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Monday, April 20, 2015

Transit opponents reach new low in quest to fight bus

I thought I was well versed in the myriad reasons people pull from their hat to oppose an expansion of transit. Thanks to a very helpful link provided by a comment in my recent post about a new bus service linking Fresno and Yosemite, I see I was wrong; there is much to learn about transit opposition. It really is fascinating how deep people will go to find a way to oppose even the most rudimentary improvement to transit(5 round trips a day).

The comment linked to a well written article in the Sierra Star about the new bus service. As a newspaper based in Oakhurst, they are by far the authority on happenings in the area, and were able to go into much greater detail than the Fresno-based news outlets on the new service. Part of that coverage included a history of opposition.

Before we get to the opposition, let's take a quick look at the reason why the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) wants to start the service:

“I have always thought that service on Highway 41 was a no-brainer,” Whittington said. “You have the largest city in the valley with the largest international airport in the valley, with Amtrak and Greyhound connections at one end of Highway 41, and Yosemite National Park on the other end, which now has four million visitors a year. A woman who works at the information booth at the Fresno airport told me she has people who often come to her asking about getting on a bus to Yosemite, saying they can’t drive, and she has to say, ‘Go downtown to Amtrak and go to Merced.’ How can that be good for anyone’s business in Madera County or Fresno County?”
Simple enough.The article also provides a bunch of other reasons to support the bus as well.

Now onto the innovative opposition!

We'll start with your run-of-the mill opposition, which trots out for anything transit related.

Opposition 1: Tea Party Logic

“Eighty-five percent of YARTS’ operating budget comes from the taxpayers,” former Oakhurst resident Lou Aceto said. “In the Tea Party, one goal is fiscal responsibility and to terminate grants for YARTS. If you’re a true Conservative or Tea Partier, then get rid of all these transit programs which are not profitable.”

Your standard "all taxes are bad" language. Not innovative at all. Quite logical of course, because we're talking about a subsidized bus running from a subsidized transportation terminal (Amtrak and Airport) to a subsidized National Park, via a subsidized institution (Fresno State), on a subsidized highway system (Highway 41), but the bus is the monster. Really though, cookie cutter stuff. 

Let's move on to the first of the head scratchers:

Opposition 2: It encourages less cars
“I still feel the National Park Service (NPS) intends to remove all automobile traffic from the valley,” Aceto said. “The immediate plan is to greatly reduce traffic there, by restricting automobile use ... and encouraging visitors to leave their automobiles at parking areas with bus service to the valley.”
Yes, the above comment is OPPOSITION to the bus, as it encourages people to park away from the famously beautiful and ecologically sensitive valley. I assume because that's an attack on freedom, and maybe Agenda 21?

Back to your standard opposition line: 

Opposition 3: No one will use it.
“YARTS is still bad for the taxpayers and Madera County,” Madera County Supervisor Rick Farinelli said recently. “Madera County Transportation Commission ran a study that showed that Madera County residents have no interest in riding YARTS, and it looks like that lack of interest remains high. Because of this, it is still highly subsidized by taxpayers. It’s a foreshadowing of the coming High Speed Rail debacle, if it’s (high speed rail) ever finished."
Standard line about lack of use. Of course, YARTS has years of real data on ridership on their other lines, and Amtrak sells 13,000 bus tickets a year to Yosemite, but alas, the gut instinct is strong. 

Moving on...

Opposition 4: Actually, some people will use it, but we don't care about them
“That statement (Madera County transit buses, though subsidized, provide a vital resource to Madera’s poorest citizens)  cannot be made about YARTS, which provides recreational access and employee shuttling – two purposes that taxpayers should not be on the hook for,”

Hm, so screw the park employees (who are not well paid at all), and screw people who dare enjoy a national resource.  Ok, fair enough, your "I have mine, screw you" response.

Now the REAL party begins! 

Opposition 5: Too many people will use it and that will kill local business

“The family road trip to Yosemite is the lifeblood of the local economies surrounding the park. Cars on their way to the park visit our shops, eat at our restaurants, and purchase gas at our stations. The taxpayer-subsidized operation and promotion of YARTS takes those travelers out of their cars and onto buses that pass Madera County by without stopping. That’s why most of the area’s businesses and chambers remain opposed to the system.”

Wait, what? This is the same guy who said nobody will ride the bus! He literally just said that! But now so many people will ride the bus rather than take their cars that the areas businesses are screwed!

Now let's think about this for a minute. 5 buses a day means, at most, 250 people. Yosemite sees over 10,000 visitors a day. The bus, quite frankly, is not significant. On the other hand, the car traffic is significant, and I'm sure local residents hate going up the mountain at 20mph.

