‘Buy-back’ sounds like the plan for 500K American VW diesel-vehicle owners

“Buy-back” is the operative term, at least, at present, anyway.

To bring all up to speed, Volkswagen is on the hook, according to one source, for as much as $10 billion as compensation to remedy problems caused by the nearly half-a-million diesel-engine-equipped vehicles in the U.S. possessing what’s called “defeat-device” software. These vehicles, when under lab-testing conditions, met strict emissions standards, but then did not when said same vehicles were actually driven on roads, in some cases emitting up to 40 times the legal limit for nitrogen oxide (NOx), a pollutant found to damage lungs. Preliminary approval of related court settlement proceedings could happen in the coming weeks, while full green-lighting could come in the fall.

“In California, VW’s cheating was particularly harmful, because our air quality is worse than anywhere else in the nation, with 23 million people living within the nation’s only severe nonattainment areas for ozone pollution, and 12 million living in areas with nation-leading levels of fine particle pollution,” declared the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB) in the news release “Volkswagen to spend over one billion dollars in California to address illegal emissions caused by cheating devices on its 2.0-liter diesel vehicles: Funds to fully mitigate pollution from cheating and make investments to expand California’s growing Zero-Emission Vehicle market.”

Further, the ARB noted: “California Air Resources Board Chair Mary D. Nichols and Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced [Jun. 28, 2016] that German automaker Volkswagen AG and related entities have agreed to funding or investments totaling more than one billion dollars in California to fully remedy the environmental harm caused by using illegal ‘defeat devices’ to cheat emissions tests in 71,000 2.0-liter diesel cars sold in California between 2009-2015.

“The money for California includes approximately $380 million for projects to reduce smog-producing pollution by incentivizing clean heavy-duty vehicles and equipment in disadvantaged communities, and $800 million in investments to advance California’s nation-leading zero-emissions vehicle programs. VW will make these payments and investments in installments over several years. California’s share represents one-quarter of the $4.7 billion mitigation fund and ZEV investment obligations.

“The mitigation funding and ZEV investments are part of a settlement requiring Volkswagen to offer consumers a buyback and lease termination for all 500,000 model-year 2009-2015 2.0-liter diesel vehicles sold or leased nationwide, and spend up to $10 billion to compensate consumers under the program.

“In addition to the buyback option, Volkswagen may also propose an emissions modification plan to U.S. EPA and CARB, and if approved, VW will offer owners and lessees the option of having their vehicles modified to substantially reduce emissions in lieu of having the car bought back by VW,” added the ARB in the release.

Meanwhile, there are an estimated additional 80,000 vehicles equipped with 3.0-liter diesel motors also that have been targeted, apparently, for future recall action, the affected brands being VW, Audi and possibly Porsche also. Worldwide, some 11 million diesel-powered vehicles are affected in all.

When all is said and done, meaning all mitigation/redress plans are final, approved and fully implemented, will all concerned and affected be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

The sooner that day comes, the better.

This article was updated on June 30, 2016 at 7:14 a.m. P.D.T.

In U.S. 499,000 VW diesel-engine equipped cars recalled, settlement terms TBA

Back on Nov. 16, 2015, in “Volkswagen offers diesel-emissions-deficient-auto customers coupons, cash in redress program,” I affirmed, “[a]lmost two months have passed since news broke on Sept. 18th of the emissions-altering ‘defeat-device’ scandal affecting an estimated 11 million Volkswagen diesel motor vehicles worldwide. VW is possibly already on the hook for an estimated $7.3 billion as it has to do with redress, independent of and without regard to the outcome of any and all litigation brought against the auto maker in regard to the emissions-doctoring scandal.”

Then, on May 2nd, in “Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016: A retrospective, prospective,” what I wrote in that was: “Preliminarily, agreement has been reached between the courts and Volkswagen. Spelled out is what course that remediation/mitigation will likely take.”

