Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Guest Post: Bikes across State Lines

For the first time since I started writing this blog, I got an offer to do a guest post. So here we are! Minda is a recent addition to the UCR MFA program, and her first post is about moving with a bike. She has some great info, especially if you're dealing with a shipping service to move your baby. I'll let her introduce herself:

Hi. I’m Minda.

I recently left my gig in sales to get my MFA at UC Riverside. As a sales rep I covered a large territory, first from Santa Barbara to San Diego and all of the Inland Empire and then after a promotion and a move to Denver, half of the state of Colorado. I was averaging 500 miles per week behind the wheel! Fortunately, I was provided a company car and my gas and insurance were both covered. Unfortunately, when I left my job, that meant also leaving the car behind too. After crunching the numbers over and over I came to the conclusion that I would be better off financially during grad school if I did not wipe out my savings to buy a car. So, for the first time since I turned 16, I’m going carless. Please join me in my journey as I learn how to navigate Riverside on two wheels and public trans. I’m looking forward to sharing with you what I learn along the way and any tips you can share with me will be much appreciated :).

(J: And here's her first post. I'm bad at segues.)

Ok, so I totally brought this headache upon myself. In March, I received a quite nice gift card from my company for being the top sales rep in the region last year. At the time, I knew there was a move in my future, but I had priced out PODS type moving options and figured I would throw everything in my small one bedroom apartment into a POD with plenty of room for a bike too. This way, I could enjoy riding my bike around Denver all summer. I bought a cutsie Retrospec Ladies’ Sidd 7: Flash forward a couple of months later. I’m ready to throw some money down to reserve a POD and the prices have TRIPLED! Waaaaaay out of my price range. It quickly became apparent that the cheapest way to do this move would be to get rid of or sell as much as possible and replace what I needed on the other end. That left one issue though: my bike. I had just bought my bike, so I really didn’t want to sell it for half price and have to buy another bike at full price once in Riverside. So what were my options?

Amtrak 
Amtrak is probably one of the lesser known options. If you’re taking Amtrak for your move, then you’ll pay $15 for the bike box and another $10-20 to carry your bike on-board. If you just want to ship your bike via Amtrak, you can call to get a quote for Amtrak Express, which you will tack another $15 on for the bike box. The boxes, I hear, I very large, so typically you only need to take the pedals off your bike to fit it in the box. This is one of the most affordable ways to ship your bike if there’s an Amtrak station convenient to you on both ends.

While there is an Amtrak station in Denver, the closest (J: staffed) one to Riverside is in Fullerton. I wasn’t exactly sure how to get my bike from Fullerton to Riverside (and I wasn’t sure how long I would need to leave my bike at the station since I didn’t have a place picked out in Riverside yet) and just simply was not up for one more logistical problem to solve. (J: The Fullerton Amtrak is also the Fullerton Metrolink, so if you want to ship your bike there, you can simply take the 91 line back to Riverside with it. They'll hold it up to 3 days.)

Bike Rack 
Since a friend and I would be road tripping to Cali another friend suggested I buy a bike rack and then Craig’s List it at the end of my road trip. This seemed like a super affordable option. I’ve never used a bike rack (my company car was a minivan, so transporting large things was not an issue), so I had some concerns about whether or not the rack would scuff up the trunk of the rental car over however many miles we would be driving. I was also concerned about not installing the rack correctly and causing damage to my bike, I was concerned about causing damage to the rental car any time I took my bike on and off the trunk, I was worried about my bike getting stolen and I was worried about how it would fare in the parking garage during the Vegas leg of our trip. Just a lot of worrying! I was also having a difficult time finding a Saris Solo rack in town and didn’t really have time to order one in. I also had the challenge of not knowing what car the rental company would give me. There just seemed to be a lot of variables involved. But still a worthwhile option for someone else to look into.

Shipping 
Ultimately, I decided to ship my bike, which was the mostly costly option, but was not as costly as I was led to believe it would be and it was also the option that I had to worry the least about, especially since I was shipping all of my other stuff and having it held at the local FedEx anyhow (it’s cheaper to ship from a FedEx to a FedEx and most FedEx locations will hold your items for 5-days).

