Thursday, March 27, 2014

Yes Craig, the Fulton Mall is plenty accessible to the disabled

It was already a month ago that the Fresno City Council voted to demolish the Fulton Mall, and something really bothered me about that hearing which I've been meaning to write about. During the public comment period, Craig Sharton, the owner of Peeve's Pub spoke in support of the removal. That was expected. What was unexpected was how he used his two minutes: by giving a ridiculous story that has no basis in reality. I've been meaning to write about his "point" but haven't had time.

His short story was about two women who wanted to visit his restaurant. One of the women was disabled and relied on a wheelchair. Craig claims the women were unable to find any nearby street parking, and the mall made it impossible for them to access his store because it lacked direct vehicular access that the wheelchair-bound woman needed. He recommended they simply drive on the pedestrian mall and unload the wheelchair at his front door, and then the driver could park further away and walk. They did this, but stated they wouldn't return due to the inconvenience.

He also noted the mall made receiving packages hard for the same reason. 

I was in awe at the elevated level of bullshit contained in under two minutes. 

For fifty years, access for vehicles to stores on the mall has not been a problem, because at the rear of every building is a vehicular alley. Packages and deliveries? No problem. Loading? No problem. It was designed that way for a reason.

The alley also provides access to ample parking - including dedicated handicap spots. Peeve's Pub, like every other building on the mall, has entrances on both the front and back so patrons can exit where it's most convenient to them.

There was zero need for anyone to drive on the mall. If immediate access to the door was required by the person in the wheelchair, then it was readily available on the alley side. I have frequented the location many times, and have used the rear door without issue to access the parking lot. Craig has owned the restaurant for many months, and surely is aware of the option.

In fact, Peeves has an EXTRAORDINARY amount of handicap parking within STEPS of the rear entrance.

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Four or so are in the alley, and at least an additional ten are in the public parking lot. The red arrow indicates the extremely short walk across the alley to the back entrance. Try parking that close to your destination in River Park.

Craig argued that by turning the mall into a street, his friend could have parked directly in front of the store.

Bullshit. The thing about downtown metered parking, in any successful downtown, is that it is scare. You're never guaranteed a spot by the front door. The only way to guarantee a space available to handicapped patrons is to designate it as an exclusive space - something unlikely to happen because theres a TON of those spaces there already.

And even if those spaces didn't exist, the friend could have driven down the alley, and unloaded the wheelchair there. On a main street, you're never guaranteed a curbside spot to load and unload. In the alley, you have all the time you need.

It's a shame that Craig felt the best way to support his vision was by relying on fairy tales. It's not surprising, because the economic analysis and EIR also exist in the realm of fantasy, but at least this one was especially egregious because of how easy it is to fact check.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mexico's Ecobici Bike Share Expanding Again, and Opening to Tourists

Another year, another major expansion for Mexico City's 4-year old Ecobici bike share system.

The latest expansion will see an investment of 150 million pesos - or 11 million USD - to expand into 14 new square kilometers (5.5sq.mi) using 171 new stations, and 2,600 new bikes. Of those new stations, 12 will be added in areas that currently have service, to meet high demand. 

To put that number in perspective, the system currently has 275 stations. With the expansion, the system will become the largest in the Americas, beating out New York's Citibike which has 330 stations. The system would still be smaller than the ones in Paris and London, as well as various enormous systems in China.

You can see the current station map here. A map of new stations has yet to be released. Mexico City is a huge place, and the stations are (rightfully) being compactly spaced out. That means we could be reading about sizable expansions for years to come.

The planners expect this year's expansion to attract an additional 60,000 new subscribers, which would add to the 120,000 subscribers today. Again as a comparison, Citibik had 90,000 as of last October, which is the last data I could find. Last September, Ecobici was nearing 100,000.

There's also good news for tourists.

Unlike the many US bike share systems, Ecobici has operated on a closed subscription model, as they use ClearChannel as a provider.  What that means is that the system was ONLY open to residents of Mexico City, who had to fill out an application for a membership. The system also had a user cap, based on the number of bikes.

Last year, the system become available to non-annual subscribers who were willing to trudge to a central office, and have their passport scanned to open a temporary membership.

That silly system is coming to an end. Like most world bikeshare systems, Ecobici will soon allow people - including tourists - to buy a short-term membership straight from the station kiosk with a credit card. Pricing has not been announced, but as the annual membership is around 30USD, I would expect a day pass to be significantly less than the $10 common in the US.

