Thursday, February 15, 2018

Surprise! Fresno FAX bus routes changing Monday 2/19/2018

What's the best time to let people know you're making some major changes to bus routes? If you're FAX, Fresno's bus system, the answer appears to be "the day of."

On Monday February 19, Q launches, which is Fresno's new rapid bus service on Blackstone and Kings Canyon (recent construction photos here). The route was chosen because it covers two of the busiest transit corridors. Naturally, those corridors have existing bus services, which will change once the new system is introduced.

And yet, as of 2/15/2018, this is the only thing you can find online that lets you know routes are changing.


And no, those buttons for Route 1 (which we can only assume is Q) don't work.

The Q website, which is completely independent for whatever reason, does an even worse job of telling people about the changes.


I have a feeling there will be some very confused (and late for work) bus riders on Monday morning, when they find themselves waiting at a stop that may no longer be in service.

Since FAX has failed to provide absolutely any information on these changes, I will try my best.

Let's start with Route 30, which apparently is going away. On northern Blackstone, 30 and Q follow very similar routes, but with some important changes. Check out this map. Every 30 is an existing bus stop. The Q is where the new bus will stop.


Part of what makes the Q faster is that it simply stops less. In this case, it stops a LOT less. Where the 30 stops eleven times, the Q will stop three times.

In the US, bus stops tend to be about 1/4 mile apart. For a rapid transit line, which Q is trying to pretend to be, stops can be further apart because people will be willing to walk an extra distance to save some time. That means 1/2 a mile or so between stops. You can learn a lot about bus stop spacing in this article by Jarrett Walker.

Well, in the above map, the stops are about 3/4 of a mile apart. This is going to shock a lot of people. I also don't think it makes much sense. In a very suburban area - like Fresno - walking sucks. Your destination will never be at the bus stop. When FAX doubles your walking distance, and it's 110 degrees, and the only walking path is through a hot, unshaded asphalt parking lot, you're going to hate Q.

Here is the current walk from a bus stop to the theater (764 feet)

And the new walk (1,554 feet)

It's also important to note that many (if not most?) cities offer both express/rapid lines and local lines on the same corridor. That allows those going further to ride the express, while the local bus is available for those who do not want to, or cannot walk extended distances. In this case, 8 stops are being eliminated without replacement.

Additionally, you'll note that Q actually won't go as far north as the 30 does. So northern Fresno actually loses some transit service.

Moving south is where the real question marks begin. Take a look at Route 30. It comes down Blackstone, reaches the GIANT YELLOW BUS (downtown transfer center), and then continues to southwest Fresno.

But Q will follow those red arrow.


What happens to the part of town near Chandler Airport?

Presumably, FAX knows, but they haven't felt the need to share it, at least not online. It's possible they have posted paper signs at those stops, or maybe placed an ad in the Bee.

Edit: On 2/16, FAX confirmed that Route 28 will take over the southwest Fresno segment and no longer serve Kings Canyon 

So the best I can do is take a look at proposals from 2012 and 2016 that never came to be.

Let's start with the most recent proposal, from the October of 2016 route restructuring presentation.

That plan proposed the following:
  • Route 30 is replaced by BRT (this is happening).
  • 34 terminates downtown instead of through-running
  • A new 31 is created to replace where 30 used to cover. This is a route that ONLY serves downtown to southwest
  • A new 29 is created. This is a route that ONLY serves downtown to southwest

That makes sense. But we've heard nothing since. Would FAX really introduce two brand new routes and make all these changes with zero notice? We know they're working on a new route similar to 29 for the new Ultra and Amazon warehouses, but there's been radio silence.

I doubt they're launching Monday, so what else could happen? Going back further, in 2012 FAX announced major route changes via an ad in the Bee (nothing online). But those changes never happened, and the links no longer work. Fortunately, I have some screen shots!

The changes were based around the BRT (aka Q) route that was coming soon.
You see, Fresno is planning a BRT (bus rapid transit)* system that was supposed to launch in 2012 but has been delayed to 2014.

Anyway, the first change was Route 30, which actually reflects what Q will look like, with some minor changes at each end (1/2 mile less service on north side, 1/2 more on south end).


