Saturday, July 31, 2010

A letter to my Congressman

Moving away from transport politics for a moment, but I think it's important.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives failed to pass a bill that would open up the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund to the volunteers who rushed to the scene in the days afterwards, and have been suffering health problems ever since. Among those who voted against the bill was our Congressman, Ken Calvert (R, CA-44). Posted below is my letter to Congressman Calvert on the subject in its entirety. I urge you all to do the same.

Congressman Calvert-

As always, I understand that you and I disagree on a great many things. However, I am continually astounded at just how deep this disagreement runs. I wrote you in 2008 about your deplorable vote against the State Children's Health Insurance Program- providing aid to sick children ought not be a partisan issue. Yesterday, the 30th of July, you cast another one of these shocking votes- you voted against the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.

How dare you, sir. You are willing to sacrifice compensation for the heroes of September 11th, those brave Americans who rushed from across the nation to risk their lives in service to their fellow man, on the altar of base partisanship. It is so important to you and your Republican colleagues that Congressional Democrats not "win" on any legislation that you would vote down compensation for the volunteers who sifted through the rubble of our greatest national tragedy in recent memory.

I will devote all of my energies to ensuring you fail in your re-election bid this fall, and I hope the name "Calvert" becomes synonymous with treason and corruption for decades to come.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Summer Transit HOWTO: Beaches & The Outdoors

Here's part 2 of my Summer Transit HOWTO series. We've already covered Amusement & Water Parks in part 1, but if you're looking for a day trip with a little less artificiality (and a lot less of an admission fee), you've come to the right place. In many cases, the entrance fees you pay at regional and state parks apply only to automobiles, and pedestrians and cyclists are admitted free. In others, you pay a significantly reduced fee. With that in mind, let's take a look at some car-free outdoor recreation activities.

As with last time, all directions are from downtown Riverside.

The Beach!
The simplest way to get to the beach is by taking the beach train. Once a popular specially-chartered service funded by RCTC, Metrolink has integrated the beach train into their regular service. Two trains daily each morning will take you down to either San Clemente or Oceanside along the IE-OC line, and two trains daily each afternoon will return you back to Riverside. The beach stations are both within a block or two of the sand. Even better, on weekends Metrolink offers the Friends and Family Four Pack, which allows a group of up to 4 people to travel all day for just $29, so long as they travel together. It goes without saying that you can ride the regularly-scheduled IE-OC line to San Clemente or Oceanside on weekdays as well, though note that the San Clemente Pier is not served on weekdays- you can catch the OCTA 191 from the San Clemente station to the beach.

Of course, Southern California is flush with beaches, and perhaps neither San Clemente nor Oceanside fit your needs. Newport Beach is accessible on one very, very long bus trip. Take the 216 to the Village at Orange and catch a southbound OCTA 71, which will take you all the way there. Once at the coast, of course, you can catch the OCTA 1, which travels up and down Pacific Coast Highway, giving you the choice of nearly any beach you can think of in Orange County. You can also reach Huntington Beach by taking the train to Buena Park station and riding the OCTA 29 all the way to the end. The best route to Laguna Beach is via the Santa Ana Metrolink, which you can reach on the IE-OC line, and then the OCTA 83 to Laguna Hills Mall and the OCTA 89 to the beach.

If Orange County isn't your style, Venice Beach in Los Angeles is accessible to you as well, as is Santa Monica. For Venice, take the Metrolink to Los Angeles Union Station (on weekends, take the IE-OC south and transfer at Orange for the OC line, or take the Omni 215 to San Bernardino and catch the San Bernardino line) and catch the Metro 733 Rapid from Patsouras Transit Plaza at Union Station. For Santa Monica, catch the Red or Purple line subways from Union Station to Wilshire/Vermont and catch a Metro 720 or 920 Rapid. (Make sure the bus is headed all the way to Santa Monica- this route often short-turns in Westwood.) For Hermosa Beach or Redondo Beach, ride the 91 Line (or IE-OC and OC Lines, with a change in Orange, on the weekend) to Norwalk Metrolink, then take a Norwalk Transit 4 to Norwalk Green Line station. Take the Green Line to Mariposa station, and catch a Metro 232 down PCH to Pier Ave. in Hermosa Beach, or Torrance Blvd. in Redondo Beach. For Long Beach, take the Metrolink to Union Station, followed by a Red or Purple Line subway to 7th/Metro Center and a Blue Line train all the way south to 1st Street. Walk south on Long Beach to Ocean, and then east on Ocean to 1st Pl., where you can find public access to the city's namesake beach.

Riverside is brimming with abundant hiking and cycling facilities. For those who want to start getting in shape, a gentle walk up Mount Rubidoux near downtown is in order. From the downtown terminal, just walk west on University towards the mountain, turn left at Brockton and right at 9th street, and keep walking until you see the park gate on the left. Experienced hikers can also enjoy some of the many more challenging dirt trails that lace the mountain- for one, instead of turning left at the main park entrance, keep walking up 9th street until you see wooden steps in front of you.

For a more challenging hike, with more rewarding views, try hiking to the large C on Box Springs Mountain. The direct trail leaves from Islander Park at the end of Big Springs Rd.- take the 10 to Big Springs & Mt. Vernon and walk west on Big Springs past the municipal pool. The trails begin on the left. Be careful when crossing the railroad tracks.

Trails criss-cross the vast and undeveloped Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park. One trailhead is available on Central Ave. just east of Canyon Crest Dr.- take the 16 to Central at Canyon Creek Apts. and walk east on Central to the trailhead. Another access point for public transit patrons is available at the end of Barton Rd. in Mission Grove. Take the 1, 14, or 15 to Magnolia and Beatty, and then take the 20 to Alessandro and Barton. Walk north on Barton to the trailhead.

