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Author of Blog: Daniel Day
New Post once a month.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hemisfair Goes Backwards

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On Wednesday, Hemisfair took down its famous Arch that stood at the intersection of E Nueva and S Alamo, and today, Friday, they took down the Clockless Clock tower.(Image 35-1)   These structures are in the way of motor vehicle traffic, and sorry to say that once it was a safe place to walk is now just like any other downtown street, little room for people, plenty of room for cars and SUV's. 

It's been all over the local news about the famous arch, the famous Hemisfair Arch that was the backdrop for countless summer time movie times on the wall of the Magik Theatre, the New Years Eve celebrations, and other events. And as usual, our local media is missing the real story, which is that this is the first step in plans to bring automobile traffic to a pedestrian only zone.

While other cities around the nation and world wide are working on restricting and even making some streets car free, San Antonio is going back to the 1950's when we dreamed of endless roads of driving your new car on.  Hemisfair said they're going to make it safer,  but let's be honest here, you have a very safe place already because people don't have to look over their shoulders to worry about a car running them over. Their quote from the Express News says it all
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"The re-establishing of the street grid — pedestrian-friendly roads that will allow slow traffic and bicycles — is one of several facets of the park’s rebirth." 
Um here's the thing, Hemisfair is already a "pedestrian-friendly" place right now. I wrote back in July 2014, that you have a great place and that all you need to do is activate it. When you reopen it, you and I will have to worry about people texting while driving on how beautiful Hemisfair made the place to drive a car. This is like saying that we're going to improve La Villita by bring back cars to the old neighborhood.  There was a time as a matter of fact, that I've used Hemisfair Park on my way to St Philips SWC from their main campus on the Eastside BECAUSE THERE WHERE NO CARS TO WORRY ABOUT. As they reopen the park, I expect to see what I see on Houston St today and every weekend, people on bicycles running into people walking on the sidewalk because to many people are driving their cars causing a traffic jam.
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If it was true that improving public space is to allow cars into that space, then why isn't La Villita jumping up to allow cars down Villita St between La Villita and the Riverwalk? (Image 35-4) Why is it when they redid Brackenridge Park, they removed the roads through the park and left only one that is connected to Mulberry?  Why is it that when we close off a street to vehicular traffic, we celebrate it as a major event called Siclovia?  It is because cars take up a lot of space, and they destroy places that they're allowed in.  Every time we make room for automobiles, people walking and people riding bicycles suffer because there's simply no defense against a 1,000+ pound steel cage and a inattentive driver, drunk or otherwise operating the vehicle. When Cars are slowed down or removed, people feel simply safer to lounge about and to exercise.  There was a time in America's History when we thought about banning cars from our cities or restricting their speed limits to under 20 miles per hour for back then, the streets where meant for people.  When car enthusiast saw this a threat to their driving, they launched an ad campaign to change the saying from "the streets are for people," to the current saying that we all know "the streets are for cars." 

Andrew Price recently said in a Strong Towns Blog Post quote:
"If we don't change our habits, our obsession with treating cars as the dominant life-form of our cities, catering to their every needs with congestion-free roadways and ample parking, will be the downfall of American cities. They are our bread and circuses. We know it's making us broke, and we still continue. It does not have to be this way - it is just a matter of priorities."
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The good news is that despite the city's assistance to bring back cars to a people friendly area, is that you can bring back the friendly area for the people by simply remove the access for the cars.  It is a sad day for San Antonio for in other cities in North America and around the world are working tirelessly to restrict cars.  There was a time right after World War II that we thought of progress with the building of freeways.  Today, Dallas and Austin are looking into tearing down those freeways to revitalize the urban core, i.e. space for people.  San Antonio seems to be stuck in the 1950. It is sad to live in a city where progress is measured not by how many protected bicycle lanes that are available, but how much space is available to drive your car.  No Wonder there's a saying "Keep San Antonio Lame."

I'm not against the improvements being made, I'm against bad Ideals and this one just happens to be a bad Ideal. 

Image:
35-1: A picture of the famous Clockless Clock Tower that was right next to the Downtown All Around Playground being torn down.  Viewing South. 
35-2: A picture of what is left from the removal of the famous Hemisfair Park Arch.  viewing east.
35-3: A Picture of the famous Hemisfair Park Arch back in July 2014. viewing east
35-4: A Picture of Villita St in La Villita on the day that the they brought down the Clockless Clock Tower. Viewing West
35:5: A picture of Hemisfair way as it is currently is on Feb 20, 2014.  this time next year, cars will be traveling down this pedestrian space. 

