Monday, March 2, 2015

Alternative Uses for Alternative Fuels

Anyone who has found my most popular post knows that I am no fan of alternative-fuel cars. If you keep auto-sprawl and mandatory car ownership, it doesn't matter if the car itself runs on rainbows and unicorn farts-- the infrastructure and built environment that your rainbow-cars would inevitably require would still be a huge environmental catastrophe. Self-driving cars have some more potential for transforming our built environment, mostly by allowing for robo-taxis, but I still think that the Google-car-topia imagined by many is being far oversold. (File under "I need to write that post.)

That doesn't mean, however, that there are no opportunities to be had for our environment in alternative-fuel vehicles. Those opportunities just aren't found in the private car.

I saw a great example earlier this morning, on Market St. in Riverside. (I should really say that I heard it-- whirrrrr.) An electric Red Bull delivery truck rolled by before I could get a photo of it for the blog. Long-haul goods movement is a sector probably best-handled by rail (especially in a post-oil world: no more bomb trains!), but we're a long way removed from the time when every store backed onto a railway spur. And even in a post-oil world, we're going to need to get stuff from warehouse to store and home. Delivery trucks are perfect for electrification, because they make lots of very short trips on a predictable route and schedule, with plenty of downtime for charging. (Delivery bike-trucks are also being used in several places, but I think that that's only going to be practical for the very densest places, where a single cyclist/driver can deliver a truck full of goods on a relatively short route.)

Utility workers, inspectors, salesmen, and other sorts of professionals who travel between several sites for a living are also obvious prospects for electric vehicles. The technician that comes to your house to connect and/or fix your Internet service is likely not going to arrive by bus. It takes a lot of tools and equipment to keep the intertubes from being clogged, and the nature and timing of service calls would make it very difficult to do on a bus. (Once again, cargo-bike service may be an option for the very densest places.)

Driverless vehicles, in particular, are going to be fantastic for transit applications. If you think a driverless car is super-efficient, imagine a driverless bus. In fact, you don't have to imagine-- just look at automated rail transit today. Vancouver has phenomenally frequent rapid transit, all day long-- 75 seconds at the peak, but an astounding 8 minutes until 1:30am. The trains are automated, so the marginal cost of a train is minimal. Apply that to buses, and you have a recipe for rapidly deploying very intense transit service along existing infrastructure, especially in traditionally underserved areas.

Alternative fuels are politically easy, and they sound attractive, but they take up way, way, way too much of the advocacy energy and money sent towards transforming our transportation system. All of these technologies are dead-ends, or stop-gap measures at best, when applied to individual personal mobility. However, these technologies have roles to play in the transportation system of the future, as edge cases-- supported by a network where the bulk of trips are made via transit or active transport.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

ATP Grant Projects Coming

I'm running a bit behind on my posting schedule-- this PowerPoint presentation was given to the Transportation Board in November-- but this way, y'all won't have to wait too long for all of these goodies to actually appear on the street. Once you take a look, you're going to want them to be implemented ASAP. I'm going to follow along in the PowerPoint, so you might want to download it and see what I'm talking about as you read this post.

The long and short of it is that Riverside received a grant from the Active Transportation Program for bicycle facilities in and around downtown. (The study area is bounded by the 91, the 60, the river, and just southwest of Jurupa Ave.) The City has decided to split that money up on several projects, many of which have a "demonstration project" feel to them-- but which nevertheless are going to improve the experience for cyclists downtown.

First off, we're getting some significant improvements in the network of Class II bike lanes around the area. Probably most notable is the new lane on Jurupa from RCC down to Martha Mclean Park, a route that I have advocated for for a while and one that will provide better connections between the Wood Streets/Plaza area and the Santa Ana River Trail. Beyond that, there's a lot of little gap-filling lanes-- projects that aren't terribly significant in and of themselves, but which play a role in connecting the larger network together. See particularly the lanes on and around Rubidoux Ave., connecting a little-known SART access point to the Wood Streets neighborhood.

We are getting some extra sidewalk along Palm Ave., so that's cool.

They're putting in a BikeStation at the Metrolink, which will have showers, lockers, and secure bicycle storage. The last time somebody brought this up, I kind of thought the thing was a bit of a waste of money, but if it gets people to bike to the train more often, that's fantastic. I'm also glad to hear that the BikeStation will have repair facilities, as downtown is currently lacking a bike shop.

In a first for Riverside, the City will be installing bike-network map kiosks throughout the downtown area. Cyclists will have the information they need to get to/from the SART, UCR, and various other destinations via the bicycle route network.

Some of the money will be used to help develop a bike-share network-- which I hope will be properly dense. Many small cities make the mistake of trying to install too few stations, or to install stations in widely-dispersed neighborhoods. The presentation suggests that the ATP grant will pay for two bike-share stations; I hope that these aren't the only two the City is installing.

