Monday, November 20, 2017

Fresno is getting direct air service to Chicago!

I've always though the next domestic airline destination from Fresno would be to Houston, via United, but today we get a surprise: it will be Chicago....with United! 

United Airlines in 2018 continues its domestic routes expansion, as the airline opened reservation for a total of 12 routes in 2018. Following routes opened for booking since Friday night (Pacific Time) 17NOV17.
Chicago O’Hare – El Paso eff 09APR18 2 daily Embraer E170 (Republic Airlines)
Chicago O’Hare – Fresno eff 07JUN18 1 daily Embraer E175 (Skywest)
Denver – Jacksonville FL eff 09APR18 1 daily Embraer E175 (Skywest)
Denver – Liberal eff 06FEB18 6 weekly CRJ200 (Skywest)
Denver – North Platte eff 01FEB18 2 daily CRJ200 (Skywest; weekends frequency varies)
Denver – Pueblo – Liberal eff 06FEB18 6 weekly CRJ200 (Skywest)
Denver – Scottsbluff eff 30JAN18 2 daily CRJ200 by Skywest (weekends frequency varies)
Los Angeles – Kalispell eff 07JUN18 1 daily CRJ200 (Skywest)
Los Angeles – Medford eff 09APR18 2 daily CRJ200 (Skywest)
Los Angeles – Missoula eff 07JUN18 1 daily CRJ200 (Skywest)
Los Angeles – Redmond eff 09APR18 1 daily CRJ200 (Skywest)
Newark – Elmira eff 09APR18 2 daily ERJ145 (Commutair)
Routes Online 

As you can see, this will actually be Skywest service on a regional jet, but it will allow for new eastern connection on United!

Fresno has poor airline connections compared to peer cities, as I highlighted here.

Additionally, Citylab recently did an article about the economic importance of direct air flights.

While there is nothing cities can do about their geography, they can be strategic about air connectivity. Perhaps the main practical takeaway from the study is that direct flight connections with particular cities mean a great deal more than airport capacity per se. The study confirms what many of us intuitively know: Changing planes is a pain in the neck—so much so that it actually affects inter-city investment patterns.

So this is great news!

...well, 90% good news. To start, this will be seasonal service, running from June to August. So United is just testing the water here. Hopefully, the water, uh, bites.

Additionally, Fresno recently landed a new international destination. Volaris will be flying to Morelia, Mexico, on Mondays and Saturdays starting December 16.

Now bring us Jetblue please!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Major delays in new trains means no new 8th daily San Joaquin for now

Amtrak California was supposed to be welcoming a whole new fleet of bi-level trains this year. or last year. Who knows. They were funded way back in 2010 as part of stimulus package. You know, the package intended to create jobs fast with shovel-ready jobs.

The current two level trains and low floor platforms
Well something odd happened with that contract. The winning bidder (Nippon-Sharyo) couldn't deliver. Here's an article from April 2016.

A Japanese company hired to build new passenger railcars for regional Amtrak service has fallen years behind schedule and likely won’t complete the order before federal funding expires.
The stalled production undermines an ambitious plan to upgrade Amtrak service in California, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri and has highlighted the complexities foreign companies face in complying with made-in-the-U.S. requirements. Funding for about three-quarters of the 130-car order is tied to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
After repeated failures, engineers are now redesigning the car’s body shell. That and additional testing will take about two more years to complete, according to people familiar with the matter. The entire job was to be finished in 2018, with the stimulus-funded portion due for completion in 2017. Now, Nippon Sharyo isn’t expected to start production until 2018, people familiar with the work say.
Wall Street Journal 

As a stop-gap measure, Amtrak California announced they would be purchasing two brand-new, but never used trains that were built for Wisconsin. 

Unfortunately, things got worse. 

The Talgos never showed up. Something happened behind the scenes and that purchase didn't happen. Unfortunately, the media never pressed Amtrak as to why, so we don't know what went wrong.

California will now be getting these trains - a proven design,
but designed for high-platform stations

And rather than fix the problems with the bi-level trains, Nippon-Sharyo simply gave up. They couldn't meet the safety criteria, and in September, they finally lost the contract. This week, Amtrak announced that Siemens would instead build the trains. 

Now, there's a lot of issues with this new contract. For one, the new trains will be single-level, rather than high-level. Secondly, there's the issue of California having low level platforms, while these trains will be high level. 

But for now, I'm going to focus on the operational issues this has caused. 

Amtrak California has had ambitious plans to increase service. In 2016, The San Joaquin line received a new 7th daily round trip. 

Earlier this year, they said things were on track for an 8th daily train in early 2018. 

