parking. Very few people have ridden one. Many have never see one, and some have no idea what it is. So yes, I would understand contractors looking at a "Segway Parking Rack" design and not knowing what to do because they'd have no understanding about the basic build of a Segway, and what is required to keep one locked up.

But a bike?

Come on!

Here's a quick way to take bike racks designed to hold 4 bikes, and make them only hold two....awkwardly.

Place them facing the wrong way (90 degrees off)

And place them too close to a wall

It sort of makes me feel that if the guy who drew up the plans wasn't able to space the rack properly...then how can we trust the structural integrity of the entire building? And if the contractors are so dense as to install the rack so they face the wrong way, what if they've done the same with the gas main or a structural beam?

It shouldn't be this hard.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Transportation, Muppets, and the war on anything

When it comes to development projects and crafting changes in planning and transportation policy, opposition will always emerge. A common form of opposition is "NIMBYism" which stands for "Not In My Backyard". The term refers to folks who generally oppose any form of development in their surrounding area. Not all form of opposition is irrational. If someone was to propose a new freeway, airport or nuclear plant 50 yards from your backdoor, there is cause for concern, and opposition is expected. These proposals do come with real externalities that will negatively affect the area around it, and there is good reason to either relocate the proposal, alter it, or mitigate the negative aspects. At its core, the opposition is selfish, but that doesn't mean it's wrong.

Is it selfish to fight the construction of a new hospital because there will be sirens at all hours...even if dozens of lives will be saved? Yes, it is selfish, but it's also entirely rational.

However, the term "NIMBY" today generally refers to folks who oppose development more so because they fear change than because they fear that their property or environment will be hurt.

So a NIMBY might be someone who opposed a 4 story building 2 blocks away because it will cause shadows, traffic, crime, noise and so forth. A rational person can look at each concern and determine if said fear is likely to materialize or not. A NIMBY, however, presented with facts, is likely to continue to argue because those fears aren't the problem, change is. Once again, the cause is selfish, but in this case, it is not rational.

And sometimes, this lack of rationality manages to morph into an entirely different creature. Sometimes, people become opposed to a proposal not because they fear change or externalities, but simply because of the person making the proposal....and who these people feel that person represents.

If you've been following politics at all in the past couple of years, you have probably noticed that the modern Republican party generally opposes public transit, investment in biking, and movement towards sustainable planning and transportation. This opposition now finds itself at all levels of governance, from city councils to candidates for the executive position.

Many reasons are given for the opposition. The most common these days seems to be some argument along the lines of "we're broke, so we can't spend a dime on that". Much can be said about validity and hypocrisy of that comment, but that's now what I am going to discuss. The reason I won't is because like with NIMBYism, the reason is a masquerade, a distraction. One can pull out a million dollars, say "look, it's being funded by the money tree" and the person will simply find something new to hate about it.

You see the REAL reason they hate the proposal is because what is being proposed is a trojan horse designed to ruin life as they know it; another grenade in the war against them. An attack that must be defeated.

Or so it seems.

This week, a video emerged from a segment on Fox Business News in which some well-paid anchor decided to dedicate a portion of his show on the subject of the new Muppet Movie. Because it is a "business" channel, you'd think the subject would be about costs, revenue, advertising, know, something about BUSINESS.

But no. The segment was about how the Muppet Movie is an attempt by liberal, leftist Hollywood, to indoctrinate children into hating business men, job creators and success.

If you find that last sentence remarkably absurd, then you clearly haven't seen the piece. I only wish I was joking, or exaggerating.

You can watch the bit here:

(Thanks to the Fresno Beehive for pointing it out)

One could spend time pointing out the absurdities of this discussion. One could list the rich history of cinema and literature in which the plot has been repeated and repeated again, across decades. (Gang of kids/muppets/nuns works together against all odds to save their school/orphanage/theater from being destroyed by a rich housing/oil/parking/government developer)

But that's a waste of time. Like with NIMBYism, there is no logic to combar, as the argument is not a rational one.

The point here is about the mindset that led to adults, getting paid large sums of money, to find a conspiracy in the most innocent of subjects, and then in all sincerity, take such conspiracy theory to the air. And then be able to sleep at night. And of course, how that related to the subject of this blog.