The ATP grant will include Riverside's first two bike corrals-- one in front of Back to the Grind on University, and one at the pedestrian mall and Mission Inn. It should go without saying that this is an awesome development.

Redwood Drive, a one-way street at the west end of downtown, will be converted into a bicycle boulevard. The City isn't calling it that, but the treatment is familiar-- traffic circles will replace stop signs, while concrete berms will allow cyclists to ride through along the top of T intersections, rather than stopping. It's a beautiful project, and it's a pilot project-- if it is successful, plans are to implement these treatments elsewhere in downtown. The only real failing is that similar treatments are not being added to Pine St., so only southwest-bound cyclists will enjoy the improvements.

Several improvements are going to be made to the area around Bonaminio Park, adding crosswalks and a new bicycle staging area to the point where the SART crosses the dead-end of Tequesquite Ave.

And finally, because we can't have an ATP grant without a giveaway to cars, we can look at crosswalk improvements planed for 10th and 12th street. These crosswalks currently have flashing lights to warn drivers of pedestrians crossing. The City is planning on installing two new HAWK signals. These signals would stop traffic-- in sync with existing traffic lights-- and would allow pedestrians to cross the street only when traffic was stopped. Which means that, after this "upgrade," pedestrians will have to wait longer to cross Market St., so that drivers are inconvenienced less. While pedestrian safety is an admirable goal, especially with all of the pedestrian- and cyclist-involved traffic accidents we had last year, signals that slow down pedestrian movements in order to speed traffic through are antithetical to the goals of a vibrant downtown.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Riverside's First Two-Way Bike Lane

It's not quite a cycletrack, because it's not protected along most of its length, and it's only a block long, but it's a pretty major improvement in the cycling infrastructure around UCR. It's Riverside's first two-way on-street bike lane!
It runs from the Bannockburn Apartments on Canyon Crest to here, the intersection of Campus Drive and University:

Except that, as you'll notice from the directional arrows there, it doesn't quite do that. The lane is designed to funnel cyclists headed southbound on Canyon Crest into the UCR campus, and so the contraflow lane ends at a point where the lane intersects a major campus walkway:
I should be clear, I like this facility. I ride it almost every day. I think the concrete curb protecting cyclists is awesome and long-overdue, especially since it prevents the (illegal) passenger loading operations that regularly blocked the bike lane and walkway portal at this corner. That said, I think that there are major problems on both ends of the lane.

The lane starts basically mid-block on Canyon Crest, at the north end of the stoplight at Bannockburn's driveway. I cannot see any way for cyclists to legally and safely transition between riding in the traditional, southbound with-traffic lane on the west side of Canyon Crest to entering the contraflow lane. The only thought I could come up with is that cyclists are supposed to dismount, use the crosswalk at Bannockburn, and mount up again to enter the new lanes on the east side of the street.

What actually ends up happening in practice is this:

Cyclists either simply ride the wrong way down the existing northbound bike lane, or they cross the street somewhere in the middle and ride in oncoming traffic to get to the new lanes.

Something similar happens on the Campus Drive section of the bike lane, with cyclists from campus ignoring the fact that the lane is one-way (eastbound) at that point, and proceeding westbound behind the new curb and all the way down to the University Village.

Granted, both of these maneuvers were happening long before this facility went in. In putting in the contraflow lane, the City painted what cyclists were doing anyway. But I fail to understand why the lane was stopped at Bannockburn, rather than extended at least to Linden St., or ideally to Blaine St. That way, cyclists could enter the lanes when they turned on to Canyon Crest, and they would be able to ride legally and safely the entire length of the street. To my (admittedly untrained) eye, the street width looks pretty constant from UCR all the way to Blaine St.

Furthermore, I strongly advocated for the extension of this facility down University to the University Village. The City could have removed the existing westbound lane, shifted the whole street over, and added that lane back in on the south side of University. I even rode with Charlie Gandy to outline such an option, back when he was working with the City. As-is, I have to dodge several salmoning cyclists (and worse, scooter-riders and skateboarders) every time I ride from the UV up towards campus. The new cycletrack only encourages this behavior.

Lastly, there is one major safety issue with the lane-- the lack of bollards on the Campus Dr. side. Cars are used to turning right around that corner, and some still do so, only to find themselves on the wrong side of the concrete barrier. Once a car is in the lane, there is no way for them to leave but to drive through it, which many do in a panicked hurry. I myself nearly got run over by a Jeep Cherokee in the lane while taking the pictures for this article.

