Saturday, August 25, 2012

Late Reminder: Chile Festival today

Forgot to post this last night. Don't forget today is the Chile festival on the Fulton Mall. That's chile as in the pepper, not the Texas slop.

11:00am until 8:00pm

The Fresno Chile Festival returns August 25, 2012, celebrating our own Fresno chiles! This festival is a complete celebration of what's HOT in Fresno. There will be HOT food, HOT music and HOT times. Come be a part of the Second Annual Fresno Chile Festival!

11am - Espacio with Samba Central
5pm - 40 Watt Hype
7pm - Patrick Contreras (and guests)

Plus a pool competition and a ping pong competition, Dance Groups, a chile eating contest, and salsa competition and more!

And you can win prize money!!! Anyone NOT need a little extra cash?

From their Facebook Page.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Boston case shows declining car volume on major street

When it comes to planning street infrastructure, there is a rule of thumb traffic engineers use when designing roads. That rule is that vehicle volumes will always go up, usually at 0.5% a year. That's what results in roads almost always being overbuilt, as a street designed today is built to comfortably hold projected traffic 50 years from now. As the projects always show increasing vehicle volumes, we get extra lanes and such.

But what if that prediction and the rule of thumb is wrong?

Can a city gain residents and grow economically if traffic values stay constant....or even decline? As one study in Boston shows, the answer is absolutely yes.

Boston University recently released their campus plan and it includes a discussion on Commonwealth Avenue. That road is the heart of campus, but is also one of the few east-west roads available in this part of the city. Besides students, teachers, staff and others associated with the university, Comm Ave is used to access many businesses, reach the Allston and Brighton neighborhoods of Boston, and is monumentally important to folks arriving for games at Fenway Park and also events at Agganis Arena.


The interstate has no on or off ramps in the area, so those going east or west must pick between Comm ave or Storrow drive.

As BU has continued to grow, the area has been built up, and yet vehicle trips have declined.

The long-term traffic volume trend along Commonwealth Avenue and adjacent streets has been downward since 1987. Daily volumes west of the BU Bridge are approximately 17 to 18 percent lower in 2012 than in 1987. East of the BU Bridge, 2012 daily traffic volumes are lower than 2001 volumes by 18 to 32 percent, depending upon the location. On Bay State Road, daily volumes are down nearly 23 percent during this same time period. Peak-hour traffic is also down throughout the campus: since the 2003 Master Plan (2002 data), peakhour traffic has decreased between 9 percent and 25 percent.
Master Plan Section 8-5

Here's an example of some growth.

This entire complex on Comm Ave was built over the past 7 years. It features student housing and also Agganis Arena, home to hockey games, concerts and other events. Thousands of visitors need to use Comm Ave to reach this every week.


Those crowds, and the never-ending Fenway crowds don't seem to be causing massive congestion.

During peak periods on a typical weekday, the roadway network in the vicinity of the Boston University campus functions reasonably well. Most of the intersections with traffic signals along Commonwealth Avenue function at LOS D (overall) or better during both the morning and afternoon peaks.

As the area has been built up, vehicle trips have declined, resulting in a lane being removed and bike lanes added.

Here are those numbers in chart form. Take a note at the raw numbers too, this isn't some side-road, this is a major avenue. 40,000 vehicles a day is quite significant.


It's not just BU that has pushed growth. The entire area has seen heavy development in the last decade. In this picture, you can see two brand new residential highrises, with four more being planned. They're by Fenway, a small distance from Comm Ave.


Some try and argue that as population grows, naturally traffic should grow as well. That hasn't been the case.

Boston is no Detroit. Population keeps rising.

1990 574,283
2000 589,141
2010 617,594

So where have the people gone? The people are still there, they've just changed their habits.

Now, many walk.

Safe pedestrian circulation is critically important for an urban campus, and walking is the most popular mode of transportation on the Charles River Campus. Pedestrian volumes are extremely high along Commonwealth Avenue and have continued to grow steadily since pedestrian volumes were first measured in 1987. Since 2001/2002, pedestrian volumes have increased by as much as 80 percent at the BU Bridge
intersection (afternoon peak).

Biking is growing as well.

Bicycling is the second-most important mode of travel for students within the campus, and use on campus is growing faster than any other mode. Bicycle use along Commonwealth Avenue has grown by 47 percent in the morning peak and by 135 percent in the afternoon peak since 2007 (the first year bicycle use was measured on Commonwealth Avenue). Currently, between 500 and 600 bicyclists per hour use the bicycle lanes on Commonwealth Avenue during the peak commuting periods.

As density has gone up, and the city has responded with better sidewalks and bike lanes, residents have shifted their mode of travel.