Well, it looks like someone finally told them that the new rolling stock they would need to keep this schedule wasn't coming in time.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Look at BRT Construction in Fresno

Construction should not take this long.

We last looked at BRT ("bus rapid transit") construction in Fresno back in January. Eight months later, the thing still isn't done. We're not talking about a new tunnel, a new corridor, or anything of significance; just sidewalk extensions and shelters. And apparently that's just too much for Fresno to manage in a timely manner. It is embarrassing how little is being built and how long that is taking.

This is a project that has been in the works since around 2008. The city council finally signed off on it in 2014. It was supposed to be done, this time for real, in 2016. Now it is supposed to be done in 2018. Maybe.

High Speed Rail is also plagued by delays. The Central Valley segment was supposed to be finished up by the end of this month. In that case though, the delays are a little bit more understandable. It is a brand new corridor, full of tunnels and viaducts. Republican lawmakers have thrown every bit of obstruction that they could muster at it. Property owners took up lawsuit after lawsuit. Out-of-state interests poured in money to kill it.

So more understandable, but certainly still disappointing.

Anyway, this post will look at BRT construction, next one will be HSR.

We start with a typical "station" on Blackstone Avenue. All along the route, sidewalks have been bumped out to provide space for these stops. This one is located adjacent to a delicious Ethiopian Restaurant.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fresno Fulton Mall / Street September 2017 Construction Photo Tour

This is a comprehensive look at the Fulton Mall (future Fulton Street) in Fresno, 2 months before construction is scheduled to end. Fresno is spending around $20 million to eliminate a pedestrian mall and re-open it to vehicles and vehicular parking. The intention behind it is to bring economic vitality to the corridor.

My last update was in January. Back then, we were told construction would end in May 2017, a delay from the original date of November 2016.

Previous posts
January 2017
May 2016
August 2015 (construction diagrams) 

I was looking forward to this walk, hoping things would be looking up after a year of damaging construction. Sadly, the corridor looked the worst that I have ever seen. Most businesses were closed, many permanently.

I saw maybe 8 people, total. I always take my photos on weekend afternoons, so I am comparing directly between my previous visits, and I have never seen it this dead. Even when the prison-style fencing was up last year, there were more people.

Note that in the days since I took these photos, there have been a few changes: benches were added, some of the artwork was uncovered, and some of the vehicular barriers were removed.


Again, this is a very comprehensive look, so click ahead to load a ton of photos.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Old Town Clovis Construction Update

I must admit, losing all those photos in the old blog posts was discouraging. While I still have all those photos saved on multiple hard drives, there are just too many to find, upload, and relink. It essentially made years of posts useless.

And that discouragement made July suddenly turn to September.

But I am back now, with fresh photos that will be hosted on Flickr. Are there any guarantees that Flickr won't do the same thing? Nope, but I guess that's a risk we must take.

I'm starting with a nice and easy post: a look at the newest construction in Old Town Clovis.

Last updates:
February 2017
May 2016 

The most obvious change is that the two new buildings next to Centennial Plaza are almost done. Not only are they new (a novelty in old town), but they're the biggest yet. 3 stories isn't exactly a skyscraper, but they do make an impression, and frankly, a nice one. I'm not in love with the architecture, but it will do.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Photobucket just broke years of my posts

Where did June go? This month blew past me. I have about 4 posts in various stages of completion, but I have some unfortunate news to share first:

This blog has been around for a few years, and when I started, the best solution to hosting images online was Photobucket. Back in the day, it was the standard. This blog uses a lot of images, so that's a pretty significant thing to note. 

That is now a problem. 

Embedding images on a website or in a forum post is a very common practice, with those images usually living on one of the many well-known image hosting websites. One such host is Photobucket, but a recent change to its subscription tiers means many millions of images across the Internet are no longer going to load outside of Photobucket's own site.
Photobucket changed its terms and conditions and removed the 3rd Party Hosting feature from the lower subscription tiers. If you want to continue using that feature then a Photobucket Plus 500 subscription is required. It costs $39.99 per month or $399 per year. 
Not only is that very expensive, it means existing Photobucket accounts on lower subscriptions tiers will have any embedded images they've created in the past cease to work. Considering Photobucket has been around since 2003 and hosts over 10 billion images, that's potentially millions of embedded images across the Internet being broken thanks to a policy change. Here's just one example of how this change impacts a forum thread. 
The worst part of this debacle, according to, is the fact Photobucket users were apparently given no warning of the change. The subscription features simply changed, and images stopped loading without explanation. 
That really, really sucks. In fact, I have 4 tabs open that if I refresh, will show dead links.



Infuriating. (Can you guess what I was writing about?) 