Hm, we might be on to something!

Here's what they said would happen to Route 28.

Edit: On 2/16 FAX confirmed this would be the case


Which makes some kind of sense. That is, it's an easy switch to inform riders. But as I said in 2012:
The area should be served, but with it's own route, not some haphazard branch of one of the city's busiest and most frequent bus lines.
That's exactly what they proposed in 2016! 

Unfortunately, this means Fresno Pacific and the IRS lose service. This is odd, because the IRS is a big employer, especially right about now. 


So I'm thinking they're taking the 2012 plans off the shelf, and simply making the proposed 30 into Q/1, for now. And maybe one day, they'll make the changes they proposed in 2016, which would better optimize actual bus usage. If the timeline holds, that should happen before 2022! 

We'll know for sure sometime between now and Monday, but wouldn't it be nice to know what's actually going on in advance????

Oh, by the way, the City Council amended the FAX rule system. If you don't pay your fare on Q (you pay before boarding), the first fine is $50 and/or 8 hours community service. Second offense is $100 and/or 16 hours, and the 3rd is $250 and/or 40 hours. Fourth offense becomes a misdemeanor.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Live bus arrival times now available in Fresno (FAX)!

Paris got real-time bus tracking in 1996. In the United States, NextBus launched in Emeryville in 1999. In the Central Valley, tiny Visalia adopted the technology in 2011.

And now in 2018, finally, Fresno's bus system has real-time bus tracking!

This is incredibly important because it makes riding the bus predictable. No more standing in the heat wondering if your bus is late...or if it came early and you missed it!

As far as I can tell, they haven't advertised this feature. No press release, nothing on the website. I didn't even notice it myself, but it was pointed out to me by Joe in the comments. Thanks Joe!

The new Q line, set to open on February 19, 2018, was advertised as having the tech, and fortunately, it appears that the entire system has been outfitted with it.

Right now, the primary way to see the data is on Google Maps. You can check it out on both desktop and mobile. Let's take a look!

Zoom in to a bus stop and click the bus icon. Then click on any of the buses listed.


It will then open up the bus lines that serve that stop, along with the times for the next buses.

Times in green are live! Times in black are from the schedule.


Compare with these other bus services that stop downtown. They're all in black, so not live times.


When you set it as part of your route, you will be informed of any delays. As an aside, 51 minutes in bus vs 15 in car. Hm, I wonder why bus ridership is down...


On the phone the screens look a little different, but it's the same concept to see all the bus times. Find the bus stop, click it, and then this opens up.


You can then click the bus line you want and actually see where the bus currently is. This screen shows the scheduled time and the actual time.


As an aside, note that many other transit agencies are available to help you plan your transit trips. However, not all have their real-time info coordinated with Google. For example, you can find real-time status of Amtrak trains on the Amtrak website (including a map showing current speed), but the times on Google are just the scheduled ones.


Boltbus (and Greyhound) are available too, but the same issue - you have to go to their websites to see if they're on time or not.


Additionally, the Fresno website mentions a dedicated transit app. Well sadly, the app mentioned on the website is complete garbage. If there were smartphone apps in 1996, they'd probably look like this:



This is insulting.


HOWEVER, upon browsing the store, it appears that a second app was developed, which recently launched! The one with the higher rating is the newer one.


Super confusing, right?

Supposedly, this new app has modern features, including the real-time tracking info.

Unfortunately, it greats you with this:


No thanks.Why do I need to create an account to view the bus schedule? Ridiculous.

The Google Play store does have a screen shot showing that the app supposedly looks like this:


So more like 2010 instead of 1996.

Just stick with Google Maps.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Thoughts on proposed Clovis Trail Bridge

I was not able to attend the meeting last week, but I did get a hold of the presentation. As a reminder:
The City is interested in hearing from residents, business owners, special interest groups, and any other parties on the draft plan. The proposed project is intended to focus on the need, feasibility, and future development of a Class I trail/pedestrian bridge along the Enterprise Canal, extending south of Owens Mountain Parkway, and over State Route 168, which will serve to link the commercial, residential, Clovis Community Medical Center Complex, and business campuses in the immediate area.
Before we look at the details, something important to note: Don't expect this any time soon.