Streetsblog shows that Boston isn't alone in seeing this shift. In New York, as the economy rebounds and the city continues to grow, traffic does not.

DOT’s preliminary data shows that citywide motor vehicle traffic, measured by counting “daily weekday traffic volumes at Borough and City boundaries,” flattened out in 2011 after rising 1.1 percent in 2010. Even with 2010’s increase, in 2011 traffic remained 0.8 percent below pre-recession 2007 levels. Meanwhile, weekday subway ridership is up 2.5 percent in 2011 over 2010.
?Streetsblog NYC

Perhaps it's time that planners drop those rules of thumb and realize you can grow the population and the economy and do it without building mega-roads everywhere to accommodate future vehicle growth that may never come.

Monday, August 20, 2012

New businesses and bad air

Sunday's Bee had a couple of interesting articles which on paper had no relationship to each other, but in reality do have a strong connection.

The first was a column: McEwen: Diesel truckers should pay for bad air

The second was an article about new businesses on West Shaw: National businesses flock to Fresno's West Shaw Avenue

In the opinion column, McEwen brings up the continuing problem of the valley's bad air, and how it will be especially pronounced this week with "air alerts" being called.

The column hits on a few ideas I called upon a year ago such as tolling trucks and closing drive-thrus.

McEwen writes:

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has been with us 26 years. Businesses have spent $40 billion meeting regulations and buying emissions credits since its formation.


We pay an extra $12 a year to register a car to help pay for pollution-cutting technology.

Despite these efforts, we'll be under an Air Alert tomorrow and Tuesday -- maybe longer, depending on the weather. Parents are being asked to car-pool kids to school. All of us are being asked to stay out of the drive-through lanes at fast-food joints and banks.

As I pointed out last year, and the column mentions, the problem with these "air alerts" and other such schemes is that there is zero enforcement. Residents are "asked" to drive less, not idle and so forth, but "asking" yields no results.

More and more, this whole air pollution effort is looking like a battle rigged for failure.

The feds set the standards. The feds impose the penalties. They hold much of the power.

But rarely do they lift a hand.

The solution this weeks column calls for is tolling the diesel trucks

One solution would be to charge a toll for diesel vehicles using those two major highways, with the money going to help reduce pollution from other sources. But the air district doesn't have the power to impose a toll. Nor does the state Air Resources Board or the Environmental Protection Agency.

"We've talked about a toll many times," Sadredin says. "Basically, it would take an act of Congress."


Valley families are paying most of the $29 million a year federal penalty for violating the one-hour ozone standard. Meanwhile, diesels trucks are leaving their exhaust behind, and we're filtering it with our lungs.

Honorable congressmen and senators, how about a real tool to clean up the Valley? How about legislation that lets us remove that brown shag carpet hanging over us and sending folks to early graves? How about turning the two big highways into diesel toll roads?

The problem with this solution is that it simply can't pass. Too much outrage about poor, hardworking truck drivers being forced to pay for the air pollution they bring. Too many calls of "it'll simply raise prices of things like food!" which while true, ignores the costs of the air pollution.

Benefits of tolling trucks include shifting cargo to trains, which also use diesel but are more efficient. Tolls would also help persuade businesses to keep produce local. For example, currently a grape or almond picked in Fresno is likely to be put on a truck and driven to Modesto or El Segundo where it is then placed on another truck and driven to Fresno to be sold at Savemart or Fresh and Easy. Make these unnecessary trips pricier and suddenly these businesses will be forced to do what they should have been doing for decades, and keeping local products local.

What I wrote last year was an idea that would directly link the trucks with air pollution, and actually change behavior

----Institute electronic tolling for trucks on 99 that varies with air quality. For example, on a day with 110f temperatures, between 3pm and 7pm, trucks are charged $20. But after 7pm, they only get charges $10. This encourages them to plan their trip during the "safer" hours for air quality. The tolls would vary every 15 minutes as needed to encourage trucks to pull over, turn off their engine and have dinner. Tolls on clean days can be $1, simply to help pay for highway maintenance.

I think something like that has a higher chance of passing because those poor truck drivers (and the companies they work for) can adjust their patterns to avoid the fees. Trucks are absolutely needed to move products around, but they don't HAVE to be doing it on 4pm on an air alert day.

However that's not the point of this post. As I mentioned before, I want to link the article about new businesses with the air quality column, which the Bee doesn't connect.

Businesses selling everything from Texas T-bones to Tempur-Pedics are flocking to West Shaw Avenue, renewing a shopping and dining area that lost several major retailers during the recession.