To get better connected to the river in Riverside, try visiting Martha McLean- Anza Narrows Park. Take the 12 east to Jurupa & Grand, then walk east on Jurupa- the park will be on your right. The river bottom is wild and accessible here, and numerous trails cross it. Also, the last time I visited a picnic bench was placed squarely in the river itself, offering a unique dining opportunity. Note: Unlike most parks, this one (and possibly all RivCo parks) charge pedestrians and cyclists for day use. The fee is $2, doesn't apply to entry before 9:00 AM, and can be avoided by taking the Santa Ana River Trail into the park instead.

If you're looking for water, but not the salt variety, Lake Elsinore is always an option. Take the 22 to the Lake Elsinore Outlet Center. If you'd like to go swimming, take the 7 to Graham & Lindsay and walk south on Lindsay to Elm Grove Beach. If you'd rather go boating, take the 8 to Riverside Dr. in front of Lakeside High School and cross the street to Lake Elsinore Marina and RV Resort. Motor boats and jet skis are available to rent.

There is one option for camping in the local area that is somewhat transit-accessible. The Rancho Jurupa campground in Rubidoux is along the Santa Ana river bottom, and is about a mile's hike in from the nearest bus stops. Take 49 to Mission & Crestmore and walk down Crestmore to the park entrance, or take 29 to Limonite and Riverview and walk down Riverview to 46th, then turn left on 46th and walk to the park entrance. Campsites aren't cheap, but they do include full hookups, cable TV and wireless internet. Primitive camping is available according to the park web site, but very little information is available online. You can contact Riverside County Parks at (800) 234-7275.

If you're up for a bit of a hike (2.2 miles), you can also enjoy Lake Perris State Recreation Area, with camping, boating, hiking, swimming, fishing, and basically anything else you can expect to do outdoors (except mountain biking- bicycles are restricted to paved roads only, oddly). Take 1, 14 or 15 to Magnolia and Beatty, then grab the 20 to Moreno Beach & Via del Lago in Moreno Valley. Turn south on Via del Lago and start hiking- RiR suggests you do this early in the day, and bring plenty of water. Pedestrians and cyclists are free at this park, while vehicles are charged $10 each, so you can enjoy the satisfaction of saving $10 and getting exercise while you do it. Boat rentals are also available, though the park advises that boat quotas will be enforced, especially on summer weekends.

Keep in mind
As with the amusement parks, it's easy to lose track of time when you're out having fun. Figure out when the last bus home leaves, and make sure you're on it. RiR is not responsible for bad planning. Also, the usual caveats of outdoor activities apply- plenty of water, plenty of sunscreen, and plenty of not-putting-yourself-in-dangerous-situations-unless-you-know-what-the-hell-you're-doing. Visitors to Riverside County parks may want to know that some of these parks (Anza Narrows at least) charge pedestrians and hikers, even for day use.

Coming up next, part three of the series will highlight museums, zoos and other attractions around the region.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Why Don't We Have This?

My readers are most certainly aware of the concept of the universal transit pass- everyone at a given organization or institution gets an all-access transit pass at no cost to them, and the institution pays a deeply discounted rate for said passes. Here in Riverside, college students at UCR, La Sierra, Cal Baptist, and the Riverside and MoVal campuses of RCC get these sorts of passes, as do City of Riverside employees. However, in Riverside, each of these agreements was negotiated separately, the terms of each of them are different, and the contracts have to be renewed individually on a yearly basis. In fact, the names of the various college passes are different: UCR's program is called U-PASS, RCC's GO-PASS, and I'm unsure about which name the other campuses fall under. If you're a large employer in the region who wanted to offer transit benefits to your employees right now, you would have to devote substantial staff time and resources to approaching RTA and developing your own unique agreement with them- something you're probably not likely to do. However, it benefits employers, employees, RTA and the region to develop these sorts of programs- employers and employees both get tax breaks, employers often see lower absenteeism, employees don't have to pay for their transportation, RTA gets a steady source of revenue, and the whole region benefits from better transit services, cleaner air, and fewer cars on the road.

Fortunately, there is a better model. Those who have read Donald Shoup's epic "The High Cost of Free Parking" will know that I'm talking about the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority's Eco Pass program in the San Jose area. Organizations purchase passes for all of their employees on an annual basis. The passes are heavily discounted- the most expensive Eco-Pass agreement is $144/employee/year- and they entitle holders to use of every VTA transit service, be it local or express bus or light rail. The agency then provides support to the organization in the form of occasional on-site visits for promotions, personalized trip planning, and guaranteed ride home programs in case of employee or family emergencies. (A guaranteed ride home program already exists in Southern California, as a stand-alone program.)

But wait, there's more! VTA also offers Eco Passes to residential communities of 25 units or more. The most expensive pass plan would amount to a $20/month rent hike. Apartment communities, condos and homeowners' associations are allowed to buy passes for every resident over 5 years of age in their community, and those residents are then given a photo ID pass that entitles them to access to every VTA transit vehicle.

Even better than the benefits that occur directly because of the Eco Pass program are the ways that some cities in Silicon Valley are using these programs. Shoup cites Redwood City and Palo Alto as using the Eco Pass as a way to change the urban form of their communities. Properties that agree to provide Eco Passes to employees or residents gain substantial reductions to their minimum parking requirements, allowing them to build more housing/office space in less space. Compared to the cost of maintaining the parking spaces, the Eco Pass is often significantly cheaper, and it saves the cities from being blighted with yet more surface parking.