Note About Story: 
I'm going to start doing a on the clock blog posting every First and third Tuesday of Every Month.  And On top of all that, when breaking stories like this happen, I'll be posting them when they happen. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Advice on Improving VIA Part II

Last week, I focus on bus stop locations and Transit Centers.  This week I'll be focusing on transit times and bus fare. To improve VIA, they cannot just do it by where they locate their transit centers and bus stops, it also means to working to make the buses go just a little bit faster and perhaps, make it free to use by all of San Antonio.

3.  Make PRIMO Go Faster

The Economist wrote how collecting fare on the bus is just not economical and slows down buses yet we do it on Primo.  When Primo services were sold to San Antonio, it was promised that it would run just a little bit faster just like light rail and be cheaper.  But now as I ride this route, I find that it's a little bit slower than what it replaced which was the 91 Fredricksburg Rd, Skip Stop.  When similar service is sold in other cities across North America, it is sold as cheaper than light rail, but with the same speedy service you get on rail.  In other cities, you don't pay for the bus fare on the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), but you buy a ticket at the station where you get on board the BRT.  That's not how VIA does it, for you have to pay for the bus fare as you board the Primo.  This slows the bus down quiet a bit especially at Deco District Station. Since this is the main bus route down Fredricksburg Rd now, most people ride the 100 instead of the 95 or 520.  It's time that VIA stop collecting bus fare for the Primo on the bus, and instead allow all the doors to open up and have people board it like you would a light rail train stopped at a station.  Have VIA police board the bus and ask people for their bus tickets and proof of fare as they're doing that, they can issue some fines like the DART police does on the light rail in Dallas. Have the tickets sold have a expiration time so it can be use like one would use a transfer.

4.  Removing Traffic Jams for VIA Downtown.

If you live on the East Side like I do and to take the bus into downtown, you would have notice that during every weekend from Thanksgiving through Memorial Day, a traffic Jam forms as every car coming from the North Side is looking for parking downtown mainly at Rivercenter Mall. (Image 33-2)  Now I don't see this as much in Dallas because their Light Rail does a pretty good job in having people who want to enjoy downtown choose transit over driving.  A good example is what I saw during the 4th Of July, 2004.  After the Downtown fireworks display, I was riding the Blue Line back to my motel room which was located out by I-610, the train was crowded with  lots of families and their kids. To me, this was amazing because when similar events take place here in downtown San Antonio, everyone drives to downtown, not so in Dallas because trains are just better thing to ride than buses, and if you want to know why that is, well click right here to find out.
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So since we don't have a good alternatives to driving downtown like they do in Dallas, cars end up jamming up the paths of Eastside buses at E Commerce and Bowie including the 100 from speeding through downtown like it was intended to do so.  So why can't VIA work with the City of San Antonio and close off the far left lane and leave that lane open only for buses? What is so hard about this is beyond me because if VIA wants more people to ride their buses they're going to have to have faster service to get more people to ride. If they're not willing to fix this weekend traffic jam then why bother to ride the bus when driving is so much faster. They're will be no light rail to solve this problem any time soon, nor any proposed Lone Star Rail service so will you please get off the train bandwagon politicians and VIA as the only solution to fix our transit system. So will anyone at VIA or the City wake up and clean up this mess up?  Probably not because like the rest of San Antonio, they must think that everyone who rides VIA are just losers and well we don't deserve a speedy ride at all. Like it or not, downtown is VIA's main transit center, and if people trying to get to work can't connect to their other routes and forced to wait a whole hour for the next bus. This lack of action simply promotes the belief that VIA SUCKS and it's just better to break down a by a car.

5. Keep Buses Moving during Battle of Flowers.

Every year during the Battle of Flowers and the Fiesta Flambeau parades, VIA stops having the buses go through downtown to continue on as other routes and instead starts to have them go to downtown to certain stops to turn around cutting off passengers ability to connect to other routes.  The thing about this is that these stops are really far apart forcing many of VIA's riders to walk up to a half a mile through the parade just to get to their connecting routes.  You see you have the east side routes all coming to Bonham at E Houston, the north side routes turn around at Travis Park and finally all the west, south and southeast routes turn around at Nueva and S St Mary's.  So if you just happen to be on your way to work when these parades are going on, well chances are you'll have a good chance to become unemployed.  It's these days that forces hostage users like me to think, it's time for me to break down and buy a car.  And since you couldn't count on VIA for getting you to your job on time, well they suck.  Over the years VIA has done nothing to fix this problem.  So now you have this wonderful transit center on the west side of Downtown, so why can't you  have all the buses that are detoured because of the parade hop on the freeways that surround downtown and continue on after they all make a  stop at the Westside Multimodal Center (WSMMC).  Having to have all of us hostage users walk considerable distances to catch a bus is just wrong especially when we're all running late, so now you have this great transit center downtown, so start putting it to good use and when the city closes off Broadway and Commerce St for the Fiesta parades, start rerouting all those buses to WSMMC so we all can catch our connecting routes and be on time for work.  .

