Monday, June 25, 2012

Fresno gets its first public EV charging station

So I took a bit of a break....sorry about that. Was away from most of the internet really, except to watch the Euro matches. Regular posting resumes now.

EV - electric vehicle.

It's summer in Fresno, and even though today's high is a chilly 86, it means we're in the season of air quality warnings. Of course, that's true of the winter as well, and yes, the fall. And sometimes spring.

Fresno has some of the worst air in the country, thanks to a combination of high heat, geography, and agriculture. The tendency to drive everywhere for everything doesn't help though, and cars are a huge source of local air pollution.

The air here is so bad that the feds hit the valley with large fines for not getting their act together.

Everyone understands that local air is poor in part due to all the driving, which is why it's sad to see federal air mitigation money go to things like.....widening roads. Nothing quite says "clean air" like laying asphalt.

If local officials insist on fighting air pollution by encouraging driving, why not at least put the money into something that makes some at least encouraging adoption of electric vehicles?

A push towards EVs would do nothing to lower congestion or fight agriculture-eating sprawl, but at least it would make our air better. But something is missing...

Here's one of many (incomplete) maps showing electric vehicle parking infrastructure in California, notice what's missing?


Thats right, no public chargers in the San Joaquin Valley! Both the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt have been available for over a year (even locally) and yet no public chargers.

Well, that's not 100% true, there are two. They are at Nissan dealerships, and are open to anyone, but really, how many Chevy or Mitsubishi drivers feel comfortable rolling into a Nissan dealership and charging up? And even if comfort wasn't an issue, EVs take too long to charge to just pull in for a refill. Efficient refilling outside the home or work must be done at places you're going to stop at anyway.


Enter Fresno's first "real" public EV charging station.

Blackbeard’s Family Entertainment Center, a popular destination for Central Valley families for more than 35 years, has announced it will soon break ground on a solar installation to power its facility in Fresno.

The system is expected to produce more than 316,317 kilowatt-hours of electricity in the first year of operation. This equates to the reduction of more than 312,000 pounds of CO2 emissions, which is the equivalent of offsetting the power demand of 29 residential homes, removing 19 cars from the road or planting 4,665 trees each year.

The system will also include two electric vehicle (EV) charging stations for customers. It is only the third public car charging station in Fresno.

It's great to see a local business installing a public charger, but the article just helped highlight how behind the region is.

When Walgreen announced last year that 800 of their locations would host chargers, I figured Fresno would be in line....there must be over a dozen Walgreen's in town. But none came. Perhaps it's time to put all the air quality money to good use and pay for a few chargers?

It would certainly do more to improve the air in the long run, right?

Monday, June 11, 2012

How is Storyland in such bad shape?

If you're a resident of Fresno county, you've surely heard of Storyland and Playland inside Roeding Park. Intended for (small) children, they have been a part of the valley for 50 years. Besides hearing about them, you've probably gone to visit them as well. Storyland is a walk-through park, with fairytale stories set up. Playland is a miniature carnival. If everyone knows it, why has it been allowed to get into such bad shape?

I visited them this past weekend for the first time, using tickets given for free as part of a Grizzlies baseball package.

It's not exactly what I expected.

Storyland is a walk-through park of Mother Goose stories and nursery rhymes, including favorites like Jack and Jill, Goldilocks & the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, Peter Pan, Hansel & Gretel, King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table, Alice in Wonderland, Noah's Ark, Humpty Dumpty, and more!

Yes, it's small. That was expected. Yes, it's pretty much for those 6 and under. Also expected. I didn't go to immerse myself in stories, just to see what it looks like in person.

The problem is, the condition everything was in. It appeared as if the last bit of maintenance was conducted shortly after the park opened. And what's odd, is that it certainly isn't cheap.

$5 to park, then $5 per adult to get in....and then $4 for a "key" so you can listen to all five stories? Never mind the fact that the place is still somewhat popular, and was filled with people having birthdays. They most certainly don't have a lack of revenue, and yet even the most basic of maintenance seemed to be lacking. In most other cities, something like Storyland would be free, just because it's so simple. Maybe then the lack of maintenance would at least be understandable. In this case, where is the money going?

Even the "point" of Storyland, the stories, were in bad shape. Each story has a sign with a basic summary of the fairytale....and yet the signs look like they haven't been touched up since 1965. Each story also has a box where you turn a key to get the tale read to you. I saw one family disappointed when one of the boxes didn't even work. $4 well spent on the key. I heard one story being read, and the audio sounded like it was coming from a gramophone.

