Monday, July 29, 2013

What Fresno can learn from LA: Broadway Street Project

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Los Angeles's new pedestrian czar, a position Fresno really needs to add. Well, that's not the only thing Fresno can mimic from LA.

Los Angeles and Fresno both share a street downtown with the same name: Broadway. Both have/had theater activity, and were once bustling centers of activity. Today, Broadway in LA is still full of merchants, but almost all are low rent. Almost every theater is shuttered. Fresno's Broadway is in worse shape - most buildings have simply been demolished. Of course, there are some bright spots, like the Rainbow Ballroom and the Crest, and even some new projects in the work, such as a large residential development.

LA's Broadway remains densely urban, but is far from high end
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A legacy of demolitions has left Fresno's Broadway very empty.
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One could play a pickup game of soccer in the street, traffic is so rare. 

Another similarity is that both cities have major roadway projects in the work for their Broadway.

LA is excited about their big redo, so much that they even have a website for it. Unlike Fresno, which is trying to add car lanes downtown (Fulton Mall), LA is planning to take some away.

Phase 1 will reconfigure Broadway from 4 traffic lanes to 3 traffic lanes between 2nd Street and 11th Street. LADOT will implement the Dress Rehearsal, using pavement treatments and physical indicators to delineate publicly accessible space within the roadway. These semi-permanent treatments leave flexibility to update configurations before the cost of a full construction build-out is undertaken if modifications are desired and necessary.
The focus is on pedestrians, and the "dress rehearsal" takes its cue from another Broadway project, but in New York. 

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The Fresno project isn't as publicly visible. Best of luck finding any mention of it on the city website for example.

In fact as far as I know, the only place you'll find any info online is on this very blog. I posted that way back in 2011 after emailing city officials for information. That project, by the way, was originally set to begin over a year ago.

The Fresno Broadway project also looks to change the street from 4 to 2 lanes. The big difference is how that extra space is being used.

While LA is taking a lane and giving it entirely to the pedestrian, Fresno will do no such thing. The Fresno project involves no new trees, no winder sidewalk, and no bike lanes....

Just large amount of free parking. Essentially, another large handout to Granville, who gets to market their new condos as having ample free parking, on the city dime.

Look at how LA redistributes space

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The focus is in a much wider sidewalk. Parking exists, but is limited. 

In Fresno, the plan resembles a strip mall parking lot more than a bustling downtown street

You'll also note the LA plan includes a streetcar. Personally, I think the plan to make a streetcar share a single southbound lane while cars get two northbound lanes makes no sense, but the city actually is close to breaking ground on a streetcar. That same idea is over a decade away in Fresno.

Other improvements in LA include frequent midblock crossings - the Fresno plan doesn't even add crosswalks at all intersections.

You can read more on the very detailed LA plan in the project PDF.

As for the Fresno project....I have no idea what's going on. After a year passed, I asked the city what happened and they said it would be coming the following year, but with no changes. Another year has passed. One can only hope they've decided to tweek the plan for the better.

If they haven't, there's still time. Why not visit LA for some inspiration?


While most of LA's Broadway is low rent, some risk-taking high-end ventures have opened. I had a delicious breakfast here at Figaro.

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LA and Fresno also share a theater with the same name. The one in LA is closed - the first floor is used for jewelry stores.
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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Boston proposal: Make every college students pay for night transit service

Boston is one of the most transit-complete cities in the country, but it has a giant hole: no night service. While only a few cities offer 24/7 train service, most, at minimum, have a network of night buses to pick up the slack. Others, like DC and LA, adjust their hours so weekend service runs as late as 3am on their rail lines. Boston does neither. When the clock strikes 1am, on every day of the week, the trains and buses stop rolling, until they resume shortly before 6am the following day.

There have been many excuses given as to why this is the case. "Maintenance" is a favorite, especially when officials can point to New York and say "we don't have four tracks." Fair enough....except that PATH, which does run 24/7, is also limited to two tracks. Chicago as well. Never mind that fact that at 2am on Sunday morning, when the streets are suddenly filled with people being kicked out of bars, not a soul is working on maintenance. Like most organizations, maintenance activities which run at night tend to be on weeknights.

Others blame unions. That's an easy target, and while there may be some truth to it, there are little facts. Why, for example, would a union object to extra service, when it means the members can bid for extra hours? And Boston has also recently eliminated the secondary useless staffed position on the red and orange subway lines. That was a "job killer" and yet the unions "allowed" it. So it's not that they're extremely unreasonable.