Mind you, I have all those photos backed up in multiple places, but having them display again in the correct posts would require paying a ridiculous sum, or manually re-uploading and linking five years worth of posts.

So they're dead.

And it's not just me. There are forums, webpages, and blogs around the internet that are now packed to the brim with useless information. Many times, the best research comes from finding some chap in a forum somewhere posting exactly what you were looking for. Imagine coming across someone describing exactly what you wanted to know, only to be met by an image trying to get the original poster to pony up $399 a year.


This won't affect recent posts. After a few years, they did a horrible site redesign, and I started using Picassa, which was owned by Google, and so integrated with Blogger. Well, Google killed Picassa, so I migrated to Flickr. 

It is really scary how much of the internet depends on these corporations following through year after year. Just like that, they can pull the plug, rendering billions of pages useless.

Happy 4th of July to you too Photobucket. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The best bicycle infrastructure in the in Florida?

When it comes to transportation, most agree that things work best when every mode gets their own exclusive right of way. Mixing cars, buses, bikes, pedestrians, and trains results in poor or dangerous experiences for all. The speeds of the various modes aren't the same, which generate conflict, and the patterns of travel are different as well.

As such, many bicycle advocates look with envy at cities or countries that have invested great deals of money in keeping the transportation modes apart. Being able to bicycle to work, or the store, or to dinner, completely separate from cars, on a direct trail? Yes please. It's safer. It's more pleasant. It's FUN. Even substandard improvements, like 8-foot trails that spill out onto sharrows are major victories in places like New York. A protected intersection? Groundbreaking.

And so something like this is pretty much the holy grail.


A 100% separated bicycle system. No merging into the roundabout and trying to take a lane. No crossing at the exits and hoping the drivers stop. Instead, bikes get their own tunnels, and even their very own exclusive roundabout, sending them off in 5 different directions.

Where is this thing? Denmark? The Netherlands? Maybe Davis, California?

Nope, Central Florida.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fresno's new night bus service comes with some big asterisks

Fresno's bus system (FAX) recently launched "night" service on May 1st. When I wrote about this news, details were quite sparse. Indeed, the FAX website didn't update with the new schedules until the first day of the extended service. Unfortunately, some of those details have been disappointing.

Here are the issues which really only became clear AFTER service launched.

  • Only Monday to Friday
  • 1 hour wait between buses after 6pm 
  • Only 5 routes offering "night" service 
  • ....and only on select portions of those 5 routes

What is night service? 

The reason I am putting quotation marks around "night" is because in most cities, the announcement of night service tends to mean buses running at 2am, 3am or 4am. In Fresno, "night" means new service between 9pm and midnight. Critically important, yes, but a reflection of how poor service used to be. 

Only Monday to Friday 

I had guessed the first point, based off the newsletter announcement, so it wasn't as much of a surprise. However, it is still ridiculous that bus service on Saturdays, across all of Fresno, ends at around 7pm. To be fair, service was not reduced on weekends, so there has not been a decline in service. That being said, the new "night" service highlights how poor weekend service is. That is something that should be addressed.

Long headways 

Another concern is that nothing pre-launch talked about frequencies at all. Earlier this year, FAX launched "FAX-15," or buses running every 15 minutes (vs every 20 or 30) on select lines. However, that service level ends early, before 7pm.

On route 38 for example, one of the busiest lines in the system, buses arrive every 15 minutes from start of service (6:15am) until 7pm. Then there is a 35 minute wait, followed by a 57 minute wait, and the last 4 runs are an hour apart.

Line 30, the busiest route, and the future fake BRT line, is actually less impressive.
6am - 5:30pm - every 15 minutes
Then 20 minutes, then 35 for 3 runs, then 45 minutes, and finally once an hour from 9pm to midnight.

It's also important to note that FAX STILL lacks a bus tracker. So an uneven schedule is even worse for riders, since you can't memorize the times.

Limited routes 

The biggest asterisk came with the reveal of the new map. Mind you, it's a nice looking map. 

FAX night map

That's missing huge chunks of Fresno West Fresno isn't even invited to the map. Riverpark, apparently, is the northern border of the city. East-west travel is not advised.

On the other hand, the routes they chose are decent. With the exception of route 32 (which I would guess was political), the highest ridership lines received new service. However, does a downtown transfer hub make sense at 11pm? That's not where the jobs are. That's not where the residents are. And frankly, that's not where people want to be standing around waiting for their connections. Downtown obviously needs service, but running both 30 and 28 so close together south of Shields seems unnecessary. A Shields crosstown bus would probably impact more people. 

Limited sections

Aside from only covering 5 routes, the chosen routes will not run their entire length during the "night" service. The reason seems to be to keep the entire night operation running with a grand total of 9 buses. 