Specifics

“Under emissions-testing procedures, the vehicles’ engines apparently met specifications, that is, absent any further technical (mechanical and/or electrical/electronic) issues. However, when not undergoing emissions testing or under normal operating conditions, that is when in regular operation, the exhaust released contained anywhere from between 10 and 40 times the acceptable amounts of oxides of nitrogen or NOx emissions depending upon vehicle,” in “What navigating the VW diesel vehicle recall road ahead may look like,” I explained. “On-board vehicle software is to blame in this particular circumstance; such referred to as a ‘defeat device’ as per Clean Air Act definition. The motor vehicles affected are the Jetta, Beetle and Golf, model years 2009-2015; the Audi A3, model years 2009-2015; and the Passat, model years 2014-2015.”

Latest developments

After more than three-quarters-of-a-year later, here in the states, at least, it looks as though a fix is finally at hand. Regarding the offending Volkswagen and Audi if not Porsche diesel-engine equipped 2.0 liter vehicles in question, it is my understanding based on information I read in a recent Los Angeles Times story, on Tues., June 28th, and as it pertains to court settlement proceedings, to be disclosed will be an announced recall plan. I plan to provide a full report.

Revised numbers

In all, in the U.S. there are a total of 499,000 – nearly half-a-million – so-affected vehicles; in other words, vehicles identified as having “defeat-device” capability onboard. It was earlier reported that the total was 482,000.

2016 South Coast Air Basin air pollution half-year report

On June 22nd, afternoon high temperature for Fresno hit 102 – same as the day before.

Making my way back from a visit to the financial institution where I do my banking, I drove past a clinic that specializes in treating allergy and sinus conditions, and on the electronic display sign out in front of the clinic, illuminated in red, was the word “unhealthy,” referring, of course, to the quality of the San Joaquin Valley’s air, more than likely. Everyone passing this same sign displaying the message it did and upon its observation, should be thinking the same thought – so sad the air is so bad!

All of which makes me wonder: While the Valley is baking under a summer sun, its inhabitants immersed in a toxic-air soup, how are those located south of the Tejon Range – separating the sprawling San Joaquin Valley from the equally if not more sprawling South Coast Air Basin – faring, and if they are faring any differently or better.

A quick look at the “Latest Ozone Summary for Selected Regions (Preliminary Data in PST)” table for yesterday shows 8-hour numbers that were worse in the South Coast Air Basin than what was recorded in the San Joaquin Valley – 93 parts per billion of air versus 86 ppb, respectively.

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For the seven-day period ending June 22nd, the South Coast Air Basin for ozone measured over 8 hours, registered 109 ppb compared to the Valley’s 94 ppb.

And, in the year-to-date category (column), the difference is more pronounced – 114 ppb (South Coast Air Basin) against the Valley’s 94 ppb, a difference of 20 ppb.

Meanwhile, for the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for 8-hour ozone of 75 ppb at the Highest Site, under the “National” designation on the “Latest Year’s (Annual) Ozone Summary for Selected Regions (PST)” table, the state’s south land recorded 81 exceedance days for year 2015 versus the San Joaquin Valley’s 82, while so far this year (2016), the South Coast’s 30 exceedance days is worse than the Valley’s 19.

That’s ozone. Regarding fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) pollution:

In the South Coast, only 9 exceedances (at Highest Site) this year so far (National Ambient Air Quality Standard for PM2.5 of 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air) while between Nov. 1, 2015 and Feb. 28, 2016 at Highest Site, a total of 2 exceedance days only.

On the other hand, between Nov. 1, 2014 and Feb. 28, 2015 for PM 2.5 measured over 24 hours, exceedance days numbered 35. Quite a disparity from one year to the next. A presumptive change in climatic conditions 2015-’16 compared to 2014-’15, might account for the difference. 2015-’16 was a strong El Nino year.

For comparable data regarding the San Joaquin Valley, see: “2016 San Joaquin Valley air pollution half-year report” here.

Image above: NASA

2016 San Joaquin Valley air pollution half-year report

There is no question summer has arrived. In fact, where I live in Fresno, the season has come on like gangbusters.