Now we know that both those stories are baseless excuses because of a new proposal (PDF) that has come out of the MBTA Ridership Oversight Committee:

Introduce weekend night service, but do so by forcing every college in the district to buy every student a monthly pass.

Under the proposal, colleges in the MBTA district would buy monthly, unlimited-ride T passes good for all of their students. Even with a 50% discount, the income from the 250,000 students the program would cover would be more than enough to pay for resumption of overnight service; the committee says even if only half those students had passes bought for them, the T could still afford to bring back the old Night Owl late-night bus lines on weekends.
Universal Hub
Currently, the MBTA offers students an 11% discount off the monthly pass. That program is optional, and has a lot of strings - students much purchase an entire semester-worth, and when you throw in holidays and such, the math doesn't add up. Even a student who rides daily is better off getting a weekly pass, and accumulating savings off days where the pass isn't needed.

The proposal significantly increases the discount, with the catch that all students MUST buy a pass. Essentially, it would be rolled into tuition.

Why target college students?

The primary reasons are probably the mistaken belief that only the college crowd cares to ride the train past midnight. That's a fallacy which ignores service workers and generally the working poor.

While the drunk students are the ones most visible when the bars close at 2am, it's the staff and cleaning crew making minimum wage who would most benefit from transit. The dishwasher crew who has to stick around another hour has to find their way home. As do the staff who vacuum and mop not just the restaurants, but the office towers as well.

It's not just minimum wage folks who work late - Boston has a huge medical industry, and hospital shifts get in and out at all hours of the day.

When the idea of night transit is brought up, many complain that there is no reason to spend money to "subsidize drunk party kids." The idea being that if one is privileged enough to be able to afford $10 beers, they should be able to afford a cab.

The irony is that the entire transit system is actually set up to most benefit the rich.

When is transit most frequent, most convenient, and most reliable?

The traditional 8am and 5pm rush hours.

Which segment of the population is lucky enough to be able to work steady 9-5 jobs? Generally, those who get paid well.

Minimum wage service jobs tend to switch up hours every other week, asking people to come in at 2pm on Wednesday and then 6am Thursday. It's the office workers in their cushy jobs who have the luxury of a never-changing work-schedule.

So our transit system is set to cater to those who are well off, and when enhancements are proposed which would greatly benefit the poor and lower classes, the idea gets thrown out because it ALSO benefits those with disposable income.

Doesn't make much sense.

What also doesn't make much sense, is the generalization that all college students are equal financially. Some do indeed come from rich homes, but others are on scholarships and work while in school. Forcing them to pay for a pass they may not need doesn't fully make sense.

What also doesn't make sense is only targeting colleges.

Why not ask the medical industry to buy all their nurses passes? Why not force bars to do the same, in order to maintain their liquor license?

The simple answer is: college students don't do much local voting.

That being said, college students would indeed benefit. They'd have cheaper transit access all the time, and they'd be able to go out on the town without having to worry about a 3 mile walk home - Boston is infamous for not having nearly enough cabs at 2am. 

The benefits of night service extend to others, even though who aren't using it. Drunk drivers are taken off the roads, and business improves because people aren't worried they'll be stranded.

Does putting onto college students the entire burden, when the benefits are for all make sense? 

And even if it isn't fair, is it worth it?

I think it might be - with alterations. As I said previously, some of the cost burden should be spread to other institutions like hospitals as well. The revenue in excess of what's needed for night service could go to improve off-peak headways, which also primarily benefit college students and workers with non-traditional hours, like medical employees. 

If you missed the link above, here is the PDF that explains the math. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Don't miss the Catacomb Party this weekend - Saturday July 20th

This weekend is going to be a big one for downtown Fresno, as a large music festival (with an arts component) is being held - and it's free. Trust me, you don't want to miss out.

They're doing it on the Fulton Mall on Saturday, and the inspiration came from a very successful concert held last year in the same location. Last July, to promote the release of a new CD for the band Fierce Creatures, the organizers put together the "Catacomb Party" on the northern end of the mall. The event featured one stage, a few bands, and some very creative decorations. I reviewed that event in this post (lots of pictures!)

The setting, from last year
The organizers were surprised by how many people turned out to an event that was quickly put together, and had little promotion. Not only was the crowd large (and very diverse), but people quickly started asking "when is the next one?" And so here we are exactly one year later, and the promoters are hoping to turn the concert into an annual event.

This time, the party isn't linked to one band - or limited to one stage. Everything has gotten much bigger, but the show will be just as free.

The action begins this time at noon, and extends late into the evening - real late. Even more impressive is the diversity of sounds: over 40 bands will be hitting the stages, and they're coming from all over the state.

