Sunday, June 30, 2013

The victim never gets to tell his story

Last week saw the death of yet another pedestrian in the Fresno area. As is the case in almost every death of a pedestrian in Fresno, no charges were filed. This particular story takes place on a two lane country road, near Sanger. The victim was a teen on his skateboard.

Last week, Greater Greater Washington posted a story about how the writer, who was on his bike, was in a collision when a motorists illegally turned in front of him. As he was taken away to the hospital, the responding police officer interviewed the driver, decided that the driver's story was fully accurate, and proceeded to try and get the victim to sign a ticket on his hospital bed.

No investigation was done. No security camera video was pulled, and no cell phone records were called up. The officer, who wasn't on scene when it happened, made a decision based on the testimony of the motorist, and his preconceived notions of what happens on the road.

If you read the full story, you'll see that the victim did some investigating of his own, did find a camera feed, and managed to get video showing he was 100% innocent and the motorist was 100% at fault. The video is at the link. Even though there was video evidence, the police refused to acknowledge their mistake and no criminal charges were perused. The victim did get compensated in a civil case.

Many questions were raised about the police department, and why the officer has not been fired.

But a question more relevant to the national discussion is this:
Why is the testimony of the person who has most to lose treated as gospel?

And when death is involved, and only one side is around, why are officers so quick to close the case?

Looking at the recent death in Fresno:

Sgt. Patrick Etchbarne said the juvenile was riding his skateboard about 5:20 p.m. heading west on North Avenue near Thompson Avenue when a car attempted to pass him. The juvenile made a sharp movement on his skateboard and collided with the car.
Fresno Bee

The article doesn't say it, but because the collision happened in a very rural area,  we know there were no cameras. We can also assume, based on other cases, that no cell phone records were pulled.

Which leaves us with the conclusion that the Sergeant's re-enactment of the collision was based on one, and only one factor: The testimony of the motorist. The kid is dead, and not around to tell his side of the story.

Does one expect the motorists to admit fault? Is the motorist going to say they were busy texting, speeding, and generally breaking the law?

Of course not. It will always be "He came out of nowhere officer!"  Even though it just seems so odd that the guy on the skateboard would WILDLY SWERVE left, we're to take it as a fact. Skateboards don't leave tracks, so the only person who is around to tell us what really happened is the one who will do their darnest to make sure they don't incriminate themselves.

As long as police departments inexplicably take the word of the person who might face years in jail for telling the truth, the true story will never be uncovered.

In another article about the collision, more details were added:
Sgt. Patrick Etchebarne said, "It appears that the Chevy observed the skate boarder well in advance, attempted to pass the skate boarder and the skate boarder traversed right into the vehicle that was passing it."
ABC Local News
Apparently in this case, the self-driving Chevy was well aware of a person in the roadway, skateboarding (there are no sidewalks). Instead of slowing down to pass,  the Chevy kept its speed and was could do nothing when the teen decided to veer left.

Here is the roadway
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Theres no shoulder. The lanes aren't very wide. If the driver (not the chevy) had truly been attentive, they would have slowed down, and moved to the opposing lane to pass.

And yet the kind of damage pictured is not the kind of damage one sees when the vehicle is passing a pedestrian using the roadway at a safe speed.

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So it's entirely possible that the skateboarder was moving as straight as an arrow, and the driver was looking at his phone and collided with the teen. Based on the crash reports we see every week in Fresno, I would find this to be likely.

It's also possible, unlikely but possible, that the teen was suicidal and actually jumped in front of the vehicle. Of course if that was the case, a prudent driver would be passing at a speed that would lessen the likelihood of death.

However, as long as the "investigation" involves asking the driver what happened, the police will find the victim is at fault. Every time.

Incidentally, this is the second time a teen on a skatebaord was killed on a Fresno County road with no sidewalk this year. In the January case, CHP also assigned full blame on the victim. In that case, he was accused of running a stop sign - an act impossible to do as a pedestrian, as stop signs are only for vehicles.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Clovis trail gap filled - picture tour

I thought it was more recent, but it was way back in January that I mentioned three area bike trails would be getting a little longer. A couple of weeks ago, I paid a visit to one in Clovis, to see if anything had happened; it had, and construction was done.

The location is Cottonwood Park, in Clovis, which is part of the Dry Creek Trail. The existing trail had a gap where one had to use a segment of sidewalk, which had no signage indicating where the trail picked up again.