My local bike shop boxed my bike for $50. You can Google how to do it yourself if you’re handy like that, but I’m a biking newbie, so I decided to let the experts do their thing. My bike shop told me shipping can be tough on your bike, so you really want it packaged well. The bike shop that reassembled my bike said my bike was packed great and to definitely ship wit FedEx over UPS as they receive brand new bikes all the time via UPS and the boxes are all torn up or upside down, just not well cared for. Bike boxing services vary from shop to shop, so definitely call around. Give your shop at least a week’s notice that you’ll be bringing your bike into have it boxed, so they can save the box from a bike they’ve sold that will fit your bike. It’s crucial that they box your bike in the smallest box that will work. I had my bike box measured at one FedEx location and was quoted $46. When I brought it to another FedEx location to ship it that was on my work route, the guy measured an inch more in width and height and the price jumped to $162! Over two inches! Size DOES matter.

There are also discount bike shipping services like shipbikes.com and bikeflights.com. These sites give you discounted shipping prices and track your package for you to make sure it arrives safely. You can also buy a box from their site to box your bike in. It’s really easy to get a quote on the site as well (Ship Bikes quote process is a bit more thorough than Bike Flights). Ultimately, since I didn’t need one of their boxes and had a small discount on my own FedEx account, the few dollars difference wasn’t worth it to me to use either site.

Once my bike arrived in Riverside, I was able to lay the seats down in the back of my rental car and drive it over to Neighborhood Cyclery in Moreno Valley to be assembled (they were the closest bike shop to my new apartment complex). They charged me $60, prices vary, I think fixies are cheaper because you don’t have to deal with the gears and it just depends on how broken down your bike is. It’s a husband and wife ran shop and they were both super kind and friendly over the phone as well as in person. It only took a day until my bike was ready! I caught the bus to their shop and then rode my bike home… in the scorching heat. Welcome to the Inland Empire!

In total, I spent $50 to have my bike boxed, $42 for shipping via FedEx and $60 to have it reassembled for a total of $152. One bike shop in Denver told me it would cost $160 on shipping alone, so I feel like I got off lucky. Getting my bike to Riverside was definitely one of the biggest logistical issues I faced and was ⅓ of my overall shipping costs. Hopefully this breakdown helps anyone that’s not in a position to sell their bike and needs some ideas on how to get it from point A to point B.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Good News, Bad News, part 2: Good News

So I discussed the Bad News at length on Friday, with an overview of the present 10-Year Transit Plan. Here's something to help cleanse your palate: some of the better recommendations of the 10-Year Plan, including those regarding frequency, are coming down the pipe in January. First off, no cuts! Not a single route-mile or trip is being removed from the system. This update is all about frequency improvements. Route 1 will finally be the first route in the RTA system to crack the 15-minute barrier, plus later Saturday service. Routes 3, 15, and 19 will join 16 on the list I keep in my head entitled "reasonably useful transit service," with frequency improvements to 30 minutes on weekdays, plus a frequency increase to an impressive 10pm on the 3 and 15. 16 gets better weekend frequency and span, as does the 19, with an astounding improvement from 55 minute headways all the way down to 30. Routes 22, 29, and 74 will move from being laughable abominations to being halfway useful bus routes, with frequency improvements to 60 minutes. 21, 22, and 206 will all get extra trips, and 206 will get a new park-and-ride lot at Tom's Farms. Route 20 will be upgraded to 45-minute frequencies. You may also notice that, save route 20, all of these will actually be clock-face schedules. So, all-in-all, good news for the bus-riding public of western Riverside County.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Good News, Bad News, part 1: The Bad News

Well, hello there! I haven't posted here since... June? That can't be right. Oh dear... Let's get right back to it then.

If you're clued-in to the local transport politics scene, you may have seen a) the proposed changes for the next Ride Guide and b) the proposed 10-Year Transit Plan floating about lately. We're in a good-news-bad-news situation between the two. I'll start with the bad news.

The new 10 Year Transit Plan is a joke, and not a terribly funny one at that. There are some good things in there, such as across-the-board frequency upgrades, but the sweeping strategic changes that the plan proposes are just plain awful.

First, there's the plan to "modernize" transit service in downtown Riverside. The plan would abandon the present Downtown Terminal, instead providing service at a patchwork of transit stops littered throughout the downtown area. Most routes would be reconfigured to pass through downtown, and the two locals that do terminate there (15 and 22), along with all express service, would be routed into a new terminal on Vine St. adjacent to the Metrolink.
I want to note that I strongly support moving RTA's downtown transfer hub closer to the Metrolink station. That's a great idea. This plan, however, makes it much, much more difficult for downtown to serve as a transfer hub. Transfers between some combinations of routes, most notably the 29/49 and 10, would take a walk of three blocks or more. The routes the buses will take through downtown are convoluted and confusing, making even knowing *where* to catch your desired bus difficult. Unlike other places where buses use on-street transfer hubs, such as Long Beach and the old San Bernardino Transit Mall, buses will not follow a single linear path through the downtown area. Instead they will be found in a haphazard spaghetti-mess of a system, stopping seemingly at random throughout the city's core.