The three-tier pricing structure that Eco Pass uses appears to be tied in with how likely employees are to switch to transit: the heavily-served downtown area of San Jose is the most expensive, followed by areas within 1/4 mile of a light rail station (people are more likely to ride the train), and then everywhere else. If we were to set up a similar system in Riverside County, I suggest the following three categories: Downtown Riverside, Riverside/Moreno Valley, and elsewhere in the county. Also, our prices ought to be quite a bit lower than VTA's, considering the difference in service offered. For reference, a general VTA Express monthly pass runs $140, while our equivalent Commuterlink 30-day pass costs $75. If we accept the ratio of these two passes as the appropriate difference in cost for Eco Passes, we come up with the following pricing structure for businesses in the RTA service area. Keep in mind that these are ANNUAL prices, and none of them exceeds the cost of the equivalent 30-day pass:

RTA Business1-99100-2,9993,000+*
Downtown Riv.74.8856.1637.44

RTA Residential1-99100-2,9993,000+*
Downtown Riv.62.4046.8031.20

* I don't think that there are any employers or apartment complexes in the I.E. with over 15,000 employees/residents. I could be wrong, of course.

So RTA, your part is to establish this program, connect it to the existing Guaranteed Ride Home infrastructure, and offer it to employers and residential communities.

City of Riverside, you should provide incentives for developers and companies to sign their properties up with this program when they apply for permits, by reducing the number of parking spaces required, allowing density bonuses, and other no-cost zoning law changes that could really improve the urban form of our city.

How about it?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bus Skeptic is Converted

A defence attorney in Santa Monica learns to overcome the stigma and get on the bus, and finds the ride smooth and pleasant.

From the SM Daily Press.

Summer Transit HOWTO: Amusement Parks

It's well into summer here in the northern hemisphere, and so it's past time that I publish a guide to public transit between Riverside and those amusement parks, water parks, outdoor parks and beaches that folks flock to this time of year. Since I'm sure plenty of you are enjoying a "staycation" this year because of the recession, here's the perfect excuse to get out and enjoy some of the amenities of our region.

All directions are provided from downtown Riverside unless otherwise noted.

Let's start with amusement parks and water parks.

Castle Park
This small "family" amusement park is the only one in Riverside proper, and boasts two roller coasters, over 20 smaller amusement rides, an arcade and four courses of miniature golf. Parking is ordinarily $5, but why throw that money away? Take RTA!

Ride either the 1 or the 12 eastbound to Magnolia & Park Sierra, then walk south (towards the 91 freeway) on Park Sierra to the park. The 15 is also within walking distance at Magnolia & La Sierra, though it's a long walk, and you could ride the Metrolink to Riverside-La Sierra, walk over the freeway, and turn right at Diana.

More info on the park and pricing here.

Fiesta Village
This small "family" amusement park is just north of Riverside in Colton, and has the honour of hosting the nearest water slides to Riverside. Take the Omni 215 to Mt. Vernon/Washington, and either walk south on Mt. Vernon to Washington, then east on Washington over the freeway to the park, or cross the street to wait for the Omni 19.

More info on the park and pricing here.

Pharaoh's Adventure Park
The recently re-opened Pharaoh's Adventure Park and Pizza Buffet, formerly Pharaoh's Lost Kingdom, is a large water-park and smaller amusement centre in Redlands, with mini golf, bumper boats, race cars and apparently pizza. Take the Omni 215 to Mt. Vernon/Washington or the 25 to the V.A. Hospital, and then the Omni 19 east to Redlands & California. Walk north on California about a block above the freeway.

More info on the park and pricing here.

Raging Waters
Made famous as "Waterloo" in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure", Raging Waters is one of the nation's largest and most popular water parks. There are a few ways to get here, and it depends on what day you're travelling. The simplest method is to take 204 to Montclair Transcenter, then Foothill 492 to Bonita & San Dimas, and walk south on San Dimas until you come to Raging Waters Dr., which will take you to the park. Obviously, this only works on weekdays, and it has the additional shortcoming of dropping you off in the morning around 90 minutes before the park opens.

You can also take Metrolink's Riverside Line to the Downtown Pomona station, followed by the Foothill 291 or 292 to Bonita Ave, and the 492 to Bonita & San Dimas.

On weekends, you can take the Omni 215 to San Bernardino and either walk or take the Omni 1 to the Metrolink station, followed by the San Bernardino Line to Claremont and the 492 to Bonita & San Dimas. For a cheaper alternative, you can ride the 49 to Cherry & Etiwanda in Fontana, catch the 82 from there to Foothill, and the 66 to Montclair Transcenter, followed by the 492 again.

More info about the park and pricing here.


Need I say more about this one?
Take the 216 to the Village at Orange, and the OCTA 46 straight to Ball and Harbor. Walk south on Harbor to get to the main shuttle centre, which is adjacent to the entrance plaza.

More info about the park and pricing here.

Knott's Berry Farm
At this site, Walter Knott once ran a berry farm, coining the word "boysenberry." The farm expanded from a single food stand, to a restaurant, to a theme park over the course of the 20th century. On the eastern side of the park is Knott's Soak City water park, available for an additional entrance fee.
The park is a short distance from the Buena Park Metrolink. On weekdays, you can take the 91 Line straight here, and on weekends you'll need to transfer from the IE-OC Line to the OC Line at Orange. From the station, take the OCTA 29 down Beach Blvd. straight to the front entrance.

More info about the park and pricing here.

Six Flags Magic Mountain
The roller coaster capital of the West Coast, and occasionally the world (the park has been duelling with Sandusky, OH's Cedar Point for the title for years), Magic Mountain holds a special place in any coaster enthusiast's heart. There is also a large water park, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, on this site. The ride TO the park from Riverside, however, is the most difficult to accomplish on this list.

While the trip may be possible on the weekend, I recommend against it. On weekdays, take Metrolink's Riverside Line to Union Station, and transfer to the Antelope Valley Line to Newhall station. Take the Santa Clarita Transit 1 or 2 signed for Castaic or Val Verde, or a Santa Clarita Transit 4 or 14, to the McBean Transfer Centre. There, catch either a 3 or 7 to Six Flags Magic Mountain.

