Sunday, August 28, 2011

Park[ing] Day is Coming- Call for Volunteers!

Okay all, Park[ing] Day LA is coming. It's on Friday, 16 September. Last year I went down to LA and had a blast touring the fantastic, creative pocket parks put up by Angelenos in metered parking spaces around their city. (There were also Park[ing] spaces in Santa Monica, Santa Ana and Laguna Beach.) This year, I'd like to bring that message and that creativity home to the IE.

I want to reclaim a parking space in downtown Riverside, somewhere close to the pedestrian mall, on 16 September. I can't do it alone- I will need creative, energetic folks with some free time on a Friday to help. I will also need:
  • A painter's drop cloth, large enough to cover the parking space. Other alternatives, such as rugs, carpet remnants, or real or fake grass could also work.

  • Cones or some other method of marking out the space.

  • Chairs and tables- the better-looking, the better.

  • Successful Park[ing] spaces often serve food to passers-by. A grill or ideas for a meal to serve would be welcome- especially if anyone has the recipe for the fantastic macaroni salad dish served at yesterday's Really Really Free Market.

  • An EZ-Up, beach umbrella or similar shelter. I'm looking to snag a particularly nice, shady spot in front of the Blood Orange Infoshop/People's Gallery on University. If that doesn't happen, other protection from Riverside's legendary heat will be required.

  • Creative, enthusiastic folks willing to help plan and man a Park[ing] space!

So come on, readers, and help take back our city from the car, if only for a day!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Bike Route Network

At this month's Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting last night, I got in a bit of a heated discussion with some of the other members. Many members of the committee are, as far as I can tell, primarily interested with improving the quality of recreational cycling within the city. That's all well and good, and I of course understand the joy of a good bike ride, but (as my readers know) I'm much more interested in using bicycles as a tool for sustainable transportation- to get people out of their cars and into a healthier, greener lifestyle. I've talked about this divide before, but it was very much on display last night.

The Committee proposed setting up a system of bike routes that could be compiled into a map book, signed and promoted by the City, and possibly be given priority in maintenance. A good thing, certainly, except for one detail- most Committee members saw these routes as loops or "rides" that people could follow in order to spend a day out on their bikes. Loop rides are great if you want to enjoy a bit of fresh air and exercise, but ultimately rather problematic if you want to do that on the way to somewhere of consequence.

I argued that what the City needed was a grid system of bike routes. Such a system, with lines stretching across the City, would be easy to understand, easy to follow, and could then serve as the basis of a way-finding system for more complex routes. Despite assurances that my ideas were good and valid, I think I was nearly alone in this opinion. However, the Committee Chairman asked to see the sort of grid network that I would propose, so here it is:

View Riverside Bikeways Network (proposed) in a larger map

The network is inspired in part by the Backbone Bikeway Network that the LA Bicycle Working Group came up with, and that was eventually largely adopted in LA's Bike Plan. Numbering was inspired by San Francisco, but Long Beach also has a similar system.

The driving idea behind the map is to link neighbourhoods across the City, primarily by using existing bicycle infrastructure. Every route except for #6 substantially follows existing or soon-to-be-built (Route 8) facilities. Nearly everyone in Riverside is within a mile of a numbered bike route, and in most cases could access one via low-traffic, neighbourhood streets. (The biggest exception to this is much of Woodcrest and Washington St., which lack bike facilities at present.)

While the lines look complicated, and in some cases have strange jogs in one direction or another (Route 7 at California, or route 2 at Kansas)- but ideally each of these routes would be signed on the street. Rather than having to memorise the safest route through an area, cyclists could simply follow the signs for their route. The network would not obviate the need for more local, neighbourhood bike facilities, but it would answer questions like "How do I get to downtown from Tyler Mall safely?" (Answer: ride up Magnolia, catch Route 10 at Van Buren to Route 1, and take that to Route 2.) It would also, as I mentioned before, create a framework upon which to build more complex loop rides. Want a quick family ride near UCR? Try the triangle created by routes 2, 5 and 7, all on at least Class II bike lanes. How about a ~15 mile ride on the south side of the city? Take 3 to 12 to 5 to 8. Want to do the ride that the BAC chairman mapped out as an example? I'm extrapolating from memory, but I'm pretty sure it'd be something like 7-5-3-12-1-2. Rather than having to try and guess which streets are safe and go from there, cyclists new to the area would have simple cues to direct them to safe, simple bike routes between any two points in the city.