What has happened is that in the mind of some of these people, a war is being raged. A vast conspiracy has been formed and THOSE PEOPLE are working together to infiltrate children's movies, our highways, our government...and really, anything. The battle is happening now, and one must be prepared to fight it from all directions.

Something has happened that has caused a core group of people to sincerely believe they are under attack, and that everything is part of a war. And I do mean everything.

If you're reading this blog, you've probably had the misfortune of accidentally reading the comments section of a major news website. You've probably looked at the first three or four comments and quickly regretted the scrolling. And in those three or four comments, you may have noticed that at least one of them, regardless of the subject matter, will bring up politics and blame the news on the invisible war. Sometimes the subject is political, but most of the time, it's not.

Romney deleted all his governorship documents?
-The article was a plant by the liberal media to smear his campaign.

Dozens of penguins killed as glacier collapses?
-The green mafia using propaganda yet again to shove their agenda down our throat

17 year old local athlete qualifies for the Olympics?
-UN plot to form one world government

I could go on. I won't, because you know what I'm talking about. You've all seen the crazy comments. And for reasons I can't quite understand, this invisible war has managed to capture the attention of people who really should know better. Random-internet-comment-dude is one thing, but more and more, this type of conversation has entered the mainstream. The "thought" process is now visible on what is supposed to be a news channel, what are supposed to be political debates, and what are supposed to be serious conversations about our built environment.

So why bring up transportation? Because unfortunately, like all things, it's been pulled into this magical and invisible war. Because at one point THE OTHER SIDE lent their support for a bike lane, a war on cars had been declared, and no road was safe from the conspiracy to ban cars and force everyone to bike.

The discussion is not about the pros and cons of specific ways to allocate street space. It's about what THEY want, and if THEY want it, it MUST be opposed.

Again, there's no logic behind it. It's a team thing.

It's us versus them. THEY are out to get us. THEY are trying to destroy America.

They, of course, don't really exist. It's a crazy team mentality but no teams were ever picked. No one signed a 7 year contract to play for one team or the other, and no one is bound to defend their team to death.

Studies have shown that it is human nature to form groups and to work to support the group you identify with, even if it's at the expense of very similar people. These groups don't need to have any deep relationships. In one study, groups of strangers were split up, and told they belonged to one group or another. They were then asked to allocate resources and such between groups. The strangers would always place their group over the other one, even though they didn't know anyone. By being told they were part of a group, the people did what they could to defend that group.

And today in America, it seems as if everyone and everything is being assigned into one of two political teams, regardless of the lack of rationality behind it. That includes things that everyone should agree on, like clean air and freedom to chose a transportation option. But it doesn't matter. If the other "team" claimed that idea first, then you must be against it, if only because at best, everything they do is wrong and at worst, it's an attack on your people.

Next time you see someone jumping through hoops to try and explain why a bike lane must be defeated at all costs, think of the Muppets, and the lengths some will go to fight in a war that doesn't really exist.

(PS: That Fox Business News piece on Muppets? They actually went back and doubled-down on the absurdity. The second segment: here )

Monday, December 5, 2011

Come sprawl with Clovis

Last week, there was lots of chat about "the end of sprawl" after the New York Times ran two pieces harkening the decline of suburban expansion. One, "The Death of the Fringe Suburb" was relayed around the blogosphere with many putting in their own examples of how suburban expansion was coming to a close.

Clovis, like many other cities built on sprawl, would like to have a word with them.

The Clovis City Council has introduced another reduction in development fees to attract developers who have been sitting on the fringes.

The council approved a two-year fee reduction, that began Thursday, that would provide developers with an average savings of $4,500 per lot for residential development and about $35,000 an acre for commercial, industrial and office projects.

"Our that this will give a jump start to development in the community and it will incentivize those who are thinking about doing something to go ahead and do it," said Tina Sumner, the city's director of community and economic development.

The fee reduction will be available for two years. It is the latest in a series of development fee reductions introduced by the city of Clovis in the last year.

In Dec. 2010, the council approved a two-year waiver of the city's sewer and water facilities fee that would amount to a savings of about $53,000 per acre. In spring 2011, the city created a sales tax rebate program for retailers who opened a business in vacant buildings.