Secondly, the bus riders are likely people who could not or would have visited the park before due to lack of vehicle or unwillingness to drive hours on mountain roads. You know, elderly folks, disabled people, people of lower incomes, or those who just rather be car-free. They were never stopping for gas anyway!

Oh, and not to mention they do plan to stop the bus at those towns along the way! 

Continuing on to the innovative opposition:

Opposition 6: The bus experience sucks

State Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, then a member of the Madera County Board of Supervisors and the county transportation board, said busing would not promote a meaningful experience for Mountain Area and Yosemite visitors, and still feels the same today. “Busing will herd visitors between set locations like cattle, and will take away from leisurely travel time that helps the local economy, giving tourists more flexibility to shop and dine,” Bigelow said

This one is a new low for me. And I thought opposition point 5 was as deep as they could go. We shouldn't have a bus because we need to protect people from the horrendous experience of relaxing to and from a strenuous day of hiking? You can't make this stuff up!

What is amazing is that all these opposition points were repeated in an opinion letter than ran the next day in the paper.

My favorite line:
Since when is it the tax payers' responsibility to pay for transportation to doctor appointments, visit families, and get subsidized fares to and from airports for entertainment on the backs of tax payers?
Heavens forbid that our elderly population have a transportation option to reach the docto!

I didn't understand why the bus service between Fresno and Yoesmite didn't previously exist. I assumed it was your standard budget fight, I had no idea it went so deep. It really is scary how many hoops people will jump through to oppose a bus.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Bus service from Fresno to Yosemite starting this May!

Valley Public Radio reports that for the first time, public transit will be available between Fresno and Yosemite.
 
The lack of service has always been curious. The city re-branded the airport from Fresno Air Terminal to Fresno Yosemite International Airport, and added a fancy looking fake sequoia grove, but you needed a car to actually get to the park.

Starting this summer, $30 will get you a round trip bus ticket (including park admission) from Fresno to Yosemite Valley, which will complement existing service to Yosemite from Merced. There is also bus service to Sequoia National Park.

 photo yosemite_zpsfibxbsfg.jpg
Once at the park, visitors can use the free shuttle system around the valley, hike, or hitchhike to reach places like Glacier Point.

While an exact schedule hasn't been set, there will be four buses a day, Stops look to be planned for the Greyhound station, the Amtrak station, the airport, and likely a final Fresno stop around River Park. Additional stops would be at Highway 145, Coarsegold, Oakhurst, and Fish Camp.

Discounted fares will be available for trips not going all the way to Yosemite. That is, this will be a new opportunity to use transit between Fresno and the foothills.

You can find additional information on http://yarts.com/ , where the schedule will eventually be posted.

This is a much needed service, and I am sure it will be well used. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Fresno might get its first protected cycle track!

I've been angrily hammering away on an article about the proposed Smart and Final project, but fortunately I found something in this weeks City Council Agenda that has temporarily soothed my nerves:
Approve a first amendment to agreement with BKF Engineers in the amount of $76,600 to provide professional engineering services for the evaluation of Class IV bicycle facilities between Downtown Fresno and the Tower District and the preparation of a feasibility study for a Class I bicycle trail along the Herndon Canal and Mill Ditch canal banks and to authorize the Public Works Director or designee to sign and execute the standardized agreement on behalf of the City (Council District 1, 3 ,4 and 7)
City Council
 So what is a Class 1 and a Class IV bicycle facility?

(a) Bike paths or shared use paths, also referred to as “Class I bikeways,” which provide a completely separated right-of-way designated for the exclusive use of bicycles and pedestrians with crossflows by motorists minimized.
(b) Bike lanes, also referred to as “Class II bikeways,” which provide a restricted right-of-way designated for the exclusive or semiexclusive use of bicycles with through travel by motor vehicles or pedestrians prohibited, but with vehicle parking and crossflows by pedestrians and motorists permitted.
(c) Bike routes, also referred to as “Class III bikeways,” which provide a right-of-way on-street or off-street, designated by signs or permanent markings and shared with pedestrians and motorists.
(d) Cycle tracks or separated bikeways, also referred to as “Class IV bikeways,” which promote active transportation and provide a right-of-way designated exclusively for bicycle travel adjacent to a roadway and which are protected from vehicular traffic. Types of separation include, but are not limited to, grade separation, flexible posts, inflexible physical barriers, or on-street parking.
Legislature

A cycle track, in Fresno!?

Sure, San Francisco has them....

  photo cycletrack6_zpst4zmmlkz.jpg

Streetsblog

 and Los Angeles has them (as of last week)...

  photo cycletrack5_zpsls4jhded.jpg

 Streetsblog

and cities like Chicago, Washington, New York and Boston have had them for years, but it looks like modern engineering has finally arrived in Fresno!