So... what do you all think?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Service Expansion in Omni-Land

Omni's September Bus Book is nearly out, and with it comes a few changes. I want to call your attention to two of them.

First, the new "Interim Transfer Centre" in downtown San Bernardino. San Bernardino's "downtown transit mall" has long been the target of my ire. Rather than having a single, coordinated location at which bus transfers took place, riders (including myself) would often have to walk two or three blocks to find the appropriate bus shelter. I have seen transit malls done well, in Long Beach and in Portland, but never in San Bernardino. It's therefore a welcome surprise that, rather than waiting until the opening of the new E Street Transit Centre some years away, Omni has decided to consolidate all of their bus operations now, at an interim location on 4th between F and G.

Second, Omni has one small, yet important, service extension. In Chino, the OmniGo #365 will forge a brand-new inter-county connection between Foothill Transit and Omnitrans. Rather than having to either walk/bike a ways or take the 365 and 65 all the way to Montclair, riders can transfer to the Foothill #291 and #497 on one end of the OmniGo #365. Not only should this be a boon to local riders, putting them within one peak-hour transfer of Los Angeles, but it should also provide a good "anchor" on the far end of the line, ensuring steady ridership for the fledgling OmniGo service. Bravo, Omni!

So when do we get to start adding service?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Irony Express: Now Arriving

Mere months after the City of Riverside got done double-super-banning food trucks, which were already banned by county health regulations, I opened up the City's "15 Favorite Things to Do" e-newsletter and find this:

Riverside Food Truck Festival
Downtown Riverside

The City of Riverside gets a taste of the food truck craze with the First Annual Riverside Food Truck Festival on Saturday, September 3. This event will feature 50 food trucks from throughout Southern California. Experience the trendiest gourmet, specialty and fusion foods. Find out for yourself why food trucks have moved from “roach coach” to Food Network and international fame. There’ll be live music, roller derby girls, sports celebrities, a family sport zone, games for all ages and a special VIP access area (almost sold out!). All proceeds will help support three non-profit organizations in Riverside: Asian Pacific Lunar Festival, Riverside Arts Council and Riverside County Prevent Child Abuse. Brought to you by Paul Davis, Ward 4 Riverside City Councilman.

(Food trucks are allowed, by permit, at specially-designated events.)

So huzzah! Riverside has decided to set aside one day of the year to celebrate the culinary diversity and entrepreneurship of food trucks! Of course, on the other 364, they could be shut down for peddling their tasty wares anywhere within the city limits.

Riverside and San Bernardino Counties are the only two counties in the state with a ban on hot food trucks. San Bernardino County just recently decided to loosen their regulations- and, although they don't go far enough, it's a step in the right direction. Riverside decides to do what seems to be Riverside's answer to everything- hold a festival! Perhaps this will lead to the public putting political pressure on their elected officials to bring food trucks here during the rest of the year, but it's at least good for a laugh.

Anyway, as my readers might (along with myself) enjoy the opportunity to sample the SoCal food truck renaissance's finest right here in River City, I should probably let you all know where this is happening. It'll be in downtown, at Market/3rd (in the mostly-empty Lot 33 near the Convention Centre.) Transit: RTA 12, 16, 29, short walk from Downtown Terminal (1, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 22, 29, 49, Omni 215, 216). Tickets are $8 presale, $10 at the gate, $25 for a limited number of air-conditioned VIP tix.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bicycle Advisory Meeting

The City of Riverside Bicycle Advisory Committee will meet on 25 August at 5:30, in the Mayor's Ceremonial Room at City Hall.