I guessed that a path would be built diagonally across the park, to the intersection. I was right.  

Let's start where the old trail was (at the bottom right of the water pong in the image above). You can see the existing trail was asphalt, and the new one is concrete. The new trail curves left, the old trail remains and continues straight/right.  Also note the light: the old trail had no lighting. Note that lighting was only added to the new section.

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This is looking at the same area, but backwards (ie, towards where I was standing for the last picture)

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And this is at the junction. That entire viewing area straight ahead? Brand new.

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Some attention to design

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Shame the fence is so far away from the water.

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The path itself is smooth, wide and has lighting, but I'm not a fan of the curves. Do they look nice? I guess. But if you're using this trail for transportation, then they're simply a pain in the ass. Not everyone is here for 5mph recreation. I do like the placement of lights, not too far apart.

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New benches were added as well

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We near the intersection

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Water fountains were added for people and pets

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A new gateway was added to match the existing one across the street. Now it's obvious where the trail is, unlike before when you had to know where to go.

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But one massive problem: No improvements to the intersection. The shortest, and most logical, crossing is straight. But in Clovis, automobiles get full priority, so anyone using the trail must make two long crossings, essentially making crossing the road a 3-5 minute exercise. Even though the trail is active, if the button isn't pushed, the pedestrian signals dont indicate one can cross.

The ramp also sends people straight into the intersection, dangerous for the blind. 

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Crossing involves going backwards, due to the diagonal orientation of the crossing. The button is not oriented with the ramp at all.

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One can cross either way, but the crosswalks are blocked by concrete medians

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Wouldn't going straight be so much better?

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This was the old trail, not signed.

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One thing I did like. This picture is taken down the street, the stop light is where the last pictures were taken. Note the path on the right.... a direct sidewalk was added to the trail, so people don't have to walk in the grass or go all the way to the corner to access it.

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It was very exciting to see that construction happened so quickly, and it was of high quality. Lights, concrete, and amenities make it obvious someone is taking this trail seriously....for recreation anyway. The unimproved crossing and curves make it obvious that those in charge still don't see this as a transportation option, which it is.

Now, why can't they fix the old town gap? As far as gaps go, that one is much more serious. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

One year after opening, Expo line ridership meeting projections for 2020

A bit over a year ago, the city of Los Angeles welcomed its newest (and long delayed) light rail line, called the Expo Line. Taking riders between downtown LA and Culver City (and eventually Santa Monica), the line had been greatly anticipated to fill a large gap in the metro system. For one, the line would have three stops serving USC, which includes a stop at the famous and frequently used LA Coliseum.

Not everyone was excited about the line. One conservative group, the Reason Foundation, which had spent years yelling about the horrors of rail transit in LA, sent out two reporters to the new line to count, and thus estimate, ridership. They used their loose estimates to declare the line a failure.

They also further used their ridership estimates from that one weekend to estimate ridership for the next 100 years. They estimated 13,000 riders per month for 2012....and every month after that, in perpetuity.

When called out on their ridiculous estimates, they claimed that their analysis was good because there was no reason for ridership to rise in the future. When told that first month ridership is of no importance, especially for an unfinished transit line, they said this:

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."
Their response
 So how good of an indicator was the first month ridership?

As expected....those numbers were meaningless.

Only two months after launch, another 5,000 riders were boarding every day. 

Last week, Metro released their ridership statistics for May 2013. 


Thats twice as high as launch month....and just short of projections for the year 2020. In other words, as expected by everyone except for Reason, ridership on a new transit line DOES increase from the opening numbers. Based on other lines in LA, these increases happen for about 2 years before, the line reaches its expect ridership. For Expo, that means ridership will normalize just in time for the extension to open, and bring in two more years of steady increases.

User "rubbertoe" over at the Transit Coalition shows how the new line compares with the older light rail lines. (Note, because this only shows one year, full seasonal variation is not apparent)

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If you're wondering why Expo sees less riders than the other existing light rail lines, part of it is because the line is newer. As I mentioned, it takes time to build up ridership. That's because people need to be made aware that the line exists, and also as time goes on, people can make larger adjustments to their commute. For example, someone moving into an apartment along the line next year may do so because they plan on using the line to commute. Meanwhile, the old tenant had been used to driving, since they came to the area when there wasn't a line. That kind of turnover builds ridership.