Yesterday’s temperature reached 102. Today, the temperature is forecast to be hotter. On broadcast television news, I noticed a high temp for Palm Springs, California on Monday, if I recall correctly, was 123!

Relatedly, the El Nino effect, expected this year to have been strong (which it was), and hence produce abundant rains (abundant for this region, that is), as a matter of fact, did just that. Season-to-date rainfall total for Fresno is 14.29 inches – definitely an above-average year for precipitation. The rain-year begins Oct. 1st and runs through Sept. 30th.

Compare this to the entire season last year (Oct. 1, 2014 to Sept. 30, 2015) for the city in that just 6.81 inches fell, well below 11.5 inches, what is considered for this area to be average or normal. Even with the additional rain this season all across the state, California is not out of the drought woods yet – the state and west now experiencing a fifth dry year.

Disquieting though this may be, add to that poor air quality throughout the San Joaquin Valley. Yesterday, in places, such was in the range deemed unhealthy for sensitive groups. If that wasn’t bad enough, today in much of the Valley, air is expected to be worse: unhealthy for everyone – at the highest site a lung-searing 156 on the Air Quality Index. Ozone or O3, the culprit pollutant or emission of concern, can be blamed.

Looking on the bright side, so far, there were fewer days this year with pollution exceeding national standards than there were last. A greater mixing of the atmosphere no doubt was a contributing factor. But with summer now here, this could change. As it has to do with this, by year’s end, so much more will be known.

As it relates, it is probably best to err on the side of caution and do one’s utmost when it comes to water conservation. Add to this that lack of abundant rain next season and/or wind could mean worse air quality levels.

So, now for some numbers and year-to-year comparisons:

Ozone – San Joaquin Valley Air Basin

– Daily Max 8 Hr Overlapping Avg – Nat’l at Highest Site – Mar. to Oct. 2015 (Nat’l. Ambient Air Quality Std.: 75 parts per billion of air): 82 exceedance days

– Daily Max 8 Hr Overlapping Avg – Nat’l at Highest Site – Mar. 20 to Jun. 19 2015: 23 exceedance days

– Daily Max 8 Hr Overlapping Avg – Nat’l at Highest Site – Mar. 20 to Jun 19 2016: 15 exceedance days

PM 2.5 – San Joaquin Valley Air Basin

– Daily Avg PM2.5 at Highest Site – Sept. 20 to Dec. 19 2015 (Nat’l Ambient Air Quality Std.: 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air): 13 exceedance days

– Daily Avg PM2.5 at Highest Site – Nov. 1, 2014 to Feb. 28, 2015: 56 exceedance days

– Daily Avg PM2.5 at Highest Site – Nov. 1, 2015 to Feb. 28, 2016: 27 exceedance days

California ozone region data can be found here while hourly, daily, weekly and year-to-date Golden State ozone data can be had here.

640px-California's_Central_Valley

L.A. port partners embark on innovative emissions-control project

Winds, in blowing inland off the oceans, typically don’t bring dirt onshore with them. But, under certain circumstances, this is exactly what happens. And, the “dirt” is in the form of polluted air.

At first blush, that seems an incongruous idea. That idea, upon much closer examination, isn’t so far-fetched after all.

kandel-ship-1Case in point: For any place that sources pollution, prevailing winds can carry it off, and the pollution can travel considerable distances away, and across entire oceans even, and hence the basis for the earlier comment. Ozone pollution from Asia has been found to be present along America’s west coast but, there is ongoing debate as to the amount. And, then there is that produced from vessels navigating the high seas that can also blow onshore particularly when such are located not far offshore.

It is this pollution from these sources that can, at ports, be problematic. In today’s thread we look at what one port is doing to address this. What makes this different is the approach the Port of Los Angeles is taking.

“Building on a shared commitment to eliminate pollution from port-related operations, Pasha Stevedoring and Terminals L.P. and the Port of Los Angeles are launching the Green Omni Terminal Demonstration Project, a full-scale, real-time demonstration of zero and near-zero emission technologies at a working marine terminal,” the Port of Los Angeles in a May 26, 2016 news release expressed.