The newcomers -- mostly big, national businesses -- are filling empty locations or knocking down old ones to build anew. The restaurants and retailers have the money to open new sites and the large pool of potential customers near West Shaw makes the area an attractive target.


And they have new neighbors, including two Sleep Train stores, Panera Bread and Texas Roadhouse. A Starbucks, The Broilers and a Les Schwab Tire will soon join them.

A SONIC drive-in on Shaw between Marty and Valentine avenues is scheduled to open at the end of the month. It will be franchise owner Scott McMillan's 23rd restaurant in the Central Valley.

What's the connection?

Almost all these new businesses are focused on driving, and that of course increases our pollution. As I mentioned earlier, air alerts call for people to avoid drive-thrus, but actually takes no action on closing drive-thrus or limiting them in any way.

So on one hand we have the government saying "don't use drive-thrus please" and on the other hand we have the city saying "you can build as many as you want!".

Look at the businesses the article mentions:

Starbucks - Shaw has many this new one will be the first west of 41 with a drive-thru. That's the big selling point on it.

Panera - The two existing locations don't have them, but guess what, this new one has a drive-thru. I don't even understand HOW a Panera can have a drive-thru, but in Fresno....

Sonic - Naturally, their business revolves around driving.

Les Schwab Tire - Requires driving

The other businesses aren't as strictly auto-focused, but their design clearly is aimed at making folks drive to them. For example, I recently explroed the new Clovis Dick's which is auto-dominated, at their West Shaw location is the same deal.

Of course, I'm absolutely for new businesses opening up on West Shaw, but it's time the city makes the connection between their lax planning and our bad air. Starbucks can absolutely open their 500th location in Fresno, but why not ban the drive-thru and instead encourage a store design that makes walking comfortable (ie, a walkway so patrons can avoid the sun/rain).

Panera should absolutely enter the West Shaw market, but their business clearly doesn't need a drive-thru to be successful. Instead, make them plop their box down closer to the sidewalk.

Not only is their new store design ugly, but it encourages patrons to pollute our air.

Picture from Bee

It's time the city actually does something about bad air, and that process should start with the planning department.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Allegiant Air happy with demand for Fresno-Honolulu flights

A few months ago, Allegiant made the surprise announcement that they would be connecting Fresno with Honolulu. The airline, which actually started their business with a flight from Fresno, only had flights to Las Vegas from this market. No other airline offered service from Hawaii to Fresno.

I was skeptical of how well the flights would do, but they seem to have been quite the success.

The expansion announcement comes just a week after Allegiant reported a $25.2 million profit for the second quarter, a result that marked the company's 38th consecutive profitable quarter.

"It has greatly exceeded our forecasts," Levy is quoted by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser as saying of Allegiant's performance so far on its routes to Hawaii. "We started flights to Honolulu from both Las Vegas and Fresno in the last days of June, so July is our only full month of operations. Despite a smaller-than-ideal sales window of only nine weeks, Las Vegas posted a 97.4% load factor (an industry measure of seats filled), and Fresno had a load factor of 96.8% during the month of July."

USA Today

The airline is so happy with the demand that they are launching additional flights to Honolulu from smaller airports, such as Boise and Stockton.

Alaska Airline also added service to FAT this year, with direct flights to San Diego.

Rising gas prices have definitely helped fill this plane, as it is expensive to drive to LAX or SFO for the flights, which was pretty standard practice for many Fresno travelers looking for a trip to the islands. Besides saving hours of time, now flyers save a couple of tanks of gas.

FAT has an interesting future ahead of it. On one side, rising fuel pricing mean airlines keep cutting smaller cities, and many cities across the country have completely lost service. On the other hand, rising fuel prices mean people no longer want to drive to hubs to travel. It's hard to say if the next five years will see FAT add more direct flights (perhaps to markets like Mexico City, Houston and Chicago) or lose flights as fuel prices make the airport unprofitable.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fresno moving forward on Droge building redevelopment

If you're from Fresno, you know what the Droge building is.

Is that name not ringing any bells?

Here, let me give you a hint:


Ah yes, THAT building.

Earlier this year, the city decided that even though it's an old building (1922), it's not worth preserving, as it's not in the best of conditions.

Now, the city is moving forward with the process of redevelopment, into what they say will be a new 4 story residential development. The development would not preserve any aspect of the building.

The project has expanded to include the building next door, which has been empty for many years, but is in good condition. It is the one story to the left of the Droge.


That smaller building actually has some family ties, as my relatives ran a business from there for many, many years. One day the owner hiked up the rent, and the business moved a few blocks away. It's been empty ever since (a good 5+ years I'd say). Probably wasn't the brightest business goal, unless their goal actually was being bought up by the city....