Another reason is length, which skews things a bit - Expo is currently the shortest rail line in LA. 

On a per mile basis, ridership is as follows:

Blue: 3,923
Gold: 2,192
Green: 2,078
Expo: 1,743

Expo will quickly catch up to the longer lines on a per-mile basis as the "ramping up" period continues.

To put those numbers in perspective, the Portland Light Rail system sees an average of 1,953 per mile. San Jose Light Rail? 796. Boston is king at 7,925 riders per mile.

Phase 2 is will under construction. Gokhan, has been chronicling construction, which you can follow daily at the Transit Coalition. His photo from the current terminus:

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

One year later: Clovis crosswalk still not done

What takes longer to build, a half mile of road widening, or a crosswalk? If you're in Clovis....

During April of last year, I documented the construction of a new enhanced crosswalk in Clovis, connecting a small trail system, with an elementary school. The area is residential, except for the large church adjacent to the crosswalk.

This crosswalk was special, because it was to be the type with flashing lights embedded in the concrete. Pedestrians were to push a button to turn on those lights, and also a series of flashing signs placed before the crosswalk.

This is an example across town, although this one is fancier because the system detects pedestrians automatically, and there's a center median. You can see the lights in the pavement, and one of two flashing signs (in each direction) on the far right.

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Actually on the left, you can see three diamond signs. Two of those are flashing.

I wrote that the new project was be finished "in about a week" - aka, mid April 2012.

Sure enough, the road reopened to vehicle traffic, the crosswalk signs were put up, but the button to turn on the flashing lights was still covered.

Weeks passed, and then months. It seemed as if the city was waiting until the school year started to turn the crossing on.

But then it became fall, and then winter, and the crosswalk was still "off".

So in January, I emailed the city, asking if they'd forgotten about it. At the end of the month, I got this reply:

The system was not working (wiring issues) and the pavement lights were not visible to traffic at a safe stopping distance.  The developer told us that the wiring issues were repaired about two weeks but we still need the developer to address the visibility issues before the system can be activated.

An additional 5 months have passed, and wouldn't you know it, but the crosswalk still isn't working.

(Pardon the quality, cell phone night picture).

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In the same time period, entire subdivisions have been built, $200,000 traffic lights have been installed, and roads widened. But it appears that turning on a flashing crosswalk system is an insurmountable challenge.

Mind you, the excuse makes little sense. If the wiring problems were resolved, it should be turned on. If the flashing pavement lights aren't visible as far away as they should be, so what? Is it not still safer than no light at all? The area is poorly lit, how is a pedestrian supposed to fare any better without any lighting system at all?

Remember, this crosswalk isn't just a series flashing light in the pavement, it also includes upright signs many feet in advance of the crossing. But those signs also remain dormant while the system is off. It seems improbable that NONE of the signs are visible at a safe stopping distance. Remember, we're talking about a two lane road, in a residential area, between a school and a church, not the interstate freeway. One does not need half a mile to stop.

The city did find time to install this sign, one which makes no sense (again, pardon the poor quality).

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Not pictured, just a few feet back, a yield sign.

Stop! The sign advises pedestrians. Vehicles won't! In fact, cross traffic DOES NOT STOP.

Problem is, that's not the law. The law says vehicles stop at crosswalks to let pedestrians pass. And stop signs don't actually mean anything for pedestrians - they're signs whose only purpose is to direct vehicles, of which naturally pedestrians aren't. So all this sign does is confuse the law, and give motorists who know of the sign a mistaken belief that they do not have to stop.

Clovis apparently has plenty of money to widen roads...this very same road was widened just down the block, where a traffic signal was installed. But time and money to help kids safely reach their elementary school? Apparently not.

I'll try contacting the city again. Maybe this year, they'll get around to it.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A picture review of 1612 Fulton

Last week, GV Urban held the grand opening of their newest residential project, 1612 Fulton, on the corner of Fulton and San Joaquin. I've been meaning to write about this place for a few months now, but it keeps slipping away.... Basically, when the project was announced, it included one section of street-wall which was to become the biggest turd built downtown in decades. The Fulton St section looks good, but the section on San Joaquin is abysmal.