Route 32, for example, usually runs all the way up to Riverpark, as does 38, which actually terminates downtown via south Fresno. Route 28 usually ends at Fresno State.

I'm not saying the 5 chosen routes shouldn't be shortened - making modifications absolutely makes sense. I'm just saying it's a surprise. 

Well, except in the case of Route 32.

Here is the normal run.


The problem, is that the (extremely) shortened route is scheduled as follows:

32 sched

That's 24 minutes of run time, and 36 minutes of sitting around and doing nothing at all.

I looked at the other lines and this does not appear to be the case where the bus continues on another line. It appears that the bus will just sit and idle for a longer period of time than it would take to run the route again.

That's a ridiculous waste.

An easy solution would be to extend the line along Tulare to make the connection at Cedar. During the day, this is done by Route 22. Doing so provides extra east-west service, and is practically free, since you're already paying for a bus and driver to be working. 


According to Google maps, this takes 5-8 minutes. That's a round trip of 15 minutes. 

Doing this would allow the bus to run for 40 minutes and sit for 20 minutes (allowing an operator break). 

Which bring me to my last point

Run times are not really adjusted for night

According to the schedule, Route 30 takes 40 minutes to go from Blackstone and Nees at Riverpark to Cesar Chavez downtown during the first run, at 6am.

At 8am, during morning rush, it is scheduled for the same amount of time.

At 5pm? You guessed it, 40 minutes

Starting at 7:45pm and until the end of service, that is lowered to 36 minutes. 

That doesn't reflect the reality of Blackstone. During rush hour, it is a slog, and you're guaranteed to hit light after light. Google Maps places an estimate of 22-50 minutes by car. So a 40 minute scheduled bus run time is probably too short. 

But after 9pm, Blackstone south of Shaw is dead. You could have the new USL team play in the southbound lanes. There are tumbleweeds. Google maps says the trip will take 22 minutes.

Adjusting the travel time by 4 minutes from rush hour to midnight doesn't make sense. The result will be a bus sitting around waiting at every single time point. 

On the other hand Route 9 does seem to have travel times better aligned by the time of day. 

Overall, it is still fantastic that Fresno finally has bus service past 7pm. Even limited routes is ok, because people can link modes, such as using the bus to shorten a bicycle trip, or save money when using a taxi. One can ride the bus as far as it goes and continue from there.

However, that doesn't stop these limitations from being disappointing.Even worse is the way this service was announced and advertised.

Not releasing the new maps and schedules until; after the start of service? Inexcusable.

I can only hope this new service helps people get to where they need to be, and that is reflected on the ridership. I believe the federal funding allows for 3 years, so we will certainly be able to look at the data. 

BTW: While FAX did completely screw up the website side of things, they did commission a very nice video about the new service improvements, which they uploaded on Facebook. Not the best way to get the news out, but the video is really nice. Check it out. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Aerial Shots of California High Speed Rail Construction Released!

The California High Speed Rail Authority have recently posted aerial shots of the various construction sites that are well underway in the California Central Valley, primarily around Fresno. They tend to post updates on their official Flickr account once or twice a month, but most are taken at ground level. Since the Google Earth satellite images are unfortunately over 2-year old at this point, these new photos, taken last week, provide a unique vantage point. Seeing the action from above, you can really understand the scale of the various bridges, and make sense of how they fit in.

The Cedar Viaduct is probably the most important construction area right now because of the impact it will have. The bridge will take trains over CA-99, which sees around 95,000 vehicles passing by every day. Many people are still unaware that HSR is actually happening, so seeing the bridge take shape will have a large impact.

All photos courtesy of the CA HSR Authority

In downtown Fresno, they're finally finishing the new Toulumne Street bridge. This bridge will carry cars, bicycles and pedestrians over the right of way. The Stanislaus Street bridge, seen above it, will be demolished because it is not tall enough.


A bit north, they're tunneling under CA-180 to let the trains go through. The trains will go under the highway, under the freight line, and under the canal.


They've also rebuilt CA-99 to create a new right-of-way for the rail line.


Another hugely impact project, in terms of visibility, will be where the rail line crosses over the Union Pacific tracks and then over the San Joaquin River - all right next to busy CA-99. This will be extremely visible to passing motorists.


The wet winter means the bridge over the river has been stalled since December.


Rural drivers will go over the rail line in a new overpass, in Madera.


A bridge almost done over a creek.


And the very first active construction site, a bridge over the Fresno River, is wrapping up.