Here is what the city will take up this upcoming Thursday:

Approve a $1.8 million HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) Program Agreement, substantially in the form attached and subject to the City Attorney's prior approval as to form, with the Housing Authority of the City of Fresno (Housing Authority), for demolition of the Droge building (at 802 Van Ness Ave.) and the D. Yezdan building (at 814 Van Ness Ave), and redevelopment of the sites into a four-story residential workforce housing/retail development.
Council Documents (Large PDF)


Here is the plan:
The Housing Authority is proposing to demolish the dilapidated Droge building and the adjacent D. Yezdan building and redevelop the sites into residential workforce housing with ground floor retail. There will be a 45unit mix of studios, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units that will range in size from 475 to 900 square feet, with rents ranging from $469 to $732 depending on unit size and location. Eleven of the 45 units will be reserved as affordable to very low- to low-income households earning no more than 60% of area median income. The project will also include a common area, management offices, and retail space. The estimated completion date of the redevelopment project is scheduled for August 2014.

This part was a pleasant surprise

Also, the development proposes to provide approximately 27 tenant parking stalls. The Housing Authority continues to be in discussions with the City of Fresno for additional parking stalls at the spiral garage located directly across the street on Van Ness Ave. Staff is requesting that Council allow flexibility to the current proposed site plan so that, if desired, the Housing Authority may eliminate the proposed on-site parking and expand the newly constructed building footprint to occupy both sites.

It would be fantastic to have the building come in with zero parking stalls, and allow tenants to lease a space directly across the street at the underused garage.

Building parking on site would raise the price of the development, waste space, and raise rents, all while empty spots sit 20 feet across the street.

The PDF features some extremely hard to read sketches, with disclaimers that they're simply showing massing models and not any form of architectural proposal.

Back in February, I posted some renders of a possible building

I'm not thrilled with the idea of Fresno knocking down yet another old building, even if there's a plan to replace it with something bigger and better. There have just been too many exampled of buildings being leveled with empty lots sitting there for many years after. That being said, I do hope that if the funding is approved, construction does move forward quickly and there is something new by 2014.

If the Droge building does get knocked down this year, I'm sure many will cheer, as most consider it an eye-sore. I think it's somewhat unique and will miss it, at least for a few moments. Again, certainly better than another dirt lot or parking lot, which downtown is full of (thanks to the city's love of demolishing buildings).

I haven't seen anything in the Bee about this, but I'm sure they'll have something for us soon with more details.

Friday, August 10, 2012

An analysis of Fresno/Clovis rail-trail: South of Shaw

I've talked about the Fresno-Clovis Rail Trail (also known as the Sugar Pine Trail or the Old Town Trail) a few times on this blog. This week I decided to go out and document things which the trail does right and the many opportunities it has to improve.

The trail is pretty much the only useful bit of separated bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure in town, and connects some pretty important places. The biggest downside to the trail is the fact that it has almost no branches connecting into it, so users must take to the streets to reach their final destinations.

Both Fresno and Clovis are proud of the trail, at least officially, as they bring it up often as something good about the towns. Problem is, funding doesn't exactly follow.

I will have a series of posts showing the trail in its entirety, starting south of Shaw, in Clovis.

This section of the trail is not very popular, as I will show that is probably due to how isolated it is (very few "entrances" onto the trail). The trail is attractive and usable, but has some major (MAJOR) ADA violations, which also inconvenience cyclists. Mostly, this portion of the trail is a series of missed opportunities. Speaking of, one thing you won't notice in the pictures is the complete lack of lighting.

Many of the problems would be cheap to fix. Even adding lighting would probably cost less than yet another project to widen a road for half a mile.

This post is very picture heavy, so please click to expand the entire thing.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Athletic store aims for sedentary market - Picture tour of new Dick's

It's almost time for Clovis's newest big box to open up, and that is the sports retailer Dick's. I decided to take a walk in the area where the giant box has been dropped down, which is just a mile from the historic old town. Fresno and Clovis are packed to the brims with big boxes, and I was looking to see if one built in 2012 is any different from one build in 1980. I was also looking to see if a store which caters to "athletic and outdoor enthusiasts" would design an experience that....well, that actually caters to being athletic and being outdoors. Any marketing professional will tell you that the brand shouldn't end at the front doors, is that the case here?

I was wondering if Dick's does anything to make their 2012 big box look and feel anything different from something like a Mervyn's or Petco big box built in 1980. How do they engage their customers who have active lifestyles?

And assuming the corporation doesn't do anything to cater to walking and such, does Clovis do anything to require new development be walkable and bikeable?

Let's explore.

(The title may be a spoiler).

Location, relative to old town.