More info about the park and pricing here.

Keep in mind
While all of these routes are possible, and will get you to the park with enough time to enjoy it before having to head home, please check when the last trip home leaves, and take steps to ensure you are on it. I disclaim all liability for poor trip planning.

Keep your browsers pointed at this blog for upcoming posts in the series: part 2 about beaches and the outdoors, and part 3 on museums and other attractions.

Monday, July 26, 2010

You wouldn't know it from being in Riverside...

but the first half of 2010 has been the warmest year on record worldwide. UPI reports the data. Of course, while the planet is slowly cooking, the US Senate refuses to take action on climate change in the energy bill due out this year. If it's any consolation, the Senators will be able to watch over the next century as the Potomac reclaims DC all around them. Paul Krugman also has an excellent piece this morning about just WHY we won't be getting action on climate change this year. A hint- it's got a little something to do with a certain very powerful industry whose products just stopped gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

In these times of low political will, it falls upon you and I, the common citizen, to create the impetus for change. I say to you all, go forth and ride transit! Get on your bicycles! Get out you pens and paper and write your local legislators and congress-critters about your experiences moving yourself about without destroying the planet in the process. Talk to your friends and neighbours- most people are transit supporters, and just need a little push to go ride it.

Solving climate change is going to be a very long and protracted process, but it starts with individuals standing up, speaking out about urban form and sustainable transportation, and then voting with their wallets- getting out and riding bikes and buses and trains and leaving the car in the garage. We cannot be discouraged. We all have a duty to our fellow humans and our planet to do whatever we can to stop this impending disaster, and we must start now.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


PCH, originally uploaded by plattypus1.

Nothing is quite like the satisfaction of biking 55 miles and finally seeing this sight- this is your first view of the ocean on the Santa Ana River Trail, mere hundreds of feet before the end of the trail at Huntington State Beach. It was a sight for sore legs.

This Week in Transit, 7/25

Here's your week in transit!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wayfinding Graphics Proposal

In this post, I proposed adding a consistent system of wayfinding signs to Riverside's existing bicycle facilities, in order to make riding on them more attractive. I'm going to propose a set of graphics today for those signs that are simple, clean and effective. Whatever I can do to save the City some work, right?

Please note that all clip-art images used herein were public domain finds on the Internet. Images here are licensed under my usual license, with the exception of any copyright claims the City of Riverside may make on the raincross used in the main logo. I believe usage of this logo falls under a fair use exception in U.S. copyright law, but I am open to being corrected.

Here's a general logo that could be used for all of the City's bicycle facilities. It's simple, uniquely Riverside, and easily recognizable as a bicycle logo. Aside from wayfinding signs, it could be used on any documents that are part of the City's bike plans. Not only could this mark directional and mileage signs, but also trail entrances and bicycle parking facilities. A similar design, without the lettering, would make for an excellent ring-and-post bicycle rack.

Whenever a street with bicycle facilities (and that should be every major one) crosses a bikeway, it should have a sign noting that fact. Also, major cross-town arterials with bike lanes should be noted, eg. <- Magnolia Ave.->
Streets crossing the SART should have signs directing riders to trail entrances.

Major destinations should be marked on signs, with mileage. Major transit hubs (downtown, Tyler Mall, and both Metrolink stations) should be marked as well.

East-west bike routes should provide mileage to the major backbone cycle facilities in the city.

What do you all think?

Update: I should mention that all of these signs are intended for the intersection of Victoria and Central Avenues.

Friday, July 23, 2010

More auto subsidies!

I'd like to point out real quickly that RTA's total budget for FY 2009 was $52 million, and it's gone down a bit since then. I'm doing this just so you can get a sense of scale on this next article.

The Freeway Service Patrol is a mostly-state-funded program that provides services to disabled motorists on California freeways. In Los Angeles, it's running all day long, seven days a week, and it runs during rush hours out here in the IE. The argument is that it reduces traffic congestion by taking disabled vehicles out of travel lanes on busy freeways, and that makes perfect sense. However, reducing congestion is a benefit mostly to motorists- local buses don't use freeways, and most long-distance transit service is provided by Metrolink. Motorists pay $1 a car in vehicle registration fees to pick up 20% of the cost of this program.

The state funds the remaining 80% of this $40 million-a-year program.

Yes, that's right- you could provide public transit service to nearly all of western Riverside County for what we're paying tow truck drivers to help stranded drivers on freeways.

I'm not saying that this program is ineffective, but it is yet another example of the flagrant subsidies that our governments toss towards automobile drivers and infrastructure, while environmentally responsible transportation gets scraps.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Make Riverside Bike-Friendly by Next Tuesday

Mayor Loveridge and the City Council want to make Riverside into a bike-friendly city, and they have made some progress on this front. We have two well-maintained bike trails and an extensive network of bike lanes throughout the city. However, we are still plagued by the "mysterious disappearing bike lane"- where lanes are striped until such a point as extra car lanes are "needed" and then disappear without warning, forcing cyclists onto narrow, high-speed car sewers. There is also a profound inequity in the provision of bicycle lanes- the University, Eastside and Downtown are covered in them, while the southern reaches of the city are hard-pressed to find any at all. Combine this with the fact that bicycle parking is often scarce at major destinations, and we see that the City has a long way to go before it can call itself "bicycle-friendly." That said, I submit the following suggestions in order to speed progress towards that goal.