The event serves to fill a "festival" void for the area. Warped Tour and the Rockstar festivals both dropped Fresno from their rotations. The enormous Cinco de Mayo event on the mall does bring a large amount of bands and stages (and enormous crowds), but the music is aimed almost exclusively at the "Recuerdo FM" crowd.  The annual FUSE FEST has picked up some of the local slack for those looking for music with less trumpets, but that's held indoors.

This event features a variety of music, from rock to reggae to electronic. Have a look at the setlist:

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Wondering how they're fitting it all in? Once again, the event takes place on the Fulton Mall, between Tuolumne and Fresno St. which is the northern end of the mall (where CVS is). The stages are being spread out among the area, with one being inside the Fresno Brewing Company - which serves coffee and a large selection of beers.

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If that map isn't doing it for you, here's a more familiar version, entrances in yellow....

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Worried about the heat? It may reach a toasty 108, but there's good news. I don't remember the temperature last year, but things never became uncomfortable. For one, the mall has very large mature trees. Combined with the buildings, there was always shade available. The orientation of the mall also allowed a constant and comfortable breeze to blow.

The organizers also took another step in comfort: they brought in large (industrial big!) fans to keep the air moving. They've also added misters and standard fans in a new cooling area for this years event.

Of course, if it's still too hot, you can always go inside. A variety of businesses will be open, and I know they're anxious for the business. The small Mexican restaurant there is very good, and the cafe next to FBC offers smoothies.

Speaking of food, you're not just limited to the three or four brick and mortar spots. The organizers are bringing in pretty much every food truck in town.

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And beer? There will be beer. Happy hour is from 12-1pm, featuring a brew made just for this event by the Tioga-Sequoia company - and only $2 a pint. There's also the large selection at FBC, and an outdoor beer sales location.

The best part about the beer is the level of freedom allowed at this event. It's all ages, but the city has been flexible and people with beers aren't being corralled into a drinking area.

Here's the scoop:

DRINKS // Same as last year. 21+ can get wristbands and will be free to roam the festival, drink in hand. $2 for water, $4 for beer, $6 for cocktails/wine. Patrons can purchase their tickets from the Downtown Fresno Partnership booth (again, directly adjacent to the beer trailer) and then trade them for drinks at their leisure, either at the Tioga-Sequoia trailer, inside the lounge or at one of several water stations. Our happy hour is from Noon to 1 PM and will feature $2 drafts of our very own Catacomb Brew.

 That's right. Free to roam.

Sadly one of the cool features from last year, the vintage furniture from YoshiNow used as decoration, won't be making a return. Instead, an indoor lounge (green room on the map) will be available with seating provided by Misc. Trading Co., and entertainment by a DJ.

The mall, of course, offers benches and such for seating. I'm unsure the status of the fountains, but if they're not on to provide foot-cooling stations, they provide comfortable seating.  If you're bringing kids, the mall has a sandy playground right near the action.
From last year. If the city still hasn't fixed this
fountain, it is very comfortable for sitting.

Another change to this years version is security. Because the organizers and the city expect a much larger crowd, there will be entrances this time, and bags will be checked. It sounds like you can't bring your own drinks. See the map for entrance locations.

Also, last years aerial acrobats will be replaced by a skateboarding demonstration area.

One new component this year is the addition of a large art exhibition. A dozen free-standing walls were built to give over 20 artists room to display their work.The artists will be working together between noon and six.

The artists are:

Adam Mena, Joshua Wigger, Robert Amador,  Erik Beltran
Mauro Carrera Marin, Bob Pero, Sam Rene, Christian Vargas
Jackie Aldern, April Alkema, Abby Janzen, Nuka, Timber
Choco Fresh, Erik Rodriguez, Zero Lopez, Samantha Lazcano
Enzo, Steve Nunez, Tanya Horta, Steven Kinross, Chris Geigle

If you're not familiar with the area, it's easy to get there. Those looking for green transport will be greatly catered too. ibikefresno  will be providing their popular free valet parking service. Their service means your bike is safe, you don't need a lock, and you can be comfortable that your accessories are being watched.

A second group, Fresno Bike Party will be providing escorted rides from the Tower District. That's rides, plural, so you can arrive later if you want.

Here are the bike ride times:

Getting There:
A: Tower Theater - B: iBikeFresno Bike Valet Tent

Rollout times:
- 11am
- 3pm
- 7pm
Getting Back:
B: iBikeFresno Bike Valet Tent - A: Tower Theater
East entrance on Tuolunme St.
(Across the street from Warnos Theater)

Rollout times:
- 2:30pm
- 6:30pm
- 12:30am
Their Facebook page for this event:

From last year, expect significantly more bikes
this time around.