Fresno Bee

Like most California cities, Clovis has had a tough couple of years when it comes to the budget. Less property taxes, less sales taxes, but more expenses. All those suburban roads, streetlights, sewers, parks and so forth, must be maintained, even if many of the homes fronting them had been foreclosed on and sat empty.

The logic here appears to be:
More development = more fees!
But that solution seems like a giant step backwards.

Cities love those initial fees developers must pay, which help the budget, but don't really cover any long-term expenses.

That's where property taxes come in, but when the housing market is over-developed, each additional new home simply hurts the value of existing homes. As supply increases, prices fall. And as prices fall, so does tax revenue.

So less long-term revenue, and now, less short-term revenue, because those initial fees are being slashed. The math doesn't seem to add up.

But hey, what could go wrong?

And until the people in charge figure it out, sprawl is more than welcome. The end isn't near at all, it's business as usual.

Not even the great recession could save these farms at the edge of Clovis. 2007 vs 2011.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Comparing bike share system popularity on Facebook

Since blowing up in Paris in 2007, bicycle share systems have made their way to every continent, with more coming online each month.

These systems vary greatly in number of bikes, stations, subsrcibers and geographic area covered. But how do they compare in terms of Facebook popularity? Facebook is one of many ways these companies have of reaching their riders, and sending out critical information, like locations of new stations, removal of existing ones, changes in policy and so forth. Are the riders taking their interest in the system online?

All numbers from December 3rd, 2011. It is not all-inclusive by any stretch, although I tried to get all the big-name ones.

Likes - City - System name and link

15,679 Paris Velib
11,862 Montreal Bixi
11,129 Mexico City Ecobici

6,603 Toronto Bixi
4,379 Lyon Vélo'V
4,220 Minneapolis Nice Ride
3,894 Washington, DC Capital Bikeshare
3,739 Denver Bcycle
3,652 Barcelona Bicing
3,422 Boston Hubway

1,737 Miami Beach Deco Bike
781 Melbourne Bike Share
722 Milano BikeMi
442 Madison Bcycle

Of course Paris, with their enormous 4 year old system is the most popular. And that's generally followed by other large systems.

You'll note the list is quite eurocentric. The reason for that is twofold. One, I don't understand Chinese, so while they have some very large systems, it's hard for me to get detailed info on them. Two, Facebook is still primarily a western, and indeed English language world. There are many systems that prefer to reach their customers on whatever social network is locally popular. Facebook is not the most popular social networking website in Asia.

Further, there are many bike share systems I can't find an active facebook page for, London being the most significant. I can't believe London wouldn't have an official page, and am wondering why my searches bring up nothing. Many medium sized systems, like Oslo's Bysykkel are also missing. In fact, there's a bunch of ClearChannel system that don't appear to have official pages.

On another note, for such an enormous website, Facebook does have a terrible, TERRIBLE search system. And those community pages? Ugh. Had to use google mostly.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas Tree Lane walk night is tomorrow

Just a reminder that Fresno's Christmas Tree Lane opens for business tomorrow night, and it's one of two walk nights. A bike night is being planned, but no details have been released.

On Christmas Tree Lane, lights are on from 6pm until 10pm on weekdays, until 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Saturday, December 3 and Tuesday, December 13 are the walk nights, when cars are banned from entering Van Ness.

On car nights, traffic operates northbound, starting at Shields and ending at Shaw.

Official Website

The safety magic of cable cars

Jarrett Walker of Human Transit today posted about an aspect of the San Francisco cable car system that troubled him.

The gist of his post was about the way in which the cable cars do not have stations, but they stop in the middle of the road, and passengers cross an active lane of traffic to board. What's even more interesting is that because of the hills, many of the "stops" are smack in the middle of an intersection.

Jarrett was concerned that during said stop, traffic on the road the cable car is using is given a green light, even though passengers are alighting in the middle of the lane. While state law makes it clear that passing a cable car when stopped is illegal, he is concerned about the mixed message the giant green signal gives.

In the picture he used, a passenger is clearly hanging out in the middle of an intersection, while cars have green. A small sign, on the top right by the street name, reminds motorists of their duty to stop and remain stopped until the cable car is moving again.

Walker thinks it's failed technology.

I think it's wonderful.