1. Mandate bicycle parking at all new businesses throughout the City.

We already have extensive minimum parking requirements for just about any use imaginable, and businesses are expected to pay for parking lots if they want to operate in Riverside (or, indeed, in nearly every community in the country). However, as of now, only a few youth-oriented businesses (such as arcades and internet gaming establishments) are required to provide bicycle parking. If we want cycling to become mainstream, we should provide bicycle parking everywhere we currently provide car parking. As an incentive, it might be useful to reduce minimum parking requirements by 1, allowing the resulting space to be used for bicycle racks. I suggest, as a preliminary measure, 1 bicycle parking space per 10 car parking spaces, with a minimum of 3.

2. Provide bike parking downtown, perhaps with a standardized City-designed rack.

Downtown Riverside is an area with a lot of potential for high-quality urban life, but that potential has yet to be realized. There are a lot of cyclists downtown, and very few places to park bicycles, including precisely 0 on the Pedestrian Mall between City Hall and 6th. Ample bicycle parking should be provided all over the downtown district, using a standardized and attractive rack design that ought to invoke something about the city. I propose a ring-and-post design, with the City's "raincross" logo in the ring. Simple, classy, and easy to manufacture and install.

3. Make it stated City policy to provide bike facilities on all arterial roads, as they come up for re-striping.

This one's simple- stripe bike lanes as you re-stripe roads, where possible. If it's not possible, stripe sharrows in the right-hand lane. Corona makes extensive use of sharrows, and drivers don't try and kill cyclists there. It's a paint-driven solution, so it's cheap, and even cheaper if we do it during the normal course of road repair.

4. Develop bikeway signage.

Many of my on-campus cycling friends would love to ride the Santa Ana River Trail, except that they can't find the entrances. We have some nice bicycle backbone facilities, but almost no wayfinding signs along either. We should provide signs along bike lanes and trails that direct cyclists to major landmarks, transit stations, and intersecting trails, along with distance markers.

5. Work with RTA on getting 3-bike racks for local transit buses.

RTA is gearing up to replace their fleet. Many transit operators, including Omnitrans, are purchasing bus bike racks that hold 3 bikes rather than the usual 2. The City should work with RTA to get grant money to offset the cost of these new racks, and to convey the importance of increased bicycle capacity on local transit routes, especially long-distance express buses and those that traverse difficult hills. (Think 16, 20, 22, 27.)

Over time, we can talk about developing better bike corridors, educating drivers and cyclists, and installing dedicated cycletracks and bike paths, but for now, these 5 policy changes, most of which cost the City very little money, would go a long way.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Speed Up Transit: Abolish the $1 Bill

One of the biggest instances of wasted time on any transit route, but especially a local bus route, is what the industry calls "stop cost"- the amount of time it takes to pull to the curb, open the doors, let passengers off, let passengers on, collect the fare, close the doors, and pull away once more. This is why limited-stop buses like Metro's Rapid lines can show such a substantial increase in speed, even without dedicated infrastructure- the stop cost is significantly lower. And while RTA and Omni have done their best to lower stop costs by including double-door low-floor buses throughout their fleets, and encouraging patrons to exit through the rear doors (though this doesn't always work, frustratingly), there is one area of the boarding process that could be significantly improved through a currency modification.

I'm speaking, of course, of the $1 bill. Every other major currency in the western world- the Euro, the Pound Sterling, and the Australian, New Zealand and Canadian dollars- all use coins for amounts below $5, €5, and £5, with each carrying a 1 and 2-unit coin. Transit fares the world over fall into this range- even the most expensive local fare I'm aware of, that of the New York City MTA and Chicago CTA, is $2.25. While magnetic swipe passes and reloadable proximity cards are becoming popular, even in areas with well-developed programs cash fares are common- AC Transit and Muni in San Francisco have accepted the Clipper (formerly Translink) card for years, and yet it is still common to see passengers paying cash on both systems.

And the $1 bill is the most inordinately clunky piece of fare media ever, as any transit passenger is undoubtedly aware. Even crisp bills take time to extract from one's wallet and carefully feed into the farebox reader, and if the bill is anything less than crisp, then you will be trying to pay your fare for quite some time, while an angry mob of passengers gathers behind you.

Compare this to the experience even with paying your fare in dimes- simply drop them in the box and move along. This experience is the only possibility in most of the western world, because the finicky bill acceptor doesn't exist on the bus. I can tell you from personal experience that Translink's fareboxes in Vancouver have slots for coins, passes, and that's it.

Now, the benefits of the $1 coin don't stop at faster public transit- they're more durable, last longer, and save our country the expense of printing all those dollar bills, not to mention that any vending machine transaction is easier and quicker. Oh, and we've already GOT a $1 coin- they're gold, and they've either got a Native American motif or a former President on them. They're dispensed as change from Metrolink and Metro fare machines, and you can get them at most banks.

So why is it that America is still fumbling for singles? I suppose it's the same reason we don't use the metric system, or have universal health care- We're the U.S., and we're special.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hat Tip to Mayor Luv

Riverside Mayor (and UCR Professor of Political Science) Ron Loveridge has always been a steadfast supporter of high-speed rail, as long as I've been involved in the cause at least. He spoke at several Prop 1A rallies here on campus, where yours truly was engaged in the usual rabble-rousing. In Sunday's Press-Enterprise, he wrote an editorial in support of the fast trains, and it deserves your perusal.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rock for the Cause

A little bit of punk rock from the Bay Area's Set Your Goals, here's "Gaia Bleeds".

Set Your Goals - "Gaia Bleeds"

SET YOUR GOALS | MySpace Music Videos

If you're not in for the music, here's the lyrics:

Stand down
Manifesting a destiny of unavoidable doom
Black wolves are gnashing at our heels
Fangs of accountability all unforeseen or intentionally neglected?