Wrapping up? Yes, the first construction package was for the heavy stuff in the Fresno area - bridges, tunnels, and viaducts. The train stuff - tracks and wires - are part of another construction package that hasn't been handed out. The idea is to have the full right of way cleared, prepped, and ready to go, and then the last crew comes in and places the rail quickly and uniformly. 

Once again, check out the photos in the official Flickr account and keep them bookmarked because new photos get uploaded at least every month, and usually more frequently.

Monday, May 1, 2017

United brings mainline service back to Fresno

Passengers boarding a flight in Fresno
About a year ago, I took a look at air service available from Fresno Air Terminal (FAT). In that post, the news wasn't good. Fresno had lost service to Las Vegas by US Airways and United, leaving only Allegiant. Allegiant dropped Honolulu, but added Mesa (Pheonix), which they apparently are no longer selling tickets for (as of last week!). Frontier left, again. Bakersfield lost Houston, and Visalia lost all service. The switch away from propeller airplanes meant Fresno got larger planes - but less frequency.

But finally, some good news, as reported in the comments of my last post:
Just an FYI update. United posted a new schedule this weekend that is a large increase in capacity/frequency on FAT-SFO flights including bringing back a 737 to Fresno.

United currently operates 3 roundtrip flights per day, 2 on 50 seat CRJs and 1 on a 66 seat CRJ-700. That is a total of 166 seats each way.

Starting August 15, United will operate 5 roundtrip flights each day on FAT-SFO.

But the big increase is the new flights add many additional seats due to the size of the aircraft. 1 flight will be on a 166 seat 737-800, 2 on 76 seat EMB-175s, and 2 on 50 seat CRJs. That will be a total of 412 seats each way after August 15.
That is an increase of 246 additional seats over the current FAT-SFO schedule.

The anonymous comment is correct. United will be returning to Fresno with a 737, creating a huge increase in seats between Fresno and San Francisco.

Wait, returning...don't they already serve SFO?

Nope, that's Fresno's largest carrier, Skywest! You might not know them, but if you've flown out of Fresno, you've been on their planes. They serve:
  • San Francisco (branded as United)
  • Denver (as United) 
  • Los Angeles (branded as American Eagle or United)
  • Salt Lake City (as Delta)
  • Seattle (as Alaska)
  • San Diego (as Alaska)
  • Portland (as Alaska)
The only "real" domestic service (mainline) from the big carriers is to Dallas, on American, and sometimes Seattle, on Alaska. You can check out how big Skywest is here.

So what's the difference?

More seats is the most important bit. Higher supply means lower prices, which is great, because FAT is an incredibly expensive airport to fly to or from. It's also a little better for the customer experience. Larger planes means less need to gate-check your carry-ons, and a lower chance your checked bags get left behind due to weight issue. The flight can also be done slightly faster.

As I said last year:

Already an expensive airport, less options has meant higher prices, and more trouble when delays cause a connection to be missed. Everyone who flies into Fresno frequently has experience with either being forced to spend a night elsewhere or renting a car from LAX or SFO to actually arrive. While fog can be to blame in the winter (or when going to SFO), most of the time it's because the plane scheduled for Fresno is diverted to serve another scheduled flight, leaving Fresno travelers high and dry.
By adding two new roundtrips, and doing so on larger aircraft, Fresno passengers will see some serious relief. Five daily departures, rather than 3, also means you can catch another flight if you miss your connection. You can also plan trips that require shorter stays in SFO, because it's more likely that the times will match up.

The con, sadly, is that the flight is provided by United.

The other thing to think about is what this means for the other carriers.

Here is what I said a year ago:

Only Alaska has grown in Fresno, such as by offering service to San Diego. They've also recently purchased Virgin America, and taken big steps to increase their West Coast presence. If any airline is to add service to Fresno in the next few years, it would almost certainly be them.
Had you asked me last week which airline would next add service to Fresno, I still would have said Alaska. Indeed, Alaska has been going on a bender, adding flights left and right. Just in the past month they have made major moves.

In March, they announced:

San Francisco – Albuquerque eff 18SEP17 1 daily AS E175
San Francisco – Baltimore/Washington eff 16OCT17 1 daily VX 319
San Francisco – Indianapolis eff 26SEP17 1 daily VX 319
San Francisco – Kansas City eff 18SEP17 1 daily AS E175
San Francisco – Kona eff 14DEC17 1 daily VX 320
San Francisco – Nashville eff 05SEP17 1 daily VX 319
San Francisco – New Orleans eff 21SEP17 1 daily VX 320
San Francisco – Philadelphia eff 31AUG17 1 daily VX 319
San Francisco – Raleigh/Durham eff 19OCT17 1 daily VX 319
San Jose CA – Austin eff 28AUG17 1 daily AS E175
San Jose CA – Los Angeles eff 20SEP17 4 daily AS E175
San Jose CA – Tucson eff 28AUG17 1 daily AS E175