Most likely, they will apply for funding under the Active Transportation Program.

The Cycle 4 Call for Projects is expected to include about $440M in ATP funding made up of Federal funding and State SB1 and SHA funding.  The funding/programming years are expected to include 19/20, 20/21, 21/22 and 22/23 funding years.

You can see projects recently funded by Cap and Trade money on this page.

If I had to bet, I's estimate this will happen around 2022. That being said, the time to make your voice heard is now. If you wait, "the design is finalized".

Anyway, the presentation shows 3 options.

Alternative 3 is what I expected. It essentially follows the canal, which is what the trail itself follows.

Alternative 2 is similar, but places the trail on the other side of the canal from the existing trail. That would require a small bridge over the canal to connect them.

Finally, Alternative 1 is similar to 2. So what's with the weird loop? From what I understand, Alternatives 2 and 3 will elevate the trail over the highway by creating a sort of tower with a ramp around it. Alternative 1 achieves the same vertical lift over a long space.

So a shorter route might actually look like this at the ends of the bridge:


The meeting apparently was very conceptual. They showed some models of what the bridge could look like. I guess the idea is what it would be a gateway into Clovis.



Personally, I don't care what it looks like. But I do think the following things are important:

1. The grade change must be as natural as possible.

A steep ramp is a no-go, as nobody would want to use it. However, both a winding tower and a long u-turn loop are also pretty bad options. The solution is to have a gradual rise over as long a distance as possible - including redoing areas where the trail currently exists.

2. The bridge should be as wide as possible.

Nobody likes bicycling or walking in a narrow space. Especially when the closest exit is far away. The path should be a minimum of 12-feet wide.

3. Maximize space by pushing the handrails out.

Look at this picture:


Note the bicyclist on the left. He has to position himself close to the center of the track because of the space needed for pedaling and the handlebars. Essentially, if you measure 10 feet of asphalt, you get like 5 feet of usable space. Note how the bicyclist on the right is closer to the wall, because he has more space higher up.

This bridge in Portland is a good example of the railing on the left extending out, to maximize space.
My first walk across Tilikum Bridge-16


It's ugly. It's claustrophobic.

chain link bridge

If a barrier is needed, it should be plexiglass. This material is transparent like glass, but much harder to break. It also blocks the noise and exhaust from the highway.


5. It needs to be open 24/7.

It will be an important transportation link and should be treated as such.

Did I miss anything? What does Clovis need to take into account when planning this bridge?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Clovis: Public Meeting on Proposed Trail Bridge 1/24/2018

A bit late notice, but looks like Clovis is finally moving forward with plans on connecting the trails near Clovis Community Hospital, which are separated by CA-168.

Date: Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Time: 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Location: Miss Winkles Pet Adoption Center
85 N Temperance Ave, Clovis, CA 93611


The City is interested in hearing from residents, business owners, special interest groups, and any other parties on the draft plan. The proposed project is intended to focus on the need, feasibility, and future development of a Class I trail/pedestrian bridge along the Enterprise Canal, extending south of Owens Mountain Parkway, and over State Route 168, which will serve to link the commercial, residential, Clovis Community Medical Center Complex, and business campuses in the immediate area.
Three alternative alignments are currently proposed for this bicycle/pedestrian bridge structure, and will be the focus of review at the workshop. Once constructed the bridge will provide bicyclists and pedestrians safe, direct, and continuous access over State Route 168, providing connectivity to Clovis’ extensive trail network in the community, serving to encourage citizens to move around the city on foot and bike.

I last looked at this area in 2014, but the photos in that post are not working.

Green shows the existing trail, the dashed line the proposed connection (I don't know the exact alignment).


On the hospital side, the current trail ends here:



On the other side, this is what it looks like (at least in 2014, haven't been back since)

Looking towards 180 and the hospital.

enterprise trail1

Looking backwards at the completed trail.

enterprise trail2

I think it's ridiculous that when CA-168 was built, this wasn't included (since it was already planned).

But at least they're getting around to it.

If I can get a hold of the proposals I will follow up in a new post.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Is the Manchester Center Food Hall Really Coming?

