Monday, July 30, 2012

Clovis to get another year of abysmal bus service hours

Recently I noted how LA expanded the hours of their subway system to run past 2am on weekends. The city of LA already ran 24 hour bus service. I think it's fair to say that LA is reasonably meeting the needs of its community.

Meanwhile in Clovis.....

Staff requested that the Route 9 proposal by FAX for FY 2012-201 3 contract be for the same service hours as FY 2011-2012, which includes weekend service from 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and weekday service from 6:15 a.m. to 8:25 p.m.

Staff has analyzed the recommendation for the regional fixed-route transit services operated by FAX for FY 12-1 3 and have concluded that maintaining the same hours for service as FY 11-12 would reasonably meet the needs of the community.
City Council (PDF)

What kind of community is done with its weekend by 3:30pm?

Clovis has its own very small and very inefficient transit system. That transit system (round up) runs small buses in odd meandering routes around the city. Fresno has FAX, which is a transit system which runs real (full size) buses along many major avenues.

Because apparently nobody lives in one city and works in another city, or ever crosses city lines to shop, dine or meet with friend, the transit systems are generally confined to the city borders.

Can you spot the city border? Nope, it's not the freeway.

With one exception....

Clovis pays FAX to run route 9 (two buses an hour) an entire two miles into Clovis, to serve Shaw Ave. Shaw is one of the commercial cores of the city, and a subject of revitalziation efforts.

In the map you can see bus 9 running into Clovis, on the left is the turnback the bus takes during hours where Clovis doesn't hand over money (left green arrow).


The bus terminates at Sierra Vista Mall, where it meets up with the Clovis buses. Sierra Vista Mall is home to Sears, Target, Kohl's, a movie theater, and many typical mall shops like Victorias Secret, New York and Co, Gamestop etc.

Also between the city border and the mall are a whole bunch of your typical big box stores, like WalMart, Home Depot, Lowes, Kmart, and so forth. Not only are they popular shopping destinations, but they employ thousands and thousands of people. There are other offices, such as lawyers, salons, call centers, etc.

And apparently, those thousands of shoppers and thousands of employees pack up and head home at 3pm on weekends. At least according to the city staff, who thinks that ending bus service at 3pm meets anyone's needs.

So how much does a years worth of poor bus service cost?


Not exactly breaking the bank here.

To put that a different way, Clovis pays FAX around $27 for every run the bus makes down Shaw to the mall. (I'm assuming weekend rates are the same per run).

So how much would it cost to have the 9 end every run in Clovis?

Not a whole lot more.

The 9 currently makes 26 trips into Clovis on weekdays. First trip hits the mall at 6:40am and the last one leaves at 7:27pm.

(BTW, note how the council document seems to think service runs until 8:30pm? That's not what the schedule says....)

On weekends, the 9 makes 15 trips, starting at 8:15am and ending at 3:15pm.

Lets imagine Clovis had every trip the 9 makes run into the city. That means 29 trips on weekdays (three additional evening trips) and 24 trips on weekends (an earlier trip and then service until 7:15pm).

How much more would it cost?

At around $27 a trip, for an entire year, the city would spend an additional.....


That's it. That would be the entire cost of a years worth of "full" FAX service in Clovis along Shaw.

I guess that's just too much to ask for.

To put that in perspective, funding wise, a couple of weeks later the same staff decided to drop $750,000 on widening yet another road for an entire 0.3 mile stretch.


There is absolutely no traffic/congestion need to widen that road today versus waiting a decade or so. Imagine if the city took that $750,000 (which the developers gave the city) and put it in the bank....and then used the interest on that to fund the bus service expansion until that road actually "needs" to add lanes. Maybe the commerce on Shaw Ave wouldn't be so depressed if more shoppers had access to it? And maybe unemployment would dip a little bit if people desperate for jobs had a transit option to get them to the openings?

Sadly, nothing will change, as Clovis has again signed up for another year of abysmal transit service.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Another weekend of music in Fresno - this time with attractions

Last weekend, the Catacomb Party was held downtown, with a whole bunch of bands. That was a big success, and being free may have helped.

This week there's another music event, but this one requires buying a ticket. Truth be told, the way the price is set up, you can consider it a ticket for the attractions, with the music being free. It's being held at Blackbeard's, known for its minigolf, go-karts, batting cages, arcades and more. $25 gets you a day of music and also access to the attractions.

Time: Gates open 1pm / Music 2pm
ALL AGES | 21+ to Drink
Entry: $20 Adv. $25 VIP (Unlimited Attractions!)

*Children under 5 are FREE & for $5 for unlimited attractions!
*Ages 6-11 are $20 for entry & unlimited attractions!
*12 & over its $20 for entry and $25 for unlimited attractions!

Which includes:
Batting Range
Bumper Boats
Miniature Golf
Race Track
XTreme Laser Tag
Ropes Course Adventure
Cap'n Kids
Bankshot Basketball more!