The degradation of a home
Humanity sits on its throne
Cover your eyes and ears and know
We can�t escape the consequence

And now the rising of septic tides as refuse litters the Pacific Gyre
We continue to drown the ocean in its own waters
Stand down, stand down
Time�s out now
Kill like we know how
Killing like we�re allowed

The degradation of a home
Humanity is so lost
Cover your eyes and ears and know (without remorse)
We can�t escape the consequence
And everything�s ending

Make way
A failed culture makes its mark existing only to destroy what came first
With no regard for creation
Men play God
Drop unstoppable bombs
All institutions are wrong, but none of them will ever stop

Make way for man (x4)
Bombs away (x3)
No escape

Now turn the other cheek and pretend
Full speed to hatred forcing life against its will
Full speed �til we�re dead
We can�t escape the consequence

Oh! (Bombs away)
The degradation of a home (Bombs away)
Humanity sits on its throne (Bombs away)
Cover your eyes and ears and know (Bombs away)
We can�t escape the consequence
No escape

Monday, July 12, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Transit Centre Opening!

It's always nice when a new bus centre opens up in the IE. This time, it's in Yucaipa of all places, on Monday. The new Yucaipa transit centre will feature 8 bus bays, passenger information, benches and shelters, and a fountain and clock on site. Service will initially consist of current Omni routes 8 and 9, as well as the existing OmniLink general public Dial-a-Ride service, and the 308/309 community circulator is scheduled to begin service in September.

The official grand opening is on Monday at 4:30pm. Service to the site will begin on Tuesday.

Friday, July 9, 2010

California Low-Speed Rail

There's been a lot of controversy in the news about the coming California High-Speed Rail system, which you all can follow over at the CA-HSR Blog. The detractors insist that this system will be a "boondoggle" of epic proportions, running empty trains because Californians will simply not leave their precious automobiles, and we should instead focus on building more highway lane-miles on I-5 and CA-99 for our intrastate transport needs.

One thing that doesn't get said enough is that California ALREADY boasts a successful intrastate rail infrastructure. To get an idea of rail ridership in the state, we should look at the trains that are already running here, today. With that in mind, let's take a look at Amtrak California, the partnership between Amtrak and Caltrans' Rail Division that runs trains throughout the state.

The most familiar Amtrak California route to Riversiders and Southern Californians is the Pacific Surfliner. It runs from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, though not all trains travel the entire route. And it is a WILD success- the Surfliner is the third-most-travelled train in the Amtrak system, and the most used outside of the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor (which runs from DC to Boston). The trains get so full that during heavy travel seasons, Amtrak California requires reservations, and even then often pulls in idle trainsets from either Coaster or Metrolink to provide additional capacity. (I wish I had gotten a photo of the Coaster trainset running relief for the Surfliner at Irvine the last time I saw it.) It travels with a station-to-station average speed of around 45 mi/h, making it very competitive with cars during rush hour, and positive train control technology (due to be installed on all SoCal railroads in short order) will improve the running speed of the line dramatically. In Orange and San Diego counties, which utilize Automatic Train Stop technology, the Surfliner can already break 90 mi/h track speeds. With substantial infrastructure improvements, 60-70 mi/h average speeds are not out of the question.

The Capitol Corridor route in Northern California is a similar success. It is the fourth-most-travelled train in the Amtrak system, just behind the Surfliner. Running from San Jose to Auburn, though once again not all trains run the full route, it provides a quick, quiet and comfortable ride between the two metropolitan areas. The Capitol Corridor is slightly unique, because commuter passes are available for the service, and many do use the train as a commuter rail system, but it is still an excellent example of intercity rail done properly.

Last, we come to the red-headed stepchild of the Amtrak California system, the San Joaquins. Southern Californians will be familiar with this route as "the train that only goes to Bakersfield... then you have to take a bus." Despite its poor standing among Angelenos, the San Joaquin is the fifth-busiest train in the Amtrak system, behind the Capitol Corridor. The primary ridership for this train is between the various cities and towns of the Central Valley, and from the Central Valley to the Bay Area, and ridership abounds indeed. All 12 of the daily departures are reserved trains, year-round, and I can testify from personal experience that it is often difficult to find a seat. On my last trip to San Francisco, there were two empty seats in my car for much of the journey, and I have seen times when people have been forced to ride in the Cafe Car because none of the conventional seating options were available. All of this is happening despite long bus connections and relatively high fares- if you book soon enough, it's often cheaper to fly than take the train.

So what lessons are we to take from California's already expansive conventional rail system? Well, for one, Californians are happy to ride trains. They're clamouring on to those routes that we already have, even in car-dependent Central Valley rural areas and Orange County. And it is important to keep in mind that none of these routes serve the big travel market- Los Angeles to San Francisco. Only one train per day offers a 100% rail ride on that route, the Coast Starlight, and it does so unreliably and slowly. I don't doubt that, if the San Joaquins actually ran to Los Angeles via the Tehachapis, we would have a very different opinion about them than we currently do. Also, there is NO intercity rail service to San Francisco at all- all train passengers bound there have to change to a bus at Emeryville. Amtrak has a ticketing office at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, which is notable because it lacks any sort of train tracks nearby, excepting the F Market & Wharves trolley service. A high-speed rail service that serves the San Joaquin route, via the Central Valley, and then actually goes to San Jose, San Francisco and Los Angeles will be an unparallelled success.

Rail detractors will counter that all three of these routes enjoy public subsidy, and that is true. However, as readers of this blog know, so do automobiles. VTPI estimates that highways are subsidized at around 50-60%, and this doesn't include the subsidies that go into gasoline extraction and production, or automobile construction. The Pacific Surfliner is subsidized at 37%, well below highway subsidies. Rail critics demand that trains make money while they don't mind that automobile infrastructure bleeds money from our public purse like a sieve. I don't have the expertise to know that the CA-HSR system will make an operating profit, though there are credible studies that suggest it will. I do, however, know that it will shuttle Californians around the state using clean energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and encouraging dense, walkable development, all while saving the government the cost of constructing yet more highway and airport infrastructure, and it might even bring redevelopment of struggling Central Valley downtowns. It will also probably destroy the short-haul LA-SF airline market, saving the environmental degradation that those constant daily flights cause. High speed rail is a good deal for the people of California, and it needs to be built as quickly as possible.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Swing... and a miss.