And then:

San Diego – Albuquerque eff 18OCT17 1 daily
San Diego – Austin eff 27AUG17 1 daily
San Diego – Kansas City eff 15DEC17 1 daily
San Diego – Minneapolis/St. Paul eff 18NOV17 1 daily
San Diego – Omaha eff 28AUG17 1 daily
San Diego – St. Louis eff 15DEC17 1 daily


Los Angeles – Philadelphia eff 01SEP17 1 daily Virgin America service(Previously served by
Portland OR – Detroit eff 30AUG17 1 daily Alaska Airlines service
Portland OR – New York JFK eff 06NOV17 1 daily Alaska Airlines service

I probably missed a few. Or a few dozen.

The other airlines have noticed, especially Delta.

And I think this is United's attempt to head off more Alaska expansion in California. 

Alaska service to San Jose could provide an important commuting connection to Silicon Valley, and also link in to their strengthening cross-country network. Alaska could also look to bring back service to many cities Fresno has lost:

Blast from 1997:
It should be noted that SkyWest's United Express service at Fresno will be
 limited to Ontario and Las Vegas and that those flights have been designated
 with 5000-series flight numbers.  Passengers traveling on other United Express
 services from Fresno to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Burbank, Orange County and
 Sacramento will actually be flying on partner United Express carrier, WestAir,
 under 7000-series flight numbers 
Fresno currently has no service to Ontario, Burbank, Orange County, or Sacramento. Also, WestAir no longer exists.

Alaska could also try for something random - maybe Fresno to Austin, Boise, or Albuquerque?

Regardless,what Alaska has planned for the future is all speculation, but new United service looks to be a sure thing, and that's worth celebrating.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A look at Amtrak California ridership - February 2017

With the news that the San Joaquin line is looking to get a new 8th daily train next year, I felt it was time to take a new look at Amtrak California ridership. This post looks at the most recent Amtrak report, which covers February 2017. Here are some older posts:

Since we last checked in, the San Joaquin received a new 7th daily train. Unfortunately, the addition of a new train has not resulted in higher ridership. In fact, it has gone down a tad.

The entire Amtrak system was down around 3%, compared to last February, which makes sense when you consider that February 2016 had one more day (leap year). Maybe doing these in February wasn't the best idea, woops.

However, the San Joaquin line had the biggest drop in the entire system, 5.7% less than last year, and 10.8% less than projected. Stable ridership would be disappointing with the new frequency, but a decline is worrying. What's going on? Unfortunately, it seems like reliability has taken a huge slide. The San Joaquin Rail Commission blames the wet winter, which created delays. Regardless of who's to blame, the riders aren't having it.

The San Joaquin was on time only 61.4% of the time in February (lowest since May 2014), and 71.2% in January. 

The San Joaquin was showing stable growth over a period of years, and was catching up to the Capitol Corridor.  However, the Capitol Corridor started recovering, while the San Joaquin has entered a slump. The Pacific Surfliner, on the other hand, keeps on growing. This past July it was just shy of hitting 300,000 riders in a single month.

Aside from delays, it is possible the new 7th daily train wasn't scheduled at a time that customers would have liked. The Commission should look into shifting the times based on passenger feedback.

Onto the charts!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Fresno will finally expand bus service past midnight on weekdays!

With a population of 520,000, Fresno is not a small town. And yet until now, the bus system, FAX, has acted like it serves a population of 50,000. Currently, service ends before 10pm on weekdays - all trips depart their last run around 9pm. On weekends it's even worse - the buses are in their garages by 7pm.

This will finally change in 3 weeks. 
A FAX bus downtown
On May 1, weekday service until approximately 1 a.m. will be launched. Weekend service bus frequencies will improve -- most routes will deliver service every 30 minutes.
FAX Newsletter
The new schedules haven't been released yet, so I am interpreting "until approximately 1 a.m" as the buses will start their final runs around midnight, concluding service at around 1am.

For example, Route 9, which recently received improved 15-minute service, currently starts the final trip eastbound at 9:13pm, ending at 9:56pm, and the last westbound trip departing at 9:14pm and concludes at 10:01pm. FAX (Fresno Area Express) advertises their service as operating until 10pm.

The expansion should mean three extra hours of service every weekday.