Some attractions had glass windows you had to look through, like to see an owl house, or into the pigs brick house. The glass was caked in about 50 years of grime and it was impossible to look inside. I saw a poor little boy running up to the window excited to peer into the house. He would come away with dirt on his hands, but nothing else, as the inside may as well have been empty.

There were some basic playground attractions, which were fun in that they were built in an earlier time, so the slide was actually fast, there was a seesaw (does any playground in Fresno still have those?) and one of those spinning things. That was fine, but some of the more elaborate equipment just didn't seem too attractive for kids.

As one yelp review put it:

Just took my two year old to Storyland and was incredibly disappointed. We are zoo members and love it. We were expecting the same kind of quality. It was terrible. Everything was really dirty, we were walking through cobwebs, and there was no way I was letting my daughter crawl through some of the things, especially the pirate ship. Who knows what kinds of spiders were in there. Many of the slides were in pretty bad shape, and one was covered in tree sap. The standing, stagnant water was really nice too. The whole thing was just kind of haphazard and dated. I was really mad about spending $8.50 on that. Would have been better off going to the zoo and having a corndog! Don't waste your money!!

That reminds me of other features, the water ones. The Storyland river? Dried up. The story wells? Stagnant, probably ready to give birth to a thousand mosquito. The fountain? Dry.

And the lake?

Oh wow. It's essentially a city dump with water. You pay to rent a paddle boat to cruise through plastic cups, food wrappers and so much more. How does the staff become so indifferent that they let the garbage mount like that in what's supposed to be one of their center attractions?

I took some pictures, but I didn't have the heart to shoot at all the sad parts of the parks.

I understand funds are hard to come by, but it gets much harder if the park is set up as to scare away any return visits. If the fountain is too expensive to maintain, fine, leave it dry, but at least throw away the garbage.

Some pictures of the day, as I said, I focused on the positive. Due note the condition of the sign in the fourth picture though, they were all in that condition.

One of the story boxes is visible on the right. All the stories are simple like this, not exactly expensive to maintain.

Colorful, but lots of paint chipping off

Probably the only shot of "clean" water

Onto Playland, note the sign. You don't want to look into the well.

Maintenence should probably be done in winter, when the park is closed, no?

Ok, I lied, not much garbage in this shot.

Outside the parks, people ride horses in what the zoo intends to pave over for parking

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Weak economy and Europe issues mean no record gas prices this year

Back in January, I made a prediction that gas prices would easily top records this summer.

Was I right?

Not exactly, no. This year was an odd one for gas prices. Usually gas follows a pretty standard path, as it rises early in the year to reach summer highs, then falls for the rest of the year.

Things were different this time. Gas prices spiked early, and then actually fell as we got closer to memorial day.

The reason, is the the US economic growth disappointed, and worries in Europe kept oil prices low. Indeed, oil is under $85 today. Combined with a lack of "fear disasters" to spike up prices, oil valuations are actually being rational.

(By "fear disaster" I mean things like turmoil in Libya, or an oil spill, which affect prices more by fear than by loss of supply).

Here were my predictions with the actual results. (All prices California average from

$3.70 on January 20th when I made the post.

$4.00 by March 4th.
Actual: $4.33 Prices spiked very early this year. I picked an interesting random date, near the top...


$4.25 by March 25th
Actual: $4.33 Not far off on this guess, but sort of by accident. Another lucky choice in date, as prices are about to fall quickly. The economic news started to hit, the big recovery wasn't happening. This we haven't seen before, an odd pause in pricing and then a fall....


$4.50 by April 25th.
Actual: $4.17 Again, another lucky date....gas prices fell quickly, and this was almost bottom. I of course assumed prices would follow the regular path and keep increasing gradually until memorial day. That was very wrong.


$4.66 (record) by May 15.
(prices to drop after May 15)
Actual: $4.35 I was way off on the price, but I nailed the date. That was the very high point. The price drop that came after was another surprise though, usually its more gradual.


So I'm not so good as estimating prices, but I do get lucky with dates.

So what's coming next? It's even harder to tell. Traditionally, prices will hold for the next month and then begin their decent until they bottom out in December/January again.

The problem is, oil is being emotional again, as investors use the slimy liquid to express their feelings. I can see a $10 jump in the price of a barrel in a single day with something as simple as good news out of Greece (more than tying Poland I mean). The opposite is just as true, oil may very well go under $80.