6. Make Bus Rides Free.

People in San Antonio are extremely against toll roads and with a passion because driving a car here in south Texas is considered a free thing to do.  Despite having to pay for gas, despite having to pay for insurance, and maintenance, driving is considered a free thing to do, so as I board the bus to get around San Antonio, I wonder why do I have to pay a toll?  The political leaders claim to want more people to ride public transit here, but do they really encourage it?  Of course not, they'll keep complaining about Ozone Action Days and the traffic while at the same time never consider the thing that might fix it which is to make bus rides free.

I first heard about making bus rides free when I heard about what happened in Austin during 1991 and 1992.  The problem with this is that it didn't attract the choice users like they CapMetro wanted, (people who use public transit and also have a car to drive) but instead it attracted the homeless and others who wouldn't normally ride the bus dubbed as "problem riders."  So naturally, they got rid of free bus rides.  But in Tallinn, Estonia, not to be deterred by what has happen in Austin, TX and everywhere else it was tried, they decided to keep the bus fares, however, if you happen to live in Tallinn, then you are entitled to free bus rides. Here's my question, why can't we do the same thing here in San Antonio?

How to we guarantee free bus rides to all the residence of San Antonio and not repeat the history with "problem riders" everywhere else it was tried. We keep bus fares in place, however, if you can show proof of residency like a CPS bill, a W2 form, a paycheck statement, a lease, or bank Statement in San Antonio, then you can go sign up at VIA and pay a fee of like a $60 for a full year of free bus rides, just like you would now as you buy a 31 day Big Pass for $35 but without the proof of residency.  Limit the amount of people up to 4 people at a certain address.  I guarantee that every year during tax season, people will come down to VIA and sign up and pay the $60 for a full year of free rides.  Make it a minimum of two years of residency to qualify for this service while at the same time, we keep the bus fare around for the tourist, for the homeless and others who would abuse the system or don't sign up.  I think this is a great idea so I can count on the local politicians not to endorse this.  Keep San Antonio Lame. 

Conclusion

I hear from politicians and environmentalists who drive cars all the time that we need more people to take public transit, but when these people make the clean, carbon neutral alternative hard to accomplish, only the poor will use it not because we want to, but because we have to. If the goal of the city leaders and VIA is to encourage more people to ride transit, then I have just lay out some solutions that if implemented should increase the number of choice users and help improve the current image of VIA. So will you please get off the train bandwagon politicians and VIA as the only solution to fix our transit system.  But chances are you'll never see any of these improvements at all because from what I have seen over the years from the inaction of our politicians and the actions of VIA have said to the citizens of San Antonio that you should buy a car. And guess what, we're doing just that.

Images:
33-2: A picture of E Commerce St at Bowie looking west showing all the cars trying to get parking at the Rivercenter Mall.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Advice on Improving VIA Part I

I wrote before how VIA sucks back in August, and ask anyone who takes the bus, on a daily basis for they'll agree with the sentiment. It's not really VIA's fault that they suck. Roughly 80% of the the reasons they suck are things they have no control over such as the fact that they have to serve a very large spread out city and they only receive 1/2¢ sales tax to pay to operate the system. Compare that to Dallas, Houston and Austin which receive a full cent sales tax, VIA have to be thrifty with their cash. They are unable to operate in places like Live Oak, Hollywood Park, Helotes, Windcrest and other independent municipalities that just don't want to pay the sales tax and they just don't like public transit at all. They also have to comply with the American With Disabilities Act and the Federal Transit Administration which means that they have to pick up any wheelchair even though the bus is full and running late. 
The 20% that VIA has control over such as bus stop location, park-n-ride location, types of buses they use every day, how they collect fare. It is this 20% that VIA can work on fixing and this is where my advice comes in.  So for the new VIA board chair, Hope Andrade, here are my suggestions to fix the image of your failing bus service.  Yes your bus drivers are nice and I know a few.  Yes you have the best mechanics in North America and how you pay for them is WONDERFUL, but in the end, that is only doing so much.