“At full build out, Pasha will be the world’s first marine terminal able to generate all of its energy needs from renewable sources. The project is funded in part by a $14.5 million grant from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for reducing greenhouse gases and other pollutants. As part of the project, Pasha will integrate a fleet of new and retrofitted zero-emission electric vehicles and cargo-handling equipment into its terminal operations and demonstrate the latest generation of advanced technology for capturing ship emissions from vessels unable to plug into shore power at berth,” as explained in the “Pasha, Port of Los Angeles and California Air Resources Board Partner on Green Omni Terminal Demonstration Project: Project Awarded $14 Million for Testing Emerging Zero and Near-Zero Emission Technologies to Bring Cleaner Air to Port-Adjacent Communities Sooner,” Port of Los Angeles news release.

Emissions -suppressing technologies, equipment and vehicles will, according to a related fact sheet, include:

Technologies:

  • ShoreCat – a system to capture and treat on-dock vessel emissions

Equipment:

  • Photovoltaic (PV), energy control, battery storage and charging systems

Vehicles:

  • Electric forklifts, top handlers and yard tractors and over-the-road drayage trucks

Implementation of the project starts this month, according to information presented in the release.

“The comprehensive strategy is expected to reduce more than 3,200 tons per year of greenhouse gases and nearly 28 tons annually of diesel particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and other harmful emissions from operations at the nation’s busiest container port. The clean air gains equate to taking 14,100 cars a day off the road in the South Coast Air Basin,” the Port of Los Angeles in the release went on.

The program could have implications and be a model for other such similar ports located throughout the globe.

kandel-refinery-1The Port of Los Angeles further added, “Project plans call for phasing in the new infrastructure and technology by the end of 2016, with zero and near-zero emission equipment subject to the same rigorous duty cycles of conventional cargo handling equipment. Data collection and analysis to track energy efficiency improvements and cost savings will take place over the subsequent two years.”

For more information related to the project as well as other details, go here.

Lower image: William Grimes

To combat bad air, Fresno builds trail. They’re kidding, right?!

In response to Fresno, California’s notorious air pollution problem, at least as part of that response, anyway, apparently, a brand spanking new hiking/biking trail from the city’s Manchester Center shopping complex at Blackstone and Shields avenues to the Old Town Trail in Clovis, is soon to see the light of day. Its name: The Midtown Trail. Money from Measure C – a half-cent sales tax initiative devoted to transportation improvement projects Fresno County-wide, and passed by 77 percent of the local electorate in 2006 – plus federal and state grants, according to an article in The Fresno Bee, is being used to cover the trail’s estimated $9.5 million cost.

Okay, let’s think about this for a moment. Fresno has the nation’s worst air quality for fine particulate matter pollution (PM 2.5), mainly from automobiles, trucks, buses, trains and from other off-road sources, and is high on the ozone pollution list as well, according to the American Lung Association.

According to information in a recent editorial, in fact, 85 percent of the San Joaquin Valley’s polluted air (to which Fresno – California’s 5th largest city – adds a significant part), is transportation sourced.

So, the question to ask is: Can and will a nine-and-a-half-million dollar, 7.1-mile-long pedestrian and bike path in Fresno make a real dent in the city’s deplorable, deleterious, dirty air condition? With the below analysis, I hope to be able to better answer this question.

Next we need to consider why people (commuters, etc.) drive, take the bus (school, transit, paratransit), trains, van and carpool. There are a whole host of reasons. (I’ll be looking at the more universally accepted and adopted ones).

If you live in any of the Valley’s major cities – Fresno/Madera, Tulare/Visalia, Bakersfield, Hanford, Merced, Modesto, Stockton/Lodi – you should be acutely aware that most people in getting to and from their places of employ, school, doctors’ and dentists’ offices and the like, run errands, dine out, take in a sporting event and such, and familiar activities such as visit friends or congregate at local gathering spots – namely, pubs, parks, coffee shops – or give a spouse, acquaintance, friend, relative, co-worker, other, a ride to the airport, bus or train station or picking them up from such, it is the motor vehicle, more often than not, that is called/relied upon to do so.