More at the official Facebook page including the full band listing.

Blackbeard's is not downtown, but it is sort of south fresno. South of Shaw anyway.


And the poster

It's good to see so many music options in this town, and there's another similar event coming up in August.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Review of The Catacomb Party on Fulton Mall

Saturday featured an entire afternoon of free music, plenty of food options and a good amount of beer on the Fulton Mall. While the Fulton Mall is home to annual events like the Cinco de Mayo festival and such, this one was a little different. It wasn't centered around a holiday or festival, but just a local band releasing a CD and bringing along some of their friends.

I've been to various music-related events in Fresno, such as the Fuse Fest and really, as much free entertainment as I can find. The one theme I've found in common is that it doesn't matter how free something is, there's never a guarantee of a crowd.

This time was a little different. I don't know what strings the promoters pulled, but this event was well attended, and the "venue" (The Fulton Mall from Merced to Fresno streets) was the perfect size.

The fun began at 4pm, and while the crowd was small, it was honestly more than I expected.

I could run with this picture....

But in reality, there were plenty just too scared to stand up close.

This picture gives a better idea of the early crowd, and also some of the decoration.

The furniture and "roof" were a really great touch. The "venue" was unique, in that this is the one and only place in the entire city where an outdoor event like this can be hosted and feel like it's sort of indoors. The buildings provide the walls, and the trees and shadows provide a comfortable roof. The amenities of a pedestrian mall really make the space feel more intimate, and the Fulton Mall is quite possible the one and only street in the entire city with a solid street-wall - no gaps caused by the city's zeal to knock down anything vacant and replace it with parking.

The "back" end of the street was home to the food and drinks. Food was provided by three food trucks and two existing restaurants. Beer was provided by Fresno Brewing Company (the coffeeshop/bar on the mall) and also a beer garden tent. Something I hadn't seen before was that the beer could be consumed anywhere.....not sure if that was by design or just lax enforcement of codes. The lack of a "beer cage" did make things more flexible for patrons.



There was a bit of strong sun early on, but the buildings and trees provided great shade. The "canyon" effect of the road provide for natural breeze, which was helped by the industrial fans brought in by the promoters.


The music was non-stop.


The many features of the mall provided for comfortable seating and activity areas. The playground, while in poor condition, was popular among the many small children (at least after the photo was taken).



There were some other form of entertainment, like this acrobatic show



And also a bike valet


The Fulton Mall is famous for the fountains, but it looks like this week more were dry than empty. They provided great seating, but perhaps would have been better enjoyed in their working state. I recall this one working recently, right?




So much shade


Between acts, we decided to take a walk to other parts of the mall, and it was quite the contrast. Fresno street, with its traffic and stop light created quite the barrier between the loud and popular music area....and everything else. While the three open restaurants by the music were doing good business, absolutely everything south of Fresno St was closed by 6pm.

At least one fountain was open for business.


Not in the best condition, but it made even a desolate mall seem more alive.


Few people were around


But at least they had a pleasant walk to the music. If the mayor gets her way and returns traffic to the mall, the one working fountain would have to be removed, as there's no way to fit two lanes of traffic around it.


.....meanwhile, one block north....


I told you it was crowded.



Overall, a great success.

Could something like this bring crowds to the mall every week? Of course not, but it does help dispel the myth that even with things to do, people would avoid the mall due to parking, crime, the homeless, etc etc.

Speaking of, I didn't see a single police officer the entire time we were there. Not one. And yet it felt safer than an afternoon at Fashion Fair. And naturally, parking was free and plentiful, as it almost always is downtown....both for bikes and cars. And the homeless? They were there, enjoying the music from afar.

Could anyone imagine a single other street in Fresno capable of hosting an event like this so successfully? I can't. And if the mayor has her way, and the trees, fountains and playgrounds are replaced with asphalt and parking meters, this same street wouldn't be able to continue having events like this.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Music and food on the Fulton Mall today

If you missed the article in yesterdays Fresno Bee, then here's notice of a fun event going on later today.

From 4pm until 11pm, there will be a free music event on the Fulton Mall. Cheap beer is to be found before 5:30pm. There will be food trucks and other activities, but the main focus is the series of bands, which end with Fierce Creatures launching their new album.


3:30 – 3:50 // DOORS

3:50 – 4:00 // BONEY BEEZLY

4:00 – 4:20 // FAST CAR

4:30 – 4:55 // BELL THIEVES

5:10 – 5:35 // ANIMAL EYES

5:50 – 6:15 // LIGHT THIEVES

6:30 – 6:55 // ACHIEVEMENT HOUSE

7:10 – 7:35 // STRANGE VINE

7:50 – 8:15 // ARGYLE PIMPS

8:30 – 8:55 // SILENT COMEDY

9:10 – 9:35 // QUIET AMERICANS

10:00 – 11:00 // FIERCE CREATURES

Official website
Official Facebook

Parking is also free. The event takes place on the north end of the mall, in front of the Fresno Brewing Company.