Art for Transit Geeks

Via Curbed LA, a new art installation is going in at LACMA:

Not only is this sculpture every little kid's dream- seriously, thousands of matchbox cars and several toy trains thrown in for good measure- but the artist notes that he's trying to make a statement about the coming end of the car-centered city. The crowded lift ramps evoke traffic-snarled freeways, and the noise (judging from the video) echoes the aggravating din of car-choked city centres.

LACMA is transit-accessible! Take the Metrolink in to LA Union Station, followed by the Purple Line to Wilshire/Western and the 720 to Wilshire & Fairfax. Admission is $15, $10 students and seniors, free on second Tuesdays. This might be a great outing for Metrolink's new Weekend Pass, just $10 for the whole weekend including local transit transfers.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Rail-Bus Divide

I have written before on this blog about a problem faced by transit activists in promoting bus transit. Travel by bus is highly stigmatized, at least in the United States, and even people who are environmentally conscious may not be persuaded to ride a bus. (I'm looking here, of course, at my fellow middle-class white liberals.) This stigma is a cultural one, but it is also perpetuated by policy decisions in many places where buses and rail connect with one another. In order to have an effective public transit system, we need to allow people to travel easily regardless of mode. Some places do this better than others, and some do it much worse.

Of the places where I've been, the west coast cities of San Francisco, Portland and Vancouver probably do the most to minimize the bus-rail divide. San Francisco's Muni runs both light rail and bus services, and the two are treated equivalently as far as fare policy is concerned. In many cases, the decision to run a bus rather than a train on a given route seems to be determined by the city's famous hills, rather than ridership demand, and bus frequencies compete with- and often overtake- rail frequencies. Bus and rail are shown as similar-weighted lines on the same system map, as if either is an equally valid choice for travel. Downtown, Portland does much the same thing. Buses and light rail run along the same transit mall, are shown on the same map, and accept the same tickets. Outside of downtown, TriMet's system more resembles Vancouver's TransLink, where rail is used as a long-distance trunk line, connecting to buses at each station. The connections are always well-signed, with clear explanations of where each bus goes.

Roughly in the middle of this scale are Chicago and New York. Each runs an extensive rail system, and an even more extensive system of bus lines. If you're downtown in either city, you can't help but see at least a transit bus or two, and Chicago's El is prominent anywhere you look in the Loop. Fares on bus and rail are the same, and passes cover travel on both. However, if you are at a rail station, the only lines you will see on a system map are the rail lines. New York's famous Map shows only bus connections to the two airports. Even New York bus riders would be hard-pressed to find one of the elusive borough system maps, which show both rail and bus service. (When I was in New York this summer, I spotted one on a bus- but it was a Staten Island map. We were in Brooklyn. I have heard they are available at local libraries, if you ask.) Chicago has a bus/rail system map, which is impressive indeed, but it is posted only at bus stops- in effect saying that you needn't know about bus lines until you've already indicated your willingness to ride a bus. (Chicago's bus numbering scheme leaves something to be desired as well- 151 is a frequent line along Michigan Ave., while 17 runs a handful of trips on the edge of CTA's service area.) Both New York and Chicago, however, are well-integrated when compared with our nations' capital.

Washington, D.C.'s major transit operator is WMATA, also known as Metro. Like many big cities, Metro operates both an extensive bus network and a rail system. However, the agency seems to do its best to ensure that these two systems are not integrated. As a tourist in DC, every pamphlet seems to have Metro Rail stations or maps listed. Metro offers a day pass for tourist travel, allowing unlimited use until the end of the service day for a flat $9. There's also a weekly pass, a "short trip" weekly pass (which covers only a certain distance during rush hour) and a regional smart card. However, there is no pass that you can buy which will cover a combined trip by rail and bus. (Critics may say that this is because Metrorail uses a distance-based fare system, but the other major distance-based rail system, San Francisco's BART, offers monthly flash passes for connecting operators and discounted transfers to local bus and rail systems. Our own Metrolink offers distance-based passes which include bus service.) Furthermore, there are no bus maps in the stations, and bus maps at the stops include only schematics of the route they serve. Even the D.C. Circulator, which seems to be an attempt to specifically alleviate the stigma of city buses, is not well-mapped nor integrated with Metrorail fares.