The odds of seeing any records this year are poor though, short of a real disaster (ie, Saudi Arabia going into civil war). Next year? Well, that's a different story, one that should clear up after October.

Oh, and one last thing....I still think transit systems will report many ridership records this summer. The US jobs report may not be good enough for investors, but it has been constantly growing, which equals more people commuting. Wall Street may freak out at "60,000 jobs added" because for them it's low....but that's 60,000 potential new transit customers.

I'll be posting another Amtrak California update soon. Spoiler: Ridership continues to rise.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Clovis trail statue proposal, who is it really for?

The Fresno-Clovis rail-trail is essentially the one and only bicycle highway in the area. There are a couple of other trails, but it's the only one connecting important nodes. As such, it's pretty popular.

The trail passes through "downtown" Clovis, which is adjacent to the rodeo grounds. There is a section where the trail is sandwiched between parking and more parking. Most of the parking is used only for occasional events, like the rodeo, the cycling tour etc. For the majority of the year, it's empty.

This week, an item related to the trail was up for vote at the council.

Consider Approval - A request from the Clovis Rodeo Association for the Council to authorize staff to work with the Association for the use of City property, located at Rodeo Drive and the Clovis Old Town Trail regarding the placement of Public Art along the trail.

Sounds good. Even though the trail is important, and the city always talks it up when advertising itself, it doesn't get much funding. Some art would be nice.

The issue, and of course there's an issue, is that the art appears to have been designed to delight folks entering the parking lot by car. While the statue is to be placed on the trail, the diagram included with the council documents indicated a design that hurts trail users.

If approved, the statue would be located on City property at Rodeo Drive and the Clovis Old Town Trail (see attached exhibits). The CRA board is requesting a lease agreement for this site between the CRA and the City of Clovis in the amount of $1.00 per year. The CRA believes placement of the statue at this site would enhance this public area. The location of the statue is in the area designated by Council as part of the "Heritage Walk Along the Old Town Trail" (Heritage Walk), which was set aside for artwork depicting Clovis' rich heritage. The proposed statue meets the criteria adopted by Council for artwork to be located on the Heritage Walk

It all sounds so good, but the proposed implementation is so poor.

The problem is the diagram included shows a statue essentially blocking the trail, and acting as a way to channelize arriving vehicles into a parking lot.

The Fresno-Clovis trail is like a bike highway. That means that for optimal transportation purposes, it should be straight, with gradual curves, and obviously nothing blocking the path.

As it exists now, the trail has a gradual curve at the rodeo entrance.


The crossing of the minor street and parking is not well marked, but traffic is so low it's not an issue. For trail users, it's an easy curve. A crosswalk would be nice, but again, as it is now the trail works fine.

So what happens when we add some art?

The gradual curve becomes hard right turns. The statue blocks visibility. If curb ramps are created, it would make for an annoying and tight turn for those on bikes. Oh, and if I'm reading it right, the art naturally widens the road.


Essentially, it would make things worse for those on bikes. Art is nice, but art should not be put in the center of the trail.

Here is what the proposal would probably look like (note that it appears that the road is widened).


Now, the drawing is obviously just s sketch, but it speaks a lot to what they think of the trail. The person who drew the sketch sees the trail as a sidewalk, not as an important piece of transportation. The bigger problem is, as the sketch becomes a set of construction plans, the lack of through into how people actually ride bikes will probably remain.

Are you thinking that the sketch is meaningless, and that the final placement would obviously provide for a wide, smooth trail?

Well, look what Clovis approved last year, a trail with a terrible connection to an intersection. It looks lovely on satellite, and I'm sure it looked lovely in the plans, but it makes absolutely zero sense as a user trying to cross a street.

Instead of users making one soft turn onto the crosswalk, they must navigate four tight turns.


If how bikes are actually ridden wasn't taken into any consideration just last year, what evidence do we have that it will be taken this year?

Details are important. In this case, the details are things like turn radius, curb ramp sizes etc.

Ignoring the details leads to situations like this other location (on the same trail) in which a traffic pole was placed on the curb ramp....and the push button was placed facing the highway instead of the trail.


Besides being a pain for cyclists using the trail (trying to reach the button) it's an obvious ADA violation. That hasn't stopped it from never being fixed.

I hope this time, Clovis actually consults with someone who uses the trail, and doesn't just sign off on the art project because art is universally good.

The art should be designed to enhance the trail, not make things worse.