Transfers are a necessary part of good transit network design, especially in a hub-and-spoke network such as RTA's. That said, people hate transferring. The transit agency needs to do everything they can to ensure that transfers are as seamless as possible. Making people walk for several blocks and puzzle over which street their next bus shows up on will make the experience of riding transit worse-- and, for those with cognitive or mobility impairments, will drive additional trips off of the (cheap) fixed-route system and onto (expensive) Dial-a-Ride.

Second, while many of the route combinations are really great ideas, allowing the agency to concentrate service on fewer, higher-frequency routes, the re-routing plans for routes 16 and 19 are simply asinine. Routes 16 and 19, under the plan, would be combined, with 16 truncated at UC Riverside. (I assume that this is because of the lower capacity of the downtown area to handle bus movements.) Combined with the changes to routes 10 and 14, this would mean that there is only one route serving University Avenue between UCR and Downtown, compared to the present three. Even though route 1 would be upgraded to 10-minute frequency, this would still actually mean a decrease in transit frequencies along University-- one of the most heavily-travelled segments in the entire system. Combine this with the necessity of requiring an additional transfer, somewhere other than the downtown transit hub, for the passengers coming from Moreno Valley and Canyon Crest who presently enjoy a single-seat ride (myself included). The RTA brochure posits this as a benefit, saying that riders travelling between UCR and Moreno Valley College will no longer need to transfer at the mall. Call me a skeptic, but somehow I think that there are more riders between the Mall and downtown than there are between UCR and a distant community college.

Finally, in an eternal disappointment to RTA transit-watchers, the "RapidLink" "BRT" system has been nerfed in this plan. Instead of a frequent, all-day, every-day rapid transit line, with signal priority and maybe some dedicated lanes, what we're scheduled to get is a peak-hours-only limited-stop express bus. The 1 Limited will make only 12 stops between Corona and UCR, which is fantastic, and it will run every 15 minutes-- but only during weekday peaks. This all while San Bernardino is running high-capacity rapid buses in their own dedicated lane, and has been for months! Riverside is, of course, still talking streetcars, but with the sort of savvy that indicates that they have no idea how to implement a streetcar project properly.

There is hope, however-- sustained opposition from the community has led the RTA Board to postpone adoption of the 10-year transit plan until the January 22nd board meeting. You should let the agency know what you think of the new plan by e-mailing comments@riversidetransit.com, by calling +1 951 565 5002, by snail-mail at:
Riverside Transit Agency ATTN: Director of Planning 1825 Third St. Riverside, CA 92507
or by attending the meeting on January 22nd at 2pm at the county building downtown.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

BAC Meeting Tomorrow

The Bicycle Advisory Committee will meet tomorrow, 12 June, at 5pm. Sorry for the late notice, I just found out myself!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

sbX Launch Date Set

It's finally happening! San Bernardino's sbX BRT system has finished construction and is in the testing phase. Service opens to the public on April 28th, and rides will be free for the first week! I'm excited. Are you? The Omnitrans Blog has a lot of details about the service, including geeky things like the capabilities of TVMs and photos of bus interiors. If you are driving in the area of E Street in San Bernardino, first, stop it! Second, do keep an eye out for sbX buses, which are currently in testing phase, and remember to stay clear of the bus-only lanes.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Driver Licensing Should Be More Like Pilot's Licensing

So I've been working on my private pilot's license-- one of the many reasons this blog has been relatively quiet-- and there is a marked contrast between the ways that we license cars and the way we license pilots. Our driver licensing system is obviously insufficient, because drivers that don't know how to operate a vehicle clearly keep getting on the roads, and even repeated violations of traffic law are often insufficient to lose one's license-- even egregious lapses of judgement, such as driving under the influence and causing fatal accidents, often result in little or no suspension of driving privilege. Given the sheer amount of carnage on our roads, it is kind of astounding how little scrutiny is applied to motorists and their ability to operate their vehicles.

Consider this: when I earned my driver's license, at age 16, I was required to have four hours of behind-the-wheel professional training, and classroom training that essentially amounted to the instructor reading out of the DMV driver's handbook. My wife had zero hours of professional instruction, and zero hours of classroom instruction, as she was over the age of 18 when she earned her license. I took a simple 20-question multiple-choice exam, which I likely could have passed without any preparation, and I was observed by a DMV examiner for roughly half an hour while driving in light traffic, on surface streets, on a benign day.
And, with that, I was given the privilege to operate anything from a motorcycle with a sidecar to a massive RV, day or night, in good weather and bad, and nobody will ever scrutinize my driving ever again*. At worst, if I engage in a particularly egregious moving violation and actually get pulled over, I might have to attend "traffic school"-- which can now be completed on the Internet in less than an hour, and which will still not result in anyone actually re-testing my skill in operating a motor vehicle.