So where might they be built?
...an evaluation of Class IV bicycle facilities along Van Ness Avenue and Fulton Street between Divisadero Street and McKinley Avenue.

Van Ness Avenue and Fulton Street are the preferred connection between Downtown and the Tower for both motorists and people on bicycles. They each are one way, and were some of the first Fresno streets to get bicycle lanes added after construction (most new streets are designed with bicycle lanes in mind, but only within the last 5 years did Fresno start adding bicycle lanes to existing streets).

Because the Tower and Downtown were developed in the streetcar area, they are also the best place in the metro region to walk and bike for transportation. Further, with Fresno City College on the north end, it is by far the best corridor to install high quality bicycle infrastructure.

You can see the existing bike lanes, and project length here:

 photo cycletrack1_zpsqlxlkzvw.jpg

Today, Fulton and Van Ness are both wider than they have to be for the traffic they get.

Fulton:
  photo cycletrack2_zpsmj3dyqn1.jpg

Van Ness:
  photo cycletrack3_zpsrz8xc8yr.jpg

This is an excellent opportunity to fix this CALTRANS created disaster:

  photo cycletrack4_zpsma9xiq3n.jpg

Of course nothing is set in stone yet. This is just the first design step, although a required one, and there is plenty of room in the process for Council Stooge Brandau to kill yet another project. That is, let your council member know how strongly you support safe bicycle infrastructure so that their shoulders aren't shrugged when the inevitable attempt at sabotage arises.


Oh, and as for the other part of the funding:
The funds will also allow for the preparation of a feasibility study for the construction of Class I bicycle trail segments along the canal banks of the Herndon Canal and Mill Ditch between the Shields Avenue and First Street intersection to the McKinley and Clovis Avenues intersection.
Don't get confused about the name, the Herndon Canal does not run along Herndon. The proposed trail would go here:

 photo cycletrack7_zpsqx9pagol.jpg

Building trails alongside canals is a no-brainer. In this case, the council isn't the obstacle (as it doesn't threaten their precious car-lanes), but the irrigation district, which controls the right of way, isn't eager to have people share their land. 

 photo cycletrack8_zpsecwf6flf.jpg

 photo cycletrack9_zpsj91ndprx.jpg



If it was up to me, every canal in the region would go from looking like this:
 photo 20120206_154912_zpsybo0ovoh.jpg

To looking like this:
 photo canal render_zpsxax5um6p.jpg

Hopefully the feasibility study agrees.


Oh, and as for that post I'm writing on the Smart and Final project? I hope to have it up this week, if not Sunday. It's not good news though, not at all.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Don't miss the giant Catacomb Party this weekend!

The Fulton Mall is going to be packed to the brim this weekend (Saturday, April 4) for a large free (free!) music festival, known as the Catacomb Party, and you won't want to miss out on it.


 photo catacomb3_zpsrd27pc0n.jpg
A scene from the 2013 edition, http://www.catacombparty.com/

This will be the third edition of the party, and will be by far the biggest one yet. The first edition was in 2012 with a single stage, and I posted a review with some pictures here. It was repeated in 2013, after expanding to 5 stages, before taking 2014 off so the organizers could return bigger and better than ever.
 
This time around, the party has moved from in front of what was the Fresno Brewing Company (now Peeve's) to the Mariposa Mall area, which is the central square of the Fulton Mall. That's usually where the big stage is set up for the Cinco de Mayo festivities, and is where the Ice Skating Rink pops up during the winter.

There will be multiple stages for this edition - 9 total, and is spread out to include acts at the south end of the mall at the Tioga Beer Garden, and also north inside of Peeve's. The main action will be in the central square area, where the music starts at at noon and runs until 11pm.

Here is the lineup:

 photo catacomb1_zpsoogizfwu.png

And the map:

 photo catacomb2_zpskwrsfusn.png

Google Maps Link

Aside from music, look forward to a collection of the town's best food trucks, and other vendors.

 photo catacomb4_zpsm1zpnscs.png

Sadly, if the destruction of the mall goes through this fall as planned by the city, this will be the last chance to catch this kind of festival. Even if they try again in 2017 by closing the street, with no trees and limited structure to sit on, it won't be nearly as pleasant.

As is always the case in Fresno, parking downtown on weekends is free. The enormous underground garage provides the best car temperature, but I like the Broadway lot by Hotel Fresno and the IRS for quick access.  I don't know if I Bike Fresno is doing their valet service, but there are plenty of racks on the mall to park your bike. Sub-par bus service will be provided by FAX. 

Check out the party website for more details:
http://www.catacombparty.com/