Not much of a cyclist? No problem. If there's one thing downtown Fresno has in excess, it's parking. Since this is a weekend, almost all the parking will be free. The closest lot is just steps away from the event, and can be accessed near Hotel Fresno. See the map below, it can be tricky to find if you haven't been.

Here's the map. Orange area is where the shows are.

If you want the closest lot, it's marked with the P. The ONLY way in is from the south. So if you're driving south on Broadway or Fresno, you have to turn left at Tuolumne, then go all the way around the block. Note, if you continue straight on Broadway, you're at an IRS garage which is closed to the public - it's a dead end (and a really badly planned one). If you're coming down H, you just turn left at a really stupid traffic light at Broadway (the road there no longer exists) and then left again into the lot at the corner.

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In the same map above, if you note the bottom right of the image, is the entrance to the massive underground garage (also free) off Tulare. If you park there, take the main exit which puts you directly on the mall. The purple dots lead you to the fun.

Here's another look at the surface lot. Don't try parking in the alley, it's reserved for official vehicles. Note there's only a small gate in the fence to reach the mall, which is only steps away (purple dots)

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The CVS lot is also there, but I'm not sure how they handle event parking. Instead, I'd suggest parking on the street - meters aren't enforced on weekends. Also note some of the large surface lots are permit only, and I also don't know if that is enforced on weekends, so I wouldn't risk it. Make sure to read the signs. But there's a better choice if you're unsure...

Want your car to stay cool all day? Not a problem, the enormous underground garage is safe and free, and never warms up. It's marked on the map above as well and there are ALWAYS open spots. It's never desolate either - the large hotel and casino use it, so there's always activity, and the lights are bright.

Of course downtown Fresno is also where almost every bus line goes. Make sure to check the schedule so you can get home though. Most buses stop by the courthouse plaza, which is where the underground garage is. 

You can find more details on the official Facebook page, or their website. The Bee is also scheduled to run a large article on this, so make sure to check it out.

Oh and remember, because this is free to attend, try to help out so that this becomes an annual thing. Buy some food, buy some beer, and check out the merch.

"T-shirts will be available for $12 (SM-XL) and $14 (2XL-3XL) and specially screen-printed posters for $10. The posters were designed by Eric Rodriguez ( and printed by RoyalTee Designs ("

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Clovis adding large trailhead to Dry Creek Trail

The City of Clovis is looking to convert 2.5 acres of vacant land at Shepherd and Sunnyside into a new trailhead. The project would slightly extend Dry Creek Trail to Shepherd, and provide future connections to a new trail north, and the existing Enterprise Trail to the East. I recently provided a picture tour of a gap-closure on a portion of this same trail.

Here is an area trail map, with the trailhead indicated by the red arrow

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Here is another map showing the same thing. Dark green solid lines indicate the two trails, with the red line indicating where they end. The dotted green line is a future trail, which today is accessible as a dirt canal bank. The dotted beige line is a future trail (long distance future). The yellow shape is the planned trailhead

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The trailhead is intended to serve as a gateway to the trail system, and works as a way to advertise the existence of the system. The plan is also to provide amenities, like tables, restrooms and water fountains. The plans also call for a small bike maintenance area, including a tire pump. As far as I know, this would be a local first.

However like most recent Clovis park projects, the area will be dominated by parking - an astonishing 40 spots. That's a very high number for what's being advertised as a "junction and rest area for cyclists and pedestrians".

Like most Clovis parks, this area of asphalt will add large costs, take up a lot of space, and be greatly underused. During the comment period, almost every comment received noted a concern about the unnecessarily large size. Those complaints appear to have been ignored. 

Another concern by local residents was lighting. The city has agreed to use bollard-style lighting, rather than standard lights. That's a shame, because those bollard-style lights do more harm than good, as they manage to create glare and large areas of shadows.

Here is the site plan. The park area looks to be well designed - hey look, trees instead of grass that nobody uses! But the parking lot takes up about a 3rd of the site. Also, there appears to be no future connection to the trail to the east. I've marked an arrow showing the direction to the Dry Creek Trail

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Don't expect to see this done this year. Currently, the council is approving a change in land use, which allows the plan to go forward. Hopefully it's open by next spring.