I just came back from the mailbox, which contained one article only- this month's Riverside Outlook (PDF), the City's newsletter of fun and interesting things happening around Riverside. It's mainly a forum for the Parks and Rec department to get people out to their events, and for local politicians to crow about their accomplishments. The latter is what I want to talk about here.

Downtown Riverside has been the recipient of substantial investment over the last few years, and deservingly so. While I can disagree with where the money has gone (the Fox Theatre, new parking meters, tearing up and re-building the pedestrian mall), I do like that City leaders see Downtown as a key part of their future economic growth strategy. Some days I get close to thinking that many of our local politicians "get it" when it comes to urbanism and smart growth.

And then I see this month's Outlook, and I realize they've missed the point entirely.

On the front page this month is an article about the Fox Entertainment Plaza, a new development coming to Downtown next to the Fox Theatre. The newsletter lauds this new "mixed-use" project, intended to bring visitors and jobs to Downtown Riverside. Mixed-use development? Bringing people into dense, walkable places? Providing jobs for citizens in a depressed economy? What's not to like, right? Until you read what the City's definition of "mixed-use" is: a 400-space parking garage, a theatre, museum space and two restaurants.

City leaders- this is not mixed-use, and it is certainly not smart growth. The entire point of mixed-use development is to utilize a space at all hours of the day, and it usually means getting people LIVING on a plot, along with jobs and entertainment. There are admirable examples of mixed-use development right here in Riverside- Sterling University Palms and the University Village are both projects that combine student apartments with retail, and in the case of the UV, office space and a police station as well. Putting a restaurant and a theatre on the same property doesn't qualify- and then adding a parking garage to downtown? Ridiculous.

Don't get me wrong- I like the idea of having more museum and theatre space in Riverside. But to call this project "mixed-use" is cynical greenwashing.

But wait! It gets worse! On the inside pages of the Outlook is an article entitled, I kid you not, "Convenient parking available in downtown!". The article takes up nearly half a page in the newsletter, describing all of the "FREE" parking available Downtown- proceeding to break it up by type of parking! (Surface lot, garage, and on-street) Of course, nowhere in the entire newsletter does the City mention the plentiful transit service available to Downtown from literally anywhere in Riverside or the surrounding areas.

One of the things I try to do on this blog is to show the world the kind of potential Riverside has as a real urban city. Then the City government does something stupid like this, and my only recourse is to introduce my skull to a wall repeatedly.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cars- Who Needs 'Em?

So I'm posting this mainly to brag, but also to encourage the rest of you to get out of your metal cages and start transporting yourself with pedal power.

This weekend I've put over 70 miles in on my bicycle. On Saturday I rode with a friend down to Huntington Beach via the Victoria Avenue Bikeway and Santa Ana River Trail- 55 miles, plus a couple more later to catch a bus in Newport to take us home. (And I caught it with my GPS, too!) Today, I put about 18 miles round trip in going to and from the Inland Empire Atheists 4th of July Pool Party, at the group organizers' home in Arlington Heights.

I'm not a terribly physically fit guy, and I've only been biking for transportation for about a year, consistently. However, I'm able to go a damned long way on a bicycle. If you think somewhere is too far to bike, you're probably wrong.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Weekend Service Reminder

So it's one of those crazy holiday-weekend thingies. Since the 4th falls on a Sunday, pretty much nothing is going to be open on Monday, 7/5, in observance of the holiday. That isn't stopping RTA from keeping you from your fireworks! RTA and Omni will be out of service on Sunday. Metrolink will run normally on Sunday, but will only run two special trains on the Antelope Valley Line on Monday.


Launching today is the new Riding in Riverside Google Calendar, available here, free to the public. I intend to catalogue all of the transportation-and-livable-streets-related public meetings and events on this calendar, so you all can know when and where to put that all-important pressure on your local government officials. I've been keeping these on my personal Google Calendar for a while, but I figure if I'm making the effort anyway, I should share it with you all. While I have yet to find a widget that satisfactorily displays the calendar on the side of my blog, I will try and put up the embedded calendar below every Sunday, so you can see what's coming up for the next week.

If you know of any events that I've missed, please e-mail me at the usual place.

As is policy around here, I will include directions via public transit- but not directions via automobile, or parking information.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

On Sustainable Civilization

Any environmentalist who truly understands the problems facing our world knows that nearly everything we do has an environmental impact- every product requires resource extraction, every trip on any kind of transport requires energy, drinking water and sanitation systems have their own issues, even our food production takes a heavy toll on the environment. This has led many to believe that modern civilization and sustainability are polar opposites- that, to ensure the long-term survival of humankind, we should return to a hunter-gatherer, or at least simple agrarian existence. There are others who think that the collapse in cheap energy will inevitably blast us all back to the bronze age in the coming century, James Howard Kunstler being among them. Is civilization inevitably doomed? Must we revert to a simpler time to save ourselves?

I, of course, say no. I am an unashamed techie, and I think that humanity's technical prowess will adapt to nearly any situation. Will the world of the future look very different? Probably as different as today looks from 1910. Will we have to abandon modern technology? I think not.

This reasoning, of course, begs the question- what would a sustainable civilization look like? How can we re-form modern civilization into something that isn't constantly raping the planet? Well, as this is a blog after all, I'm going to tell you.