So, considering the amount of driving done (in the Valley, more than a cumulative 100 million miles daily, in no fewer than an estimated 2 million cars and trucks), tell me again exactly what percentage of it all is going to be given over to walking and biking this new trail once open for said use? (My own experience tells me that percentage won’t be high at all).

By putting such walking/biking infrastructure in place, if it is to have any real measurable impact in terms of emissions reduction, then it has to be with the singular purpose in mind of providing people a viable alternative transportation means in the hopes of their getting out of their vehicles in traveling from points A to B.

At this point I would like to introduce the rail/trail endeavor – SMART.

Sometime this year, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (acronym: SMART) passenger train service will make its own introduction.

The service will connect Windsor on the north end with San Rafael on the south, siphoning off some traffic from California State Route 99 which the line parallels. In conjunction with the railway, as part of the referendum passed by North Bay Area voters, included is a hiking/biking trail that will lay alongside the rail line’s entire length. The beauty of the trains, besides serving commuters and others who presumably would otherwise be driving the busy 101 freeway, is that they can also accommodate bicycles. For bike riders choosing to begin or end or begin and end their journeys using the two-wheel conveyances, they have the option of boarding trains with their bikes during any portion of their rides should they choose not to pedal-push it the entire distance. Or, riders may instead wish to take the train one way and bike the other. The idea behind this combined endeavor is to give area drivers but more transportation choices.

Now, in getting back to the Fresno trail project, between it and its northern California counterpart, inasmuch as they’ll both be serving mobility needs of people on foot and on bike using them, rest assured I’ll be paying close attention to which of the two does the far better job with respect to their being able to attract walkers and bicyclists, get motorists out of their cars and hence reduce pollution.

If only I had my way, I would see to it that at least a portion of this Fresno trail went hand-in-hand with a city-wide, fixed-guideway, mass transit network – one that people would actually use – providing yet additional non-polluting methods for getting around town. To me, that makes more sense than the incorporation of yet another trail among a collection that, quite honestly, in the grand scheme of things, see relative infrequent use.

For this newest of Fresno trails, will it be more of the same?

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‘National Dump the Pump Day’: No better time to use transit, clean air

June 11, 2016 witnessed the rollout of the Minneapolis area’s newest of bus services: The A Line rapid bus. Metro Transit refers to this as arterial bus rapid transit (BRT) service. This project was five years in the making, its opening just before the ringing in of the 11th annual National Dump the Pump Day which arrives on June 16th – this coming Thursday.

“Sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), this national public transportation awareness day encourages people to ‘Dump the Pump’ by parking their car and riding public transit instead,” announced the APTA in a written statement. “The tag line is: Dump the Pump. Ride Public Transit.”

Participation activities to include among others transit rides offered the public completely free or at discounted fares, according to the APTA.

National Dump the Pump Day is another great way to promote public transit awareness.

320px-Acela_Express_and_Metro-North_railcar[1]

The public transportation association adds: “According to APTA’s June 9, 2016 Transit Savings Report, an individual in a two-person household can save, on the average, nearly $9,500 a year when he or she downsizes by one car and takes public transit instead.”

Assuming two comparable gasoline-propelled vehicles for comparable amounts of distances driven, then downsizing to one such vehicle per household can mean a reduction of half in terms of emissions output.

Whether unaccustomed to using public transit at all or an infrequent user of such, come June 16th, National Dump the Pump Day could be the perfect opportunity to make a change and give air-friendlier public transportation a try.

In other news, June 16th marks the one-year anniversary of the beginning of American high-speed rail construction.

Work began in earnest on the building of a viaduct over California State Route (SR) 145, Raymond Road and the Fresno River in Madera County to Fresno’s north. One year into the project and all 16 support columns are either finished or close to being completed and a good part of the viaduct’s superstructure is in place, concrete already having been poured.