Unfortunately weekends are still a disaster. However, the FAQ on the Q bus website (Fresno's upcoming fake BRT), does suggest that weekends will also see some improvements:

Do BRT routes operate longer hours of service than traditional routes?
BRT routes will operate the same hours as traditional routes. Traditional routes will soon be expanding night and weekend services. BRT will also operate those same hours.
Fresno Q

As far as I can tell, there's no way to confirm this with the information they have released publicly. FAX continues to do a poor job of advertising their changes and improvements. They appear to rely on the on-board automated announcements as the primary source of information dissemination, which means non-riders have no way to hear about these improvements.

I've talked in the past about how having such a poor transit system helps Fresno sustain one of the highest unemployment rates in the county. After all, people can't start jobs they can't reach. And in a service economy, most jobs aren't 9 to 5. How do you work at a restaurant that closes at 11pm if your only transportation option closes shop at 10pm? 

Additionally, I've talked about how Fresno's system has seen continuous declines in ridership, which makes sense because a stagnant system in a rapidly growing city becomes less and less useful over time, as it fails to serve new businesses, employment centers, and residential areas.

Hopefully 2017 sees a reverse in these trends. New 10-minute service on Blackstone, 15-minute service on two other lines, and expanded hours will allow people to use FAX to get to work. If expanded weekend service materializes, FAX may finally become a reasonable option. especially if the routes are analyzed to better serve new commercial centers.

After nearly a decade of service cuts and fare increases, it's nice to finally report on some good news at FAX.  

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Amtrak San Joaquin on Track for 8th Daily Train

It was just last June that the Amtrak San Joaquin line received a 7th daily train, and now planning for an 8th daily is well underway. The current target, according to the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, is January, but I wouldn't be surprised to see that slip a month or two.

The plan is to offer a "morning express," with service between Fresno and Sacramento. Currently, all trains originate in Bakersfield, with 5 going to Oakland, and 2 to Sacramento. Riders can reach either location the full 7 times thanks to bus transfers.

Currently, to reach Sacramento, Fresno customers can board a 6:18am train, and transfer to a bus in Stockton, arriving in Sacramento at 9:45am. OR, they can board a train at 7:53am, with direct service into Sacramento arriving at 11:20am.

By offering a train that originates in Fresno, the Authority can better accommodate those aiming to reach Sacramento for a morning meeting. While there wouldn't be ridership south of Fresno, an optimized schedule could pump up ridership in the northern half of the valley. The plan is to eventually have trains arriving in both Oakland and Sacramento around 8am. The Oakland early train would be the next phase, a 9th daily train.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Is the "retail apocalypse" only a suburban problem?

There has been a lot of talk in the press recently about brick and mortar retail being on the way out. The culprit, supposedly, is Amazon, and other online retailers, who can offer so much more convenience than physical shops can, and also offer lower prices.

Business Insider is calling it the retail apocalypse. 

Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what's fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades. More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months.

Department stores like JCPenney, Macy's, Sears, and Kmart are among the companies shutting down stores, along with middle-of-the-mall chains like Crocs, BCBG, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Guess.
Some retailers are exiting the brick-and-mortar business altogether and trying to shift to an all-online model.
But hold on a second, the keyword seems to be in their lead sentence: "mall-based."

And that's an important distinction to make, which most of the media seems to be missing. But that's not a surprise: in large parts of the country, "mall-based" retail is all you have. There are the Wal-Mart anchored strip malls, which play host to maybe a dozen barnacle stores like Gamestop and Nails Plus, and then the regional enclosed mall, which has everything else.

Downtown? That's for jury duty, not for shopping.

The list of shops closing confirms this: many are almost exclusively mall-based retailers. This is also key to understanding what convenience actually means.

retail closing

The exception to "mall based" is Payless Shoes, but they're being destroyed by private equity vultures.

On the other hand, it seems to me that places that DO have active, walkable downtowns seem to be doing more than fine: they're thriving. Why is that?

Because online shopping IS more convenient in a suburban or exurban setting - but not more convenient in places where people are already walking.

Let's compare: 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

What should happen with Fresno's Eaton Plaza?

Alternative Title: Do master plans mean anything?

Fresno does not have enough park space. In 2015, the city's proud accomplishment was going from dead last in the nation in tied with dead last, in a ranking developed by the Trust for Public Land. In 2016, the city "rose" to 3rd from the bottom.

But only because the ranking system expanded.

2012 - 40th out of 40
2013 - 50th out of 50
2014 - 60th out of 60
2015 - 74th out of 75
2016 - 97th out of 100

Oh, and the last two cities were last because they failed to respond to the survey.

The 2016 ParkScore Index, published Thursday by the Trust for Public Land in Washington, D.C., shows that Fort Wayne, Ind., crept into the bottom spot below Fresno at 98th. This was the first year that Fort Wayne has been included in the ParkScore survey. Gilbert, Ariz., and Laredo, Texas, were unranked this year because they didn’t provide data on their municipal park systems to the Trust for Public Land.
Fresno Bee
With that context, it's important to pay attention was the city is looking to spend money on a new park, especially in a part of the city that is severely lacking.