Here is where the newest and biggest box is located. As you can see, the imagery doesn't show the construction. The yellow dots are the walking path I took. Dick's is almost done, the mega-enormous walmart is a few months away from being finished.


We start in a residential development, a small section of houses nestled between the freeway and Herndon (a wannabe-freeway). These homes can now see Dick's from their backyard.

....sort of. They get a beautiful view of a lovely wall, and the parking lot lights behind it.


Previous view


A median was built, meaning the dwellers of this area are now inconvenienced as they can no longer make left turns. The pedestrians have a legal crosswalk, and yet the city doesn't want them to cross.


Look how close Dicks is, yet for a pedestrian, it's so far away, unless they're the kind that can vault over walls.


No crosswalk here, not that one could get past the wall.


There is a back entrance up ahead.


But again, the crosswalks, as defined by california law, have been blocked with curbs. The crosswalks still exist, as there is no sign indicating otherwise, but wheelchair users are screwed.


Up ahead, across the highway, more homes, but no crosswalks.


This could be a crosswalk, as there's a ramp and all, but it's not ADA friendly.


I'll cross anyway, let's go shopping!


Oh lovely, a parking lot that will never, EVER be used.

And also, remember my dotted line drawing showing the walk I took to the store? Well, I followed the only sidewalks.


As you can see, someone wanting the shortest walk to the front entrance must walk over the planters. Someone in a wheelchair? Screwed. I guess it was inconceivable that someone walking to the store would want a quick and direct path.


So we go all the way around the back, which has an abnormally large rear lot that will never, ever be used.


I follow the one and only pedestrian path, and can see the wal-mart being built.


Notice how the one and only pedestrian path has kept me away from the store, again, adding distance to my walk. I guess the store really does want athletic customers, as it has designed the longest possible walk.



A small intersection, with the walmart on the other side




Hooray, we've arrived at the front. I didn't actually go to the front as there were construction folks, and I'm not fully sure how friendly they'd be to my taking pictures of that area.


Staying in the parking lot then...

Oh look, how sweet, Dick's is environmentally conscious and has designated EV parking spaces! Any charging stations? Of course not! Any form of mechanism to enforce the "rule"? Nope. Are they even conveniently places? Absolutely not.

But it's such a lovely gesture.


The one and only pedestrian path does continue to herndon.


Ok, the lovely gesture is now insulting. Seriously Dick's? Does this placement make ANY sense?

I can't wait to buy a Chevy Volt so I can park as far away as possible!




We get to Herndon, and again we find ourselves wanting to cross the street to get to the lovely homes....but can't. Another median in the way blocking the unmarked crosswalk.

(Remember unmarked crosswalks have the same legal standing as marked ones)


And yet....just recently the crosswalks were accessible!

Take that ADA!


To be perfectly honest, the people in these homes will rarely go to Dick's.

But Wal-mart? That's the sort of place you might want to walk to to pick up groceries.

But with this kind of walk, most will drive just to cross the street.

No one in their right mind would make this long walk to cross the street.


So since Clovis puts up a wall, they'll drive.


Herndon, naturally, has been widened. Since walking is made as inconvenient as possible, Herndon must be widened to accommodate the people driving across the street.



The new lanes give lovely views of all the parking spaces that will never be used.


Would you ever park out here?

So many wasteful spaces, the stores never need so many.


Such a large parking lot for a store that is usually pretty damn empty (based off their location on West Shaw). Note more "clean air vehicle" spots.



Some smaller retailers will also be built on the sides...


Which just so happens to put another barrier between the location where I started and the shopping destinations.

Secondary entrance on Herndon


Nearing the only intersection where crosswalks are provided.


As you can see, wider than ever.


Bigger turning radius please


Even the corner gets blocked with walls, no shortcuts for pedestrians here!


Widening is fun. Pedestrian accommodations during the construction period? Not so fun.



Sunnyside is also getting wider, naturally. All those homes that can no longer make convenient left turns now have to drive up and down to get where they're going.


Guess what that sign says


That's right, they acknowledge people use the sidewalk.....but if you're walking, you're out of luck. No detour or accommodation of any kind.


Another blocked crosswalk


Almost back to where we started


So close but so far


And that concludes our tour of Clovis's newest shopping experience, Dick's. Looks a whole lot like the kind of stuff built on Shaw 20 years ago, doesn't it?

Don't bother trying to walk or bike there. But I guess that's what they want.

So here's a summary of the walk.

In green, what the residents would like to do.

In yellow, what they can do, assuming they're not disabled and are comfortable using an unmarked crosswalk that has a barrier in the way.

In red, the "official" walking path. So pleasant.