Elsewhere, meanwhile, an SR 99 relocation is underway in northwest Fresno, an effort to move the traveled way farther to the west between Ashlan and Clinton avenues to make room for high-speed rail right-of-way placement between the Union Pacific mainline through Fresno at that location to the east and what presumably will be a shifted-over SR 99 to the west. Farther south, trenching work is proceeding. This will allow the high-speed rail double track line to duck under SR 180 and two lines of freight railroad track. And, lastly but not least, preparations are being made to carry high-speed trains over Golden State Boulevard and SR 99 on the city’s south end and over Herndon Avenue, its on-ramp access to northbound SR 99, the Union Pacific Railroad mainline through town in that area and the San Joaquin River.

So, in that one-year span, the California High-Speed Rail right-of-way has really come along and taken shape.

To see photos of much of the related construction activity, go here.

And, in still other news, a seventh round-trip to Amtrak California San Joaquin’s service will launch June 20th, an indication that ridership continues to grow which follows that more and more travelers are taking the train.

The seventh San Joaquin round-trip is a far cry from the days of just one such available round-trip offered when I first arrived in Fresno in 1977. Amtrak service was inaugurated in the San Joaquin Valley, incidentally, in 1974.

The point of which is all such public transit use means air-quality improvement.

TRE@FWITC[1]

Upper image above: Connor Harris

Lower image above: W. R. Howell, Jr.

For Fresno, it’s FAX, FAX and more FAX – 3

San Francisco has its beloved cable car. New Orleans its fabled streetcar. And, what has Fresno? FAX, for Fresno Area Express, is what.

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In the big raisin (among locals, the word-pair an innocuous, cheery substitute for the city’s name), big changes are a comin’. Not only are new high-speed railroad structures and tracks being built in addition to a major realignment of a section of California State Route 99 (principally between Ashlan and Clinton avenues) being done to accommodate the section of high-speed railroad track that will traverse that area, but by Nov. 2017, it is expected that 15.7 miles of bus rapid transit right-of-way will be fully in service. So, by that time next year, the transportation scene in Fresburgh (another one of those local, “in lieu of” expressions) will have a markedly different look.

If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that about 100 city transit buses are roaming the streets on any given weekday. That’s 100 daily bus runs on which 14 million annual rides are made. Fourteen million yearly works out to an average 38,356 daily FAX rides made.

Could Fresno do better?

If the qualifying criterion is air-quality improvement, then the answer is: Fresno could stand to do better – I mean what city couldn’t? The number of rides, whatever the amount, if not taken on buses and instead made in cars, this would mean poorer area air quality, absolutely. Disclosure: Keep in mind that bus transfers are made and, each time one is, that might well count as an additional ride thus adding to the overall total.

At any rate, could the public transit patronage figures be better?

No doubt.

As it relates, to limit local transit service to buses exclusively, one has to wonder if area citizens are getting the biggest bang for their hard-earned bucks.

Moreover, I think lacking in the Fresno transit equation is a broader pedestrian element. I say this keeping in mind who uses public transit. Pedestrians, by and large. So it seems logical in the sense that in creating strong pedestrian-friendly environments, this is going to prompt transit usage so long as said transit connects pedestrian center to pedestrian center. The more pronounced walking activity in said centers is, the higher the likelihood that center-to-center-linked transit serving such will experience higher patronage activity also.

Where rail can answer the call

In planner Jeff Speck’s thoughtful treatise Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, the author relates: streetcar systems, if standalones (i.e., those not tied to an existing robust transit network), are new-urban-district-development facilitators.1 Translated, this means that electric street railways have a tendency to promote development around stations.

Coupled with this is a concept called permanence. Whereas with passenger rail-based transit systems which are perceived to possess the permanence element, this is missing from transit-bus-based networks. That gives rail-centered transit an edge; that is, the potential for station-area-related attendant development to crop up around passenger stations is typically greater with trains than compared to that for bus.