The fact that we are entering 2012, and the cable car system hasn't been dumbed down by complaints and lawsuits and such is truly magical.

Passengers, many times drunk, are still allowed to step on the side of the vehicle, grab a pole, and lean out, with traffic whizzing inches away.

Motorists, in cars, SUVs, trucks and such are still allowed to barrel down road inches away from dozens of unprotected bodies in an open car.

Carnage? No, not really, even though SF is a difficult place to drive in, and there are many tourists.

Passengers must hop on and off in the middle of intersections, many with poor sight lines.

CHAOS....and yet almost no collisions. We were at this stop sign for quite some time.

Motorists may approach a 4-way stop and have to remain stopped because in many cases, cable cars are exempt from stopping and can barrel on through, even if they arrive later.

Stop signs are for chumps

It's truly magical to see this system work so well today, in a society that sues whoever and whenever, and government agencies so terrified of liability issues that they spend all they can bubble wrapping everything.

In some cities, buses now talk to people on sidewalks, reminding them to not step onto the road. In other cities, to cross a light rail line, passengers must open a gate, under flashing lights and whistling bells. In other cities, rail lines see multiple stop signs and even 3mph speed limits, just in case.

But in San Francisco, home of the nanny state, cable cars still roam, free of visible but unnecessary safety "features" and precautions.

And it is magical.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Road diets becoming political in Fresno

Starting a decade ago, the cities of Fresno and Clovis have transformed some streets with a "road diet" as they were repaved. These streets were taken down from a 2x2 configuration (+ parking) to a 1x1x1 configuration, with the center lane being used for left turns in both directions. Parking was maintained, and bike lanes were added with the leftover space.

These changes were usually crafted by the roads department (or public works) and simply striped in when the new asphalt was laid down and it was time to paint lines.

But something happened this past year. For reasons I don't quite understand, road diets became a political thing, with citizens claiming that "city hall mandates" were being sent down to ruin life as we know it.

Last night, the council-member of district 4 held a meeting to elicit feedback from locals over the proposed reconfiguration of Gettysburg. This road has undergone a diet in many parts, but still has missing pieces. This diet wouldn't be the result of paving, but thanks to a grant by the feds to improve air this case, because of the installation of bike lanes. The grant is to be matched by Measure C funds, a local portion of the sales tax that is dedicated to transportation needs.

The meeting was held, because some people (up to 20) contacted him after another road in the district road got treated last year, and were unhappy they weren't consulted.

The theme of the meeting was generally "we're terrified of change, government is evil, and homeowners know better than engineers." The average age was well north of 65, and apparently civility was lost somewhere during the Korean war. Anyone who thinks that "kids these days" lack manners should attend a city forum and see where the rudeness comes from. Lots of shouting, booing, and interrupting of speakers.

The councilman, Larry Westerlund, seemed to be in support of the project. He said he talked to the engineers, and after explaining to him the enormous safety benefits of a diet, he was a convert. he tried to explain these safety benefits, but the audience seemed to be more concerned about "common sense" than years and years of crash data.

The person from the city was a disappointment. He went out of his way to make it clear he wasn't a cyclist, and he would never use a bike lane. The emphasis from him was also the safety benefit of a turning lane, and the bike lanes were a necessary evil. But even then, he brought up the term "suicide lane" for the turning area for no reason at all. Why throw in a scary term for a safety improvement? I didn't catch the name of the engineer, but I think the city would be best off finding someone else to represent their department at these meetings.

After much discussion, it seems like a majority of the crowd was convinced that yes, road diets can increase safety. But that didn't stop many from complaining that congestion would be caused, even though all the numbers show the road is underused, and will continue to be underused well into the 2030's. Apparently for these seniors, having to wait at a light is more damaging than being rear-ended when trying to turn left.

And the bike lanes? Those speaking in favor of the lanes were shouted down by calls of "get a car!" and "pay taxes!". One senior, after being informed that roads are paid for by property taxes made the statement that "I probably pay more of those than you". Right.

I found it quite sad that many of these seniors, who won't be able to drive in the next 4-8 years because of their age and deteriorating senses are fighting tooth and nail against improvement that will give them a safer neighborhood.

I guess change is really that scary.

Not visible: The acres of white hair in the crowded room behind me

(Tried to post this last night but high winds killed my internet)