Here is a picture tour of the area: 

The existing trail

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The trail currently ends before the dam at a junction, as seen is this map

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The curve towards the left leads to a sort-of road

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Looking across the canal towards the future park

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Going straight at the junction. one arrives at the dam

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The dam is accessible. Going straight one arrives at the future park

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The canal divides the lot. There are no plans for the other side of the empty lot

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However, it is accessible

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One would cross this way to head towards the enterprise trail

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This isn't officially a trail - it's a canal maintenance road.  But obviously it's used as a trail.

A concern of mine is that there appears to be no provision for a legal crossing here.

Today, it's a minor two lane road. But this is Clovis, so soon it will be 4-6 lanes wide.

Looking north

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Looking south
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This way to enterprise trail

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I had thought I read that there were going to be improvements here, but I was wrong.

It's very pleasant, even though it's not officially a trail.

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Eventually you reach where the real enterprise trail ends

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The canal dirt path is straight, the real trail is on the left, where the lady is walking.

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It currently ends here.

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Returning to the project area, you can see this not-trail is being used as a vital connection, even without a safe crosswalk

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The cyclist is heading to the dam, where she will enter Dry Creek trail. Again, this lot isn't the park area, the lot across the canal is

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What Fresno can learn from LA: Pedestrian Czar

I've mentioned before how in a lot of ways, Fresno tries to be the LA of 20 years ago. Unfortunately, that means mimicking failed policies that LA has thrown out the window. One mistake LA made was to ignore the pedestrian, but things have finally started to change.

LA recently hired a "pedestrian coordinator," a person whose only job is to improve transportation for pedestrians. What's interesting is that this person was not a traffic engineer, but someone with a much more varied background
Ocañas holds master's degrees in both business and international affairs from Columbia University, studied Mandarin in Singapore as a Fulbright scholar and worked for Austin-based Dell Computers when it was a scrappy startup. She has a nose for business, and it comes from an inspired place. "I'm a Quaker — that's how I was raised — and there's always been this element of social responsibility," she says. "There's always been a slant in my professional career toward how to use finance and economics and direct them toward a public good."

Her economic sensibility allows Ocañas to convince hulking, budget-challenged city agencies that L.A. should spend money humanizing its streetscape. "Coming from the private sector, there's a real demand for analytically based 'deliverables,' " she says, "so being very comfortable in that data world really helps."
LA Weekly

 If you've been to LA recently, you'll probably notice one of her very first acts

Ocañas persuaded city managers that 53 intersections with high rates of vehicle-versus-pedestrian accidents needed to be upgraded to high-visibility crossings. Now, all 53 are complete, and she's proposing more. She's angling for safer routes to schools and transit stops because that's where people walk the most. She's also trying to carve out pedestrian spaces, such as four "parklets" that sprang up this past winter.

What are high-visibility crossings? They're what most of the world considers standard; also known as continental or ladder crosswalks. In Fresno, you'll only find them at a few intersections downtown, installed in 2010 when the city had a transit planner who actually cared about pedestrian and cycling issues.

Here's a picture I took last month in LA, where you can see one of their new crosswalks.

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It may seem minor, but these crosswalks, new to LA, have three features:

1) Big bold lines which everyone recognizes
2) An advance stop bar
3) No double yellow line over the crosswalk

Together it says PEDESTRIANS ARE HERE. From my experience walking around downtown LA, they work. Cars were not blocking them, as they were more prone to do at the standard two-line style crosswalks.

So why doesn't Fresno have more of these? Because the current people in charge say there's no proof they make things safer. That's complete bull of course, as anyone can pick one of hundreds of cities to study. If you want to form your own opinion, go downtown and drive up Van Ness, you'll pass both simple and continental crosswalks, and it's very obvious as a motorists which one better catches your eye, day or night.

This picture shows the three types of crosswalks you'll find downtown: unmarked, simple line, and continental.

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However, without a pedestrian coordinator (or czar), there's no one in Fresno that will step forward to make common-sense (and cheap!) changes like this. No other ladder crosswalks have been installed in the previous two years, and none were installed outside of downtown.

Ocañas is making other changes as well.
Standing at a downtown parklet on Spring Street — the brainchild of her assistant coordinator, Valerie Watson — Ocañas says, "One parklet may not do it." But on Spring, "You've got your bike lane, parklets, new crosswalks — and suddenly you have this corridor that very visibly is for more than cars."
The way Fresno government is currently structured, there's no one in a position to bring forward these kind of changes. The traffic engineers forget that traffic includes more than just motor-vehicles, and focus exclusively on them. The parks department - what remains of it - look only within the borders of their green spaces. The schools care not if the sidewalk ends at their property line.

Fresno needs to start emulating the best modern practices of cities like LA and SF. And those best practices include many cheap, but important changes to how the roads look and function.