While I didn't attend the opening ceremony, I did drop by a week or so before hand to take pictures, so here they are. By the way, to the GV Urban employed gentleman that oh so subtly followed me in his car during my entire visit....creeping people out is not the proper way to get people to sign leases with you.

As the buildings weren't open yet, I don't have interior pictures, but you can see some at their facebook page.

1612 Fulton is essentially a clone of Fulton Village a block away, so much so that a local architect has complained that work he did on the village project was reused without permission or payment. I was initially concerned that GV urban was doing the same thing they do in the suburbs, where the drop the same exact model in over and over again.

Fortunately, the slight aesthetic changes made to the exterior were enough so that the project doesn't look like a clone. Paint goes a long way.

1612 on right, Fulton Village a block away on the left
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The project is directly next to another GV urban building, where they rent out office/artist space.
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One concern I have about the project is the width of the sidewalks. The area is one the city supposedly wants to make walkable, and the company supposedly wants residents to walk to the nearby art galleries and commercial spaces they rent out. Sadly, instead of dedicating more space to sidewalks, they've made changes to narrow them. The end result is that it's difficult to walk side-by side with someone. Not impossible or anything, just narrow so that you bump elbows enough to be awkward - remember, the added trees lessen your horizontal space.

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The use of green space isn't a problem - it's great to filter rainwater. However, they should have moved their buildings back to allow a better sidewalk.

It's also clear the pedestrian experience plays no part in their plans. Even a week before opening, when all the construction was done, short of minor landscaping, the sidewalk remained closed, as it had been for about a year. There is no reason to block off a sidewalk for such a long period of time.

Looking south, with the project on the left, you can see some commercial buildings on the right (by the two trees). GV Urban is having the city destroy those (leased) commercial buildings so they can have themselves a park. I have pictures of that at the end.

Incidentally, you can notice the lack of traffic in the area. All pictures taken on a weekday afternoon. The developer also supports the city plan to destroy the Fulton Mall and allow cars to drive by. As these pictures show, having asphalt doesn't mean hoards of shoppers will descend on your street. 

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Like their other projects, the building is actually not one, but many buildings separated by small spaces. This allows more windows and more privacy than from a typical apartment block. I believe this pathway was fenced off after I took these images.

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Walkway to interior units, parking. They put up a fence limiting access to residents, as they've done in all their other projects.

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Units front the street

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You can notice again the narrow sidewalk. I am a fan of the balconies overhanging the front though.

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GV Urban doesn't ever want to raise a finger to improve infrastructure. Sadly, these dreadfully ugly streetlights were kept. Worst still, the poor design means the new residents will get bright lights shining directly into their bedrooms, while the street below stays in relative darkness. Fortunately for them, it appears the glass hasn't been cleaned in decades, so the light shining in shouldn't be TOO bright.

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Looking south again, hello moon!

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The sidewalk does expand at the corner, where I believe it's a live/work apartment

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Fortunately they built two curb ramps. Not aligned for the blind, but an improvement.

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As we leave Fulton, and turn the corner....tragedy. Ok, that's a strong word, but this is NOT something that should ever be built in a downtown area.

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Parking entrance. Driveway. Driveway. Driveway. Alley. Probably the worst street-wall downtown, and it's brand new.

The entrance to the interior parking

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And driveways. This section of street used to have a dozen mature trees too.

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Earlier I mentioned that the sidewalk should never be closed for such a long period. It sends entire families out into the street. No temporary crosswalks were ever built. Luckily, traffic is non-existent. Note the alley on the immediate left.

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But what's even worse, is that they made the sidewalk the absolute minimum width legally allowed.

This image shows the existing sidewalk, and then the area they left. The section on the left, in red, is not passable due to tree planting. The area on the right, in yellow, is sloped for car access. That's clearer in the second picture.

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I guarantee residents will park in "their driveway" and block the meager sidewalk.

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What's worse is that this didn't have to happen. The company insisted it was the only way to fit in the amount of units they needed to make the project worthwhile.

False. They could have had the same amount of units, if only they'd used the alley which is right there. Instead, they walled it off. Remember how I said GV Urban doesn't spend money on infrastructure? Heavens forbid they pave a small section of the alley to use as an entrance...

What they built

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What they could have built, same amount of units and parking, but use of alley. A wider sidewalk, too.

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Instead, here's the alley

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 And what the inside looks like

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This post is getting too long, click to continue.