First, our civilization must get smaller. There are 6.8 billion people on this planet, and we're projected to hit 7 billion next year, just 12 short years after we hit 6. The 8th billion will be even quicker than that, thanks to logarithmic growth. The only way that we can currently support such a population is with severe environmental degradation from industrial factory farming, high levels of resource extraction and mass production, and still nearly 80% of that population living in severe poverty. 80% of our world lives on less than $10 a day- $300 a month. Even as an American who is currently living under the federal poverty line, I'm richer than the vast majority of human beings on the planet. We are currently having trouble feeding the human population. Switching to organic, sustainable and ethical food production would make these problems exponentially worse without population decline.

Population activism was popular in the 70's, coinciding with the Third Wave of feminism. Though it has fallen out of fashion, the reasons for shrinking our population are no less relevant today. There are simply too many people in the world.

As environmentalists, we should be working towards ensuring access to comprehensive sex education, birth control, abortion and voluntary sterilization for all people everywhere. The evidence of the last 50 years has strongly shown that, when women are given control over their fertility, birth rates decline significantly- and, in most of the developed world, they have declined below replacement rate. (I also think that, if a reliable male contraceptive is ever developed, similar things will happen for men. As-is, men's choices are limited to condoms or vasectomies.) There is no better way, in the long term, of avoiding the problems of resource usage and environmental damage than by limiting the number of people who are making an impact on the environment, and the mechanisms by which we can do so are non-coercive and scientifically proven, but this will be a long process. We should start today.

Second, a sustainable civilization is a paperless one. We should rely more upon digital technology for the distribution of media and cultural goods. I own both a Barnes and Noble nook e-reader and a Roku HD Netflix player (which also plays Rachel Maddow and Amazon video rentals), as well as having access to a myriad of online music stores. I literally do not buy DVDs or CDs, and I try to stay away from books when I can (Publishers have been slower to take up eBooks). Scholarly journals have been online for decades, and newspapers and magazines are also available for digital delivery now. The technology that runs the Internet is not carbon-neutral, to be sure, but it is less resource-intensive than physically printing media, then trucking it from plant to distribution centre to big-box store, and finally driving to the store, purchasing it and driving it home. Similarly, the sort of office work that currently relies upon shuffling of paper could probably be accomplished easily and usefully using digital documents, and much of what currently comes through our mail system could be shifted to e-mail. We may see a civilization with mail delivery only a few days a week, that primarily handles large packages, or we may see the mail system shifting to deliver goods from local stores and groceries. The point is that we are wasting resources today on paper and physical media that could be conserved instead.

Third, a sustainable civilization is one in which things are built to last. The average computer is around 3 years old. The average American replaces their automobile around every 3-5 years. (Mine is 16 and going strong.) Cellphones, iPods and other gadgets get shoved aside with alarming frequency, and don't get me started on the smaller things- the fans, clocks, towels, kitchen utensils and other bric-a-brac that we fill our houses with. Nearly everything made in our present consumer society is built to fulfil its function for a brief period of time, after which it disintegrates, and we are expected to toss it in the bin and buy a new one. This wasn't always the case- I have a set of pots and pans from my grandmother that were made in the 60's, and which are holding up better than the skillets I bought at Costco 5 years ago. (If only they were non-stick.) We simply can't keep living like this. Honest craftsmen of the past must be ashamed at what passes for consumer goods these days.

Fourth, and this is related to the above, a sustainable civilization knows how to fix things. Our society is a throw-away society- when something breaks, we generally go get a new one. It's often cheaper to do that than get it repaired, if we can find somewhere to repair it. Clothing, appliances, electronics- you name it, it can be tossed. We need to re-learn the skills to fix stuff. We ought to teach our schoolchildren how to sew on a button, patch a tire, read a circuit diagram and a volt-meter, solder and de-solder components, drill out stripped bolts, etc. There used to be an electronics repair shop in every town in America, right next to the tailor. Now, where they once stood, sits Best Buy and Target. We also need to make things fixable- none of this non-user-replaceable battery nonsense- and we need to make them upgradeable. Technology is moving quickly- we should design our doodads to be upgraded, so that we don't just have to buy a new one when a better model comes out.

Fifth, a sustainable civilization is dense. (This is a bit more like what I normally talk about on this blog.) The most efficient way for human beings to live is in dense, walkable cities, as you all undoubtedly know. Even small towns should be highly concentrated. Suburbia is not sustainable in its present form. We need to re-organize civic life around concentrated town centres, connected to the citizens they serve by walkable and bikeable transportation infrastructre.

Sixth, a sustainable civilization is electrified. We know how to generate electricity from renewable resources, like hydropower, wind power, solar-thermal and solar-photovoltaic power, and (I'm coming to like this one more and more) geothermal power. If we can electrify it, we can power it with clean, sustainable energy. There is so much renewable energy coming either from the sun or the Earth's molten core that we can use it in practically limitless amounts without harming either one of them. We need the infrastructure to harness, store and move that power, but it is there.

Lastly, a sustainable civilization is car-free. Driving about in steel cages, belching carbon into the atmosphere, is simply not an efficient way to move about. We need bikes, electric buses, and electric local, commuter and long-distance trains. What few cars and trucks we will still need should be electrically-driven, and that shouldn't be a problem, since most of those will be work vehicles. We also may need to take a very hard look at air travel, and if it survives it should be limited to the vast cross-oceanic distances that essentially require it... though we may be able to bridge the Bering Strait with high-speed rail. Wouldn't that be cool?

In summary, we need to:

  • stop having babies

  • quit shuffling paper

  • build things to last

  • learn to fix those things

  • move to the cities

  • harness the sun, wind, waves and Earth's core for power

  • and ditch the automobile

in order to achieve a civilization that will be both comfortable and environmentally benign. Will we manage to pull all of this off before the coming collapse of cheap energy?

Well, I'm working on it...