So, in summary, Riverside now has a two-way on-street bike lane. It is flawed, but it is a step in the right direction. We need to keep the pressure up on the City so that they extend this facility to its rightful conclusions on both ends.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Not Everything Is About The Commute

As I've written several times before, there is a persistent bias in how we talk about transportation infrastructure in this country-- the bias towards "commuters" and "commuting." Good transportation infrastructure requires a commitment to all-day, daily service-- especially when it comes to public transit-- while a focus on "commuters" tends to lead to anemic peak-only service or overgrown roadway infrstructure.

Now I'm getting comments on my Facebook page about how California HSR should serve "commuters," and lamenting the fact that the poor will not be able to afford the fare to commute from depressed Central Valley cities to coastal urban areas... presumably every day, for work.

That is insane.

High speed rail, both here and abroad, serves intercity travel markets. Intercity travel is sometimes business-related, but it is rarely related to the daily commute. More often, it is the college student returning home to visit their family, or the vacationing couple on their way to somewhere sunny, or the grandparents going to meet their grandson for the first time, or the academic on their way to a conference, or, yes, the salesman on his way to a meeting to snag a new client. Intercity carriers rarely, however, serve the fry cook on his way to a distant burger shack. HSR will be a great opportunity for Central Valley residents, but it will be an opportunity for them because it will create jobs in the Central Valley, first through construction and later through maintenance and operations.

While I'm sure that some well-off coastal workers may decide that they would rather buy a mansion in Fresno than a condo in San Francisco, and who will be enabled in that hope by HSR, they are not the design users of the system. HSR can be completely successful even if there isn't a single person who uses it every day. HSR trips should be an infrequent thing for most people, just as Southwest trips or long drives up I-5 are today.

HSR is both valuable to our transportation system and completely useless at getting people from home to work. It can be both things at once.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Ground-breaking

I am not an unequivocal supporter of the California HSR project-- I really don't like what they have planned for the "Riverside" station in particular-- but I am very happy to see that the project broke ground yesterday in Fresno. The first construction phase will go north, from Fresno to Modesto. Future phases will bring the train all the way down to just outside of Bakersfield, and still further future phases will bring it in to the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

I've ridden HSR in four countries now, and it is the way to travel 500-ish-mile distances. We need this. We're finally seeing some progress, 7 years after Prop 1A. Let's hope this train keeps rolling.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Woo IE!

San Bernardino's E Street won the Streetsie for Most Dramatic Street Transformation, beating out several dramatically-changed streetscapes in places as distant (and dense) as Boston and Pittsburgh.

I feel slightly guilty that I still haven't actually ridden sbX.

Friday, December 19, 2014

App Happy

Here are a few apps that can take some of the guess work out of getting around town sans-car:

RTA Bus Watch
This is a website, not an app, but RTA promises an official app in 2015. Until, then you can bookmark the mobile version of this website and create a homepage shortcut on your phone.


After you select “Mobile Device Arrival Times,” you will receive a prompt to choose the appropriate route and stop. The website will then provide the next three stop times. I usually use this website when I’m already at the bus stop and can’t tell if the bus is running late or was running early and I already missed it.

GoogleMaps
I thought everyone knew about the bus feature on the GoogleMaps app, but my baby sister who is bus bound since her car caught on fire, didn’t know this feature existed. GoogleMaps lets you toggle between car, bus, bike and walk as your modes of transportation. Simply plug in where you’re at and where you want to go, then tap the bus icon. Once the map loads, tap the bus icon again, and you will be shown a list of bus routes and travel times. Scroll down far enough and there is a shortcut to open your Uber app.

If you tap “Depart At,” you will be taken to a menu that allows you to choose between depart, arrive and last as options. You can also select the day and time.



If you tap on “Options,” you will see a menu that gives you the option to select your preferred mode of transportation and the ability to prioritize your route by best, fewer transfers or less walking.



If you’re using your computer, you can actually pull your bike route up on the Google Maps website and it will generate a graph that shows you how many feet down hill and how many feet up hill your route is. This comes in handy if you’re trying to decide between multiple bike routes.



TripGo
TripGo is an app that you can sync with your daily schedule. Plug in home, work, school or any place you need to get to regularly and then create your agenda in your calendar and TripGo will plan out your route for the entire day, whether it be bus, bike or car.




WunderWalk
If you’re lucky enough to be in a highly walkable area, you can use WunderWalk to plot out your own personalized walking tour. Plug in a few things in your interested in eating, drinking or seeing and WunderWalk will populate a route for you. This can also be a great vacation app.

 


Weather
This last app may seem silly to some, but I often rely on my Weather app to tell me when the sun is going to set. Whether I’m trying to get home before dark or deciding whether or not to head out on a bike ride this app comes in handy.



What are some of your favorite apps for getting around town? Share the wealth in the comments!!

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Want to read more by Minda? Visit her blog at www.mindahoney.com.