The Fresno case study

Add to that the presumption that with the Fresno downtown Fulton Mall conversion to become the Fulton Corridor (with retail/restaurant/office space replete with sidewalks, trees, art- and sculpture-work and statuary, a two-way street with on-street parking), when completed, the hope is this district will be a thriving center.

This, in conjunction with the nearby planned construction of Fresno’s downtown high-speed rail station complex, is expected to further encourage development and redevelopment all throughout the downtown core.

The missing link

The essential element of the above is that there are new ideas being tried, both with the mission of breeding new life into the city’s central business district.

While those are in process, perhaps another approach – a historic streetcar – could be added to the mix and, by doing so, that could quite possibly be the missing link to facilitate and encourage even greater downtown development/redevelopment activity.

To bring you more up to speed, Fresno has many historic districts that could be connected quite nicely and serve residents, workers as well as prospective tourists, especially once the high-speed rail complex is open for business. Many a community has adopted this model with realized successes. Travelers arriving by high-speed train as soon as 2022, moreover, will need to have their mobility needs met, not unlike people living and working here already. As it relates, I believe it would be so short-sighted for those coming here from afar to have to step off a world-class high-speed train only to have their options for getting around town limited to only foot, car and bus. All of which, incidentally, require pavement to permit such.

The Tower District, the Cultural Arts District, the Fulton Corridor, the Santa Fe Depot (Amtrak Station) the Convention Center, Fresno City College and other historical venues, could all be tapped. Visitors could be provided guided tours of Fresno’s historic sites and what better way to do that then on a trolley (not trolley bus, thank you) line with period streetcars to match? A historic trolley much like those in San Francisco, New Orleans, Little Rock, Kenosha, Newark (New Jersey), Seattle and others, could work wonders and be just the vehicle to (excuse the pun), get things rolling.

If it works in those places, there is every reason to believe it could work here too. Who knows, infill development big-time could be propelled in the process.

While some communities never dismantled their networks, in others there are re-introductions. Will Fresno join the list? Those who say “variety is the spice of life” can’t all be wrong. That’s what I say!

320px-FEMA_-_20722_-_Photograph_by_Robert_Kaufmann_taken_on_12-21-2005_in_Louisiana[1]

Notes

  1. Jeff Speck, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, 2012, p. 154

Lower image above: Robert Kaufmann, FEMA Photo Library collection

For the big raisin, is the rapid bus the better transit choice? – 2

There is no one-size-fits-all transit solution for all communities. There are just too many variables. The primary objective or so it would seem is the transport of people from one location to another and do this, if possible, in the least restrictive way. Beyond this, everything else is subordinate.

That said, I reported in an earlier post, for the big raisin (Fresno), bus rapid transit’s (BRT) time has come. Construction is expected to begin on the city’s 15.7-mile so-called “starter” system in the next few weeks.

If I understand things correctly, the goal of the Fresno BRT, incidentally, branded the “Q,” is to transport patrons along two corridors – the Blackstone/Abby and Ventura/Kings Canyon – more quickly, with less waiting time between buses (reduced headways), whereby rider fares will be collected off bus (from a vending machine, presumably located at stops); and, in the minds of the “Q’s” organizers and administrators (if not the same), provide a superior, quality service. All at a purported $30 million cost.

Now ask yourself this: Can the existing service on these two corridors be provided at a higher level than what it is currently without all the so-called “extra fare”? Could it be that with this new enhanced bus service implemented, there is this expectation that more people will opt for the bus instead of their doing their own driving? Then again, maybe the purpose of the service upgrade isn’t so much a means to attract more or new riders as it is to provide existing ones a better mobility device – a new ride with improved transit times, in other words. Long and short, it is doubtful buses will travel any faster than what is already provided; there’ll just be fewer stops.

Or, could the aim be to prompt what is commonly referred to these days as transit-oriented development or TOD, the presence of the bus driving development (retail, residential, entertainment) potential near stations (“stops” in this case)? Or could there even be an altogether different reason behind this: that being the idea is to attract greater numbers of riders to public transit to aid in improvement in the quality of local air? I may be going out on a limb by suggesting this, perhaps it’s a case of all of the above?