Ibikefresno will be providing a free bike valet service.

If you drive, use this free parking lot. Enter through the blue square, and walk along the yellow arrows to get to the event (red x).


Bus service is nearby, with almost every bus line stopping at Van Ness and Fresno St (the courthouse plaza)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Expo line ridership increasing rapidly - 16,569 in June

A little less than three months ago, LA's Expo Light Rail line finally opened after years of delay. The launch wasn't perfect, as there were many kinks being worked out, and travel times were slower than expected (train times are now matching their schedules).

While many were happy to celebrate the launch of a new travel option, some were quick to proclaim doom. If you recall, I wrote a couple of posts about how the Reason Foundation decided that Expo was a failure based on some random counts they made within days of the line opening. They then took those random counts, and decided that they were an accurate reflection of lifetime ridership on Expo.

In their own words...

The too-early-to-judge complaint is one you hear all the time about rail, but curiously never about cars, movies, burgers, condominiums, software, new fashion lines, tech gadgets, or pretty much any other product that is brought to market. For all the palaver about "soft launches," "slow rollouts" and the like, your opening sales figure is almost always a good indicator of how you’re going to do over the Long Tail. That’s why they call it the "Long Tail" and not the "Long Trunk" or the "Long Opposable Thumb."

Only two months of data are available, with June ridership being released today, but already it is clear that ridership is obviously increasing from launch.

May saw 11,317 average daily riders, which was indeed low, and actually does match up with what Reason counted.

Observed passenger rates indicate the Expo Line is carrying no more than 13,000 people a day. We have inflated our estimate by presuming that all trains, all day, are running at the observed peak ridership of 50 people.

But did ridership plateau on day one? Of course not.

June saw average daily ridership of 16,569 riders.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
(Make sure to use the trendline to draw outrageous predictions!)

What changed? Well, the last two stations opened in the last week of the month, which of course generated ridership. That's one thing the initial "doom" articles failed to highlight. It's fair to say that with those stations being open for a full month, ridership would indeed be much higher.

And then there's the whole bit about it taking time for people to adjust their commute patterns.

If you recall from my previous article, I pointed out how the Gold Line extension has seen growth every single month since opening. It's been twenty months since opening, and yet the growth hasn't slowed. This of course includes the continued poor economy and gas prices that have stagnated and decreased.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The Gold Line hit another new high of 47,025 in June, and will break that in July (the traditional annual high).

Of course, it's natural to expect the same from Expo. July will show a full month of service with the terminus being open, and the added bonus of late night service, which will fully be appreciated in August. After that, September hits which means USC is open for fall business. On top of that, there's the natural growth as new riders discover the line.

At this point, it's impossible to guess where ridership will reach before Phase 2 opens in 5 or so years, but the Metro estimate of 27,000 riders by the end of year one does seem achievable. I'll keep checking in with how ridership increases on this line and others in LA.

Monday, July 16, 2012

LA gets late night rail transit

This announcement surprised me, but it's great to see. When I was in LA earlier this year for a concert, I was able to enjoy a new policy that had recently been implemented (trains every ten minutes until midnight) but had to worry about not missing the last train.

That's no longer the case. LA obviously has a whole lot of nightlife, and while buses that run 24 hours have been available, there's an extra comfort in knowing the subway is there for you too.

From the official Metro blog:

All Metro Rail lines will run until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. That includes the Red/Purple Line subway, the Blue Line, Expo Line, Green Line and Gold Line.

•Trains will run every 20 minutes between midnight and 2 a.m.

•The Orange Line will run until 2:40 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights in order to meet the last trains at the North Hollywood Red Line station. The Orange Line will also run every 20 minutes between midnight and 2:40 a.m.

•The plan at this moment is to begin late-night service on the weekend of July 27-28 but Metro is also working to determine if late night service is needed on the Silver Line, as well as working with Metrolink on the possibility of extending their service to connect with Metro’s.
Metro Blog

The benefits of late night transit are extensive. It provides an extra level of comfort that you can get home and won't be stranded. Especially when you take into account the role the last train plays.

If service ends at don't want to plan anything past 11:30pm, because of the fear that a slight delay leaves you stranded. By extending service until 2am, the comfort zone is now 1:30am. That's the difference between a USC student catching the 10:20pm screening at the LA Live movie theater or staying home.

Besides saving money on expensive cab fare, later service means safer trips home, as there's less of an incentive to drive drunk.

And it's not just drunk party people who benefit. Many low paying jobs have hours that don't quite match up with rush hours. If you're getting minimum wage, it's probably more likely your shift ends at midnight rather than 5:30pm. Now, at least on weekends, there's a comfortable train waiting to take you home.

20 minute headways and weekend-only service isn't perfect, but it's an excellent start, and it's better than what cities like SF and Boston provide. Indeed, even major subway-cities like Paris and London close their underground down at around midnight.

It's great to see LA take such great pro-rider move.