Contrast that with my pilot's license. In order to take the private pilot's exam, you need a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, of which 20 must be with an instructor and 10 must be carefully-planned solo time. Most pilots actually take 60-70 hours of instruction before being judged competent to take the "checkride"-- aviation slang for the practical exam. The written exam is 70 questions and over an hour long, and actually requires some pretty rigorous study, especially on things like weather and atmospheric conditions, aircraft performance, and flight navigation. The checkride also has a significant theoretical component-- an oral exam often lasting more than an hour, which examines both the applicant's knowledge and their judgement-- and the flight test is often 90 minutes to two hours, requiring demonstration of a wide variety of maneuvers, including simulated emergency procedures.
And after all that, a pilot is only granted the ability to fly relatively light aircraft under reasonably good weather. Flying bigger, faster planes or planes with tailwheels requires additional training. Flying seaplanes, gliders, multi-engine aircraft, flying for hire, or flying in bad weather all require another trip to the FAA examiner, along with their own requirements for flight training and accompanying written exams. And even then, to keep one's flying privilege, pilots have to be recurrently trained every other year, with a minimum of one hour's ground training and an hour's flight time with an instructor.

So, am I saying that a driver's license should be as difficult to get as a pilot's license? No. There are a lot of differences between flying and driving-- the most significant being that, once you're in the air, you can't pull over and get help-- and driving simply isn't subject to the same voluminous amount of theory as flying is. But it should be a hell of a lot more rigorous than it is now. Drivers should be required to get at least some professional instruction before getting their license, and I particularly think that recurrent training ought to be a more significant part of drivers' lives. Perhaps it would help bring down the atrocious traffic fatality rate.

*My driving was re-tested, once, because I got my motorcycle license.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Leaving the Holding Pattern

It's been quiet around here lately, mostly because it's been quiet in local transport policy. This blog began during a time of massive service cuts, attacks on Greyhound, and other myrid threats to local alternative transportation. Since then, I've been able to report moderately good news in the cycling department, as Riverside's city government has become more bicycle-aware. (I'm not going to call them bicycle-friendly just yet, although the League of American Bicyclists did.) I haven't, however, had too much in the way of good news about local transit. The best one could say is that it had stabilized.

Well, recently, things have started getting better. We've already seen mild improvements to frequency (to 15m on Route 1 and 20 on Route 16) and service span during last October's service changes. With RTA's upcoming May service changes, there are still more (mild) improvements on the way. Let's take a look!

Route 1: Route 1 will see a small routing change with a big impact: in Corona, the route will finally make the couple-block jaunt over to the Corona Transit Center, bringing the RTA's 800lb gorilla into contact with Corona Cruiser's Red and Blue routes, RTA's 3, several Commuterlink routes, and, of course, Metrolink. (And the gratuitous sea of parking lots that surround the Transit Center, precluding the nice transit-oriented development that should happen there...)

Route 3: The northbound Corona-Eastvale route will see a minor span increase, as well as new Saturday service.

Route 54: Did anyone ever actually ride this? I didn't. This was a shuttle from the Metrolink overflow parking lot to the County building, while the County's parking was taken over by the 91 widening project's detritus. Anyway, it's going away because the County's parking lots are open again.

Routes 64 & 79: These long-haul routes in the southwest county will be adding (low-frequency: 75 and 60 minute headways, respectively) Saturday service. The Transit Coalition's IE Transit Talking Points blog has better analysis on these routes, but suffice to say they will bring better regional connectivity to the southwest county on weekends.

Route 216: Holy hell, this one has been needed for a long time. A mid-day trip and a late evening trip will be added to the OC-Riverside express route, making it useful for trips other than peak-hour commutes. Metrolink IE-OC mid-day and evening frequencies still suck, so this is very welcome.

CommuterLink Expansion: With the promised addition of several 91 Line trains, RTA will be adding trips to 206, 208, 210, and 212. These trips start when the new trains do, a date currently to be determined.

RTA is accepting comments about the new service changes, but honestly, my only comments are "Yay!" You can contribute comments at (951) 565-5002, comments@riversidetransit.com,  or at the next RTA Board Meeting, 27 March at 2pm in the County building downtown.