For what it’s worth, over a number of years, many, many proposals and studies have been put on the table and conducted, respectively, to determine what mode is the best transit fit; everything from monorail to streetcar and lightrail transit and personal-rapid- and people-mover transit.

Meanwhile, Stockton, a city just up the road about 100 miles to Fresno’s north has, apparently, a very successful BRT (dubbed “Metro Express”). It would be helpful to learn what’s behind that success. And, there are likewise more successes like Cleveland’s “HealthLine” and others. But, Fresno’s and Stockton’s might not be an apples-to-apples comparison as Stockton has the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) commuter trains which shuttles riders to and from the San Francisco Bay Area towns of San Jose, Newark, Centerville, Pleasanton, etc. and some of the Stockton-based BRT patronage may be feeder traffic for ACE.

For Fresno, on the other hand, BRT was for all intents and purposes effectively a gimme, most of the funding for it having come courtesy of federal and state sources, apparently. One has to wonder, if city powers that be are really for and truly believe in this service, why, then, the bulk of the tab being picked up by outside sources?

In the third and final Fresno rapid bus installment, I will take a look at the prospects of what a historic trolley line could offer the city. That’s next time.

Life-sustaining trees: Good all around

Flora gives off oxygen that supports other life; namely human and animal – primarily. Fauna gives off carbon dioxide that supports plant life. That system, right now seems to be somewhat out of kilter. What I’m referring to is a rise in population, and due to development, vegetation to produce the oxygen necessary to support human and animal life is less prevalent, and that is having an impact.

Now add to the changing flora/fauna dynamic that there is a higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the air since the time the Industrial Revolution began in circa 1760’s England, and with reduced flora present to absorb the extra CO2, this means more of it is staying in the air and that, too, is having an effect.

So, a friend and I once had the following discussion: In the face of a drought, what makes more sense? To water trees or water lawns if a choice between the two had to be made? We both agreed that the smarter approach to take of the two was to let the lawns go and water the trees. It didn’t end there. We had the same discussion again, only this time the choices were between trees and potted plants in terms of being forced to decide between the two as to which to water. I thought the obvious decision was to let the plants in the pots make the sacrifice to save the trees. My reasoning behind such was that even though trees may require more water, given the size difference, it would take a lot more potted plants to absorb like amounts of CO2 from air than the typical tree. Of course, it all depends on the type of trees we’re talking about. I don’t believe palm trees, as one example, make for every effective carbon dioxide sponges.

DSCN2370 (340x255)But, it isn’t just this that makes trees a preferable choice. On my property, little by little, more and more lawn has come out making room for more and more trees. I’ve noticed a similar trend among neighbors. As many of the added trees have grown, more and more the house is able to take advantage of provided shade. This is especially important during summer when temperatures can soar. If the house is able to stay cooler on account of tree shade provided, even if just by a little bit, it might mean running the air conditioning less. And, if the air conditioning is on less often due to a higher temperature setting, then less electricity is being used and not only will my electricity costs be lower, but demand will be lower and, by virtue of this, less in the way of energy production and consequently less in the way of fossil-fuel burning and that, in turn, could mean less in the way of carbon dioxide releases from fossil-fuel ignition sources.

In that sense, trees have definite utility. But, trees have utility in other ways too.

They provide lumber for building materials like for use in construction, furniture-making and more, like in the manufacturing of paper. I could be wrong, but my understanding of the paper-making process, it’s not an all-that-sustainable one. Therefore, the less paper that is used – and the paper used and, along with this, the more that can be recycled – the less need there is for the harvest of trees needed for paper-making.

Considering all that trees do and give us, they really don’t require from us much in return. Being fed a steady supply of water and light from the sun and a minimum required amount of CO2 and in some circumstances restorative help when out-of-sorts, they are, by any sense of the word, great investments in my book.

Life-sustaining trees: Good all around.

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