I love food halls, or em, an "artisan food community". I've enjoyed them in Los Angeles, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. So naturally, I was excited when one was announced for Fresno back in September 2016. Especially because the location was to be inside the Manchester Center Mall.

The plans include a new mall entrance, a redesigned facade with signage, a marketplace or “artisan food community” for chefs, food trucks and restaurants, an exterior shopping area and an outdoor events plaza.
Fresno Bee

At the time, it was supposed to be ready "a long way off, probably opening in late spring of 2017, Bagunu says, though construction has started."

In January 2017, this was the update:

Inside the mall, renovations are going hot and heavy in the former Gottschalks store, though you wouldn’t know it because windows covered in black plastic hide the mess. It’s the beginning stages of what the mall calls a marketplace – essentially a fancy food court.
Well, I have some good news and bad news.

The good news is that the "redesigned facade" is well underway. This is an improvement from when I last did a photo tour.

The bad news is that there has been zero visible progress on the food hall. That hot and heavy construction apparently ground to a complete halt.

Let's take a look at the current state of Manchester Center Mall.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Final Look at Construction on Fresno's New Fake BRT Line "Q"

Fresno's new fake "BRT" (bus rapid transit) line, branded as "Q" is set to open Fall of 2017. Well, that's what the website says.
Key Dates
Construction Kickoff: June 2016
Construction: 2016-2017
Testing: 2017
Launch: Fall 2017

In reality, the bus line was delayed yet again to February or March of this year (originally, it was expected way back in 2012).

And this time they really mean it, so they're hosting public meetings to educate people on what the bus line is. The first one is this week:

Shaw & Blackstone Corridor
January 17, 2018 | 5:30 pm–7:00 pm
5080 N Blackstone Ave
Fresno, CA 93710 

Quick aside: This is a complete failure of public outreach and engagement. Asking people to come to YOU, on a certain date, at a certain time is public outreach in name only. FAX knows where the customers are (on the bus and at the stations). FAX should come to the people. Nobody is going to take time and money out of their day to go to a random location to hear some official talk about a kiosk. Worse: The three meetings are in the same time period (5:30pm-7pm) so anyone who works during those hours is out of luck.

Depressing. I recently read about a city which launched a new bus service and advertised it by mailing info to every house within 1/4 mile of the route. That's outreach.

Also, at some point they should maybe tell the public how this will affect the two existing bus lines that currently run on Blackstone and Kings Canyon. I've yet to see any information about that.

Anyway, let's take a look at the construction shortly before the new line opens. This post looks at a regular stop in Blackstone, the Manchester Transfer Center, and the Van Ness stop by the Courthouse Transfer Station.

Previous updates:
September 2017
January 2017

We start at a random bus stop on Blackstone and Clinton. This location previously had a regular bus stop, shelter, and bench.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

New Google satellite imagery for Fresno! (Fall 2017)

Posting updates about Google Maps satellite imagery in the Fresno region used to be a frequent topic on this blog. Thanks to the lack of clouds for half the year, Fresno was lucky in that new images were posted about twice a year, compared to some more populated area that only got an update every other year - or even less frequently. Basically, to provide the images, a satellite has to take hundreds of pictures, and then they are all blended together automatically to reveal a seamless image without clouds in the way. Since Fresno has so many clear days, it's much easier to get the shots.

Or at least that was the case, because in all of 2016, Fresno saw no updates.

Here's a look at the update history. The link is my post talking about it (although now those links are useless thanks to the Photobucket debacle).

(and a few older ones)

As you can see, pretty consistent!

Well, in 2017 we got two updates, with the most recent one showing up in December. Those images were taken on 8/7/2017 (it takes them a couple of months to process and update - that's normal). There was also an update taken on 3/31/2017, which I noticed around July, but never got around to posting about.

But here's a twist: Usually the images go up on the Google Earth platform first, and then a month or so later show up on general Google Maps (and dates that are less than perfect never migrate to Maps). However, this year, the images that show up in Google Maps are blended with a range of dates! What's even more confusing is that in Google Maps, you're not told what date the image is from.

This popped up thanks to construction progress.

IE: Let's look at High Speed Rail construction over the San Joaquin River.

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!