Enter Eaton Plaza.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fresno downtown and midtown photo update!

This will be my last Fresno construction update photo dump for awhile! Once again, I've gotten far behind and my photos are quickly becoming out of date. So rather than 2-3 posts, they're all going in here!

This follows a couple of other recent photo updates:
Clovis Infill
Fresno BRT
Fulton Mall

This update contains:

Manchester Mall Revitalization
Mid-Fresno Trail pre-construction
Fancher Creek
Trolley Creek Park
Kings Canyon Steak n Shake and Del Taco (plus lack of BRT work and residential parcel).
Cosmopolitan Restaurant
H Street Redevelopment 
Greyhound Station
Community Hospital
Cultural Arts Park
Park Crossing  (Fresno 40)

This is a very image-heavy post, so be warned when you click through to continue:

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Clovis Infill - A Photo Update

It feels a little odd talking about infill in Clovis. It doesn't quite roll off the tongue, as the city is known for its endless subdivisions. And yet in 2017, Old Town Clovis appears to have almost as much infill construction as Downtown Fresno going on.

I reported on two of these projects in July 2015, but I've added a few other ones here.

  • Centennial Plaza
  • La Quinta Inn
  • Rail-Trail Housing
  • New Library
  • Sierra Meadows Park
  • Clovis Community Hospital

Centennial Plaza

Let's start with the big one: Centennial Plaza. This is the heart of Old Town on Pollasky, and I last took a look in May 2016 when the new plaza was finished. That update was focused on the street improvements, but now new buildings are rising up to frame the plaza.

Only 3 stories tall, the new building does make an impression in a downtown where a second story is a novelty.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Look at Construction on Fresno's Fake BRT, and New FAX15 service

Improvements have arrived to Fresno's bus system (FAX). The most impactful, for riders, was the introduction of FAX15 on January 9th. The initiative saw the return of 15-minute frequencies on portions of route 9 and 38, from 6am to 6pm. What most cities consider "standard service" is a luxury Fresno riders will be happy to have.


Oddly enough, none of the marketing for the new service mentioned what routes were affected. The new webpage said "Shaw and Cedar."


ABC-30, the Fresno Bee, and all other reported the same:

The new buses will travel up and down Shaw and Cedar Avenues with pick-ups and drop-offs every 15 minutes instead of every 30 minutes. 
I was confused. No bus route serves Shaw and Cedar. Multiple bus routes serve Shaw. Only one does Cedar. 

It appears that FAX-15 operates on Routes 9 and Routes 38 as a short-turn service. That is, every other bus will only run a section of the route, providing that section with 15-minute frequencies. The rest of the line will continue with service every 30 minutes.

For Route 9, Fax-15 buses will run from Shaw and Brawley to Shaw and Cedar. The leaves an odd orphan section at the east end.

For Route 38, Fax-15 will run from Cedar and Shaw south to Cedar and Jensen. 

Route 30 is also getting 15-minute service, before the BRT branding rolls out. You wouldn't know it from the news report or the FAX website, but that's what the map and schedule shows. When the fake BRT starts, it is supposed to improve to every 10 minutes. Speaking of BRT, the end of this post has construction photos.

The route maps, and the system map, indicate the enhanced service area with a dash system.A PDF was also created that sort of shows it.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Fresno Fulton Mall January 2017 Deconstruction Photo Tour

It's been eight months since I last looked at the Fulton Mall. Back then, major construction had started in most parts, with fences everywhere. Concrete had already been poured on the parking areas at the southern end. I assumed it would be mostly done by now, but not even close. Let's take a look at the current status (current as of last week).

Note: Pictures taken on New Years Day, so most businesses closed for the holiday, but if you look closely you'll note many have been run out of business thanks to the abysmal construction staging. Also, please let me know if you have trouble viewing the image. As google has killed Picassa, which was integrated with Blogger, I have moved to Flickr. 

We start at the north end, by Warner's Theater. Nothing had happened in May, so the changes are pretty major.



The sidewalks have been built as planned, with the odd, but acceptable use of different crosswalk ramp treatments


As I mentioned way back when I went over the construction diagrams, this is the best part of the project. 3 wide lanes become 2 narrow lanes.


Having the sidewalk extension be the entire length of the box office would have been nice though


Nothing has happened to the orphan road


It is hard to get pictures in an order that makes sense because the fences are serious barriers


A relocated fountain is being built

Back in May