Most of the time during our vacation, Dani and I rode rail lines. They tend to be better-advertised, more predictable, and more frequent (as a class) than bus lines, and so they are often the default choice of somebody who doesn't know the system well. In every other city, however, we used buses at least a few times- while the networks were not as integrated or as legible as they should be, they were integrated and legible enough to be useful to even brief visitors such as ourselves. In D.C., however, we didn't ride even a single solitary bus. There were times when I very much wanted to, even- because of the layout of Metrorail in downtown D.C., a trip that should have been 5 minutes on a bus was nearly 30 on three different trains. However, the fact that I had paid for the rail day pass and didn't have change for the bus kept me underground, wasting my time. Policies like this, which actively segregate "rail riders" from "bus riders," make a transit system unnecessarily complicated and fail to leverage existing transit infrastructure. D.C. Metrorail has a severe crowding problem during the morning rush- how much of it could be solved by letting riders choose the bus instead?

By the way, a commenter earlier mentioned to me an interesting development in the field of bus-rail integration right here in SoCal. Along with six new intra-county OC Line trains (which, I believe, represent the first non-IEOC Line trains not to stop at LA Union Station), OCTA is now promoting the "OC Link" pass. For only $7 on weekdays, riders get a day of access to any OCTA local bus and any Metrolink train within Orange County. This is a commendable venture, allowing riders a quick, inexpensive way of making intermodal journeys and using spare capacity on LA-bound Metrolink trains. I'm still disappointed in RTA's one-transfer-only Metrolink policy, and they're certainly a long way away from something like this. (I should mention that I proposed a similar agreement for RTA some time ago.)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"They want to tax the Internet"

Those words were spoken by a signature-gatherer at the Riverside Downtown Terminal last week, trying to get me to sign on to an effort to repeal the recently-passed AB28. AB28 would require out-of-state Internet retailers to collect California sales tax and pass it along to the state. The signature-gathering effort, which is almost certain to succeed, has been funded primarily by

Now, like anyone else, I don't like paying taxes. If I were able, I'd simply avoid paying them, and revel in the enjoyment of an instant 10-30% boost in my income. However, I understand what it is that taxes pay for. The school I attend, the clean water I drink, the parks I enjoy, the (relatively) clean air I breath, and of course the bike lanes that I ride along and the buses and trains that I ride, are all funded by tax revenue. In California in particular, we rely heavily on sales taxes to fund our government expenditures, and those tax revenues have been dwindling due to the recession and continued unemployment crisis. (Surprise surprise, but when people lose their jobs they tend to buy less stuff.)

I also tremendously enjoy shopping online, and do a lot of it at Amazon. They tend to have cheaper prices than comparable brick-and-mortar stores (though not always- Fry's has been known to beat their online competitors), and Prime membership gives me both streaming video and free shipping. However, I don't shop online because I'm trying to avoid sales taxes. I'm sure some people do, but by and large most folks I know shop online for the same reasons I do- better selection, better prices, and the convenience of shopping from home and getting stuff delivered. (By the way, I'd bet that shopping online is probably greener too, with one UPS truck performing the job of several private cars.)

The long and short of it is that this anti-sales-tax campaign by Amazon is unnecessary- it probably won't hurt Amazon's sales all that much- and will inevitably hurt the already-deteriorating quality of California's state services. Furthermore, I think the framing being pushed by signature-gatherers-- "they want to tax the Internet"-- is misleading at best. This is not a tax on Internet access or use, but a collection of sales tax that (technically) you're obligated to pay anyway. (Look at the "Use Tax" section of your California form 540. Yeah, all those Amazon goodies really should be on there.) If you care about the quality of our public services, including public transit and street improvements, don't sign any petition repealing an Internet sales tax-- and vote it down when it (inevitably) comes up for a vote this fall.

EDIT: This was Riding in Riverside's 500th post!