Worried about biking in Mexico? The city has been adding protected bike lanes to encourage cycling. Last year, the city announced that all future public transit projects would include a bicycle component,, including the newest BRT line.

History of the system:

2010 - launched with 70 stations
2011-  expanded to 85
2012/2013 - expanded to 275
2014 - will expand to 446

Expansion is expected to begin by June. Addition of credit card readers to current kiosks may begin earlier. Both projects are scheduled to be implemented through summer. 

 photo ecobici_zps85275ed7.png
 Image Source

Source: (Spanish)
Source: El Financiero (Spanish)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What's next for the Fulton Mall?

As you probably read in the Fresno Bee last week, the city council has voted to celebrate the Fulton Mall's 50th anniversary by destroying it and building a road. The decision was surprising but not shocking: the council has yet to see a silver bullet revitalization project they didn't love.

This blog is obviously not in favor of the decision. Does the vote mean the fate has been sealed? Is it game over? Are the bulldozers on their way?


The vote last week was to certify the EIR to move forward in the process. Absolutely no construction will happen on the Fulton Mall in 2014. So those looking to celebrate the mall's 50th anniversary, you can do so in peace, under mature trees, and classic art.

Yes, you might see even more fountains fall in disrepair, as the tiny maintenance budget has probably been completely zeroed out, but they will still exist. Sadly, the mall will be spending its birthday in the worst ever state of disrepair.

The council has to vote again in January of 2015 to approve the final design, and the bid for construction. I believe at this point they have a 30% design. The city has to move to 90%, and submit the project for construction bid. If approved, construction would begin about 90 days later- so no sooner than a year from now.

It's important to note than only then will the actual cost of the project be known. Once that is known, the council must vote to hand over the money.

Those of us who think the city has been playing loose with the cost expectations may see some good - or some terrible - news. If the design and bids come well above what has been promised, the council will not be happy. They simply will not vote for a project that is not 100% funded by outside sources (fed, state, county).

Does a high price mean the project dies? Possibly. However, at the council meeting last week, the council, and the city, many times talked about value engineering the project if the cost escalates.

That's terrible news. Yo can't lower the cost of the design work. You can't cheapen the asphalt, or ask the contractor to cut their wages.

So what can be cut? The art. The restoration. The fountains. You know, all the stuff that was sold to us as a benefit will be the first to get the ax. And if they do get cut, then we will truly be left with the most average of streets. That would be a disaster.

That does present another lobbying opportunity though. The council didn't seem bothered that the city had lied throughout the entire process, when they promised putting up three options for vote - and then only submitting one. However, they may be more concerned if every last vestige of the mall is removed from the project due to cost cutting.

It's not just the cost that may derail the project. The EIR was especially shoddy, as it claimed that the Fulton Mall was not a park, for example. Bad EIR means a lawsuit, or two.

Ask yourself (or a judge!) what an open public space used by pedestrians and cyclists, filled with benches, public restrooms, playgrounds, fountains, a sound system, a stage, art, over a hundred trees, gazebos, etc is. I think most people would call it a park.

It looks like a park, acts like a park, is used like a park....and was even maintained by the city parks department.

It is a de facto park, and mitigation should have been considered during the EIR, but wasn't.Instead the consultant stated that because the city didn't call it a park, it's not a park. When asked how a park is defined, they could not answer.

I think a lawsuit pushing that point has strong standing.

They also claim that the project will have zero traffic impacts, and no adverse affects on minorities.A road project that will create zero car trips? Huh?

One group is hosting a fundraiser to sue the city.  I'm sure they're not alone.

A lawsuit could easily delay the project, and if the city were to lose the case, requiring a new EIR, the council would probably vote to stop the money pit.

At the very worst, remember that you have all of 2014 to enjoy the mall. That means another Cinco de Mayo, another Fiestas Patrias, another Ice Skating Rink, and maybe another Catacomb party.

Continue to enjoy the mall, and support the businesses - but make sure to let them know that once construction starts, your business is gone.

Incidentally, lost in the mall news was the fact that a new coffee shop has opened.

I took a picture of their sign last December, and it opened  last week: The Little Bean Cafe.

Not open past 6:30pm, but it's nice to see something new.