1. Put Connecting Bus Stops Closer Together.

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On some of it's routes, they do a terrible disservice on where they locate bus stops.  This is a big problem mainly on the Looper 550/551.   I pointed this out in my Streetcar series, Streetcar Part I, VIA Sucks when I pointed out the fact on how the 28 and 515 bus stop #16838 is nearly a quarter of a mile away from the connecting route of the 550 bus stop #96897. (For the record, I mistook bus route number for I always get confused on which number of the 550/551 Looper is going.)  For some reason, VIA feels it necessary to discriminate against the hostage users (my term for transit dependent people) on my side of town.  This is not the only bus stop, for the connecting bus stop of the 551 was recently moved from the traffic island on WW White and Rigsby (Image 32-1) and was moved south to the Hold Caterpillar Training Center.(Image 32-2)  Yes TxDOT recently repaved the sidewalks on this part of WW White, but now this bus stop is further from places where people go to such as the 99 Cent Only Store and the CPS Energy bill paying center. (Image 32-3)  Why they couldn't put this bus stop just pass the Burger King is beyond me, (Image 32-3) but as the actions of VIA speak louder than words, they obviously saying that you should buy a car so you don't have to worry where they locate the bus stops. 
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This isn't the only bus stop like this for the 550/551 Looper Bus Stops are notoriously placed far away from connecting routes especially along the frontage rd of Loop 410.  This is one of the reason why the majority of the hostage users in San Antonio considers VIA to suck.  I understand that sometime you cannot get the bus stop where you would want it in the first place, but that doesn't mean that you should give up on not striving for good location and keep the walking distance down to a minimum between connecting bus stops because if the goal of VIA is to keep Paratransit usage down, then keeping the bus stops far apart will only encourage those who qualify for Paratransit to use it more often.  VIA also wants more people to ride their buses, well when San Antonio sidewalks suck, (#sasidewalkssuck) having those bus stops to where they don't have to walk as far just makes sense.

This is not the only example for they're plenty of examples on the 550/551 Looper, all across town. The worse being able to connect from the Looper to the VIA PRIMO, 100 route at Wonderland Mall of the Americas.  Please fix that one before you tackle the ones along Loop 410.
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2. Transit Center Locations.

VIA has a mix history when it comes to transit center locations.  For this reporting, I will also include clusters of bus stops like Naco Pass.  The Transit Centers they got right and put in the right places are Kel-Lac, Mainland, Walmart at 281 and Loop 1604, North Star, and the Walmart at Rigsby and 410.  The ones they got in the wrong places are Madla, Naco Pass, and Randolph. I'll just won't talk about Crossroads, for VIA is considering to get rid of it and move it closer to the Primo Station on Fredricksburg Rd near Crossroads BLVD. I also will not be talking about the Medical Center Transit Center and Ingram for I have mix feelings about them unless someone asks me to in a future post. And from my understanding, VIA is about to make mistakes on it's future transit centers such as the one planned for Brooks City Base and Stone Oak. 

What Via Got Right
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Hostage users like myself depend on the bus to be able to get to the grocery store, to get to work and to be able to go to other places to run errands.  When VIA chose the location for the Kel-Lac Transit Center, (Image 32-4) they located it in the best possible spot, right next to a neighborhood, and right next to a Shopping Center where K-mart and Handy Andys use to be. Today the shopping center has several shops including a Family Dollar and a flea market. It's better than the old location between US 90 Access Rd and the Freeway which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Kudos to VIA for working out a deal so the buses could use the backside of this shopping center for a quick way through back to Military Dr.  I can only hope that the owner of this shopping center will improve upon the location and turn it into a mix use area with apartments, and maybe even a grocery store like there use to be.  Also I bet that VIA is actually adding value to this property.  So if they're paying increase property tax to the County and the City because of Kel-Lac, then shouldn't that increase amount that the property is paying go to VIA? That is how they use to fund transportation, not by a user fee, but by a Land Value Added Tax.

The North Star Transit Center replaced the old bus stops on Rector, and although those bus stop shelters still exist, they at least placed this Transit Center right in the middle of the action.  Due to height changes in the terrain, it is somewhat cut off from from the mall.  But due to TxDOT's improvements to the sidewalks in this area, it's now a better place to walk, and you can still access the mall from the transit center location by either walking, or catching a bus to the old bus stops on Rector. Although VIA could work on shortening the distance one must walk to the mall from this location, for the most part, it's properly located so one can access nearly all of the businesses on foot both inside and outside loop 410 all be it, a somewhat of a distance to walk.

Also the cluster of Bus Stops at Walmarts such as Mainland, 281 At Loop 1604, and Rigsby At Loop 410 are also good choices as well.  Now I'm not a big fan of Walmart, but when your grocery stores are limited to only two which are HEB and Walmart, and when you live with out a car like I do, (hostage user) your glad that the bus stops right next to the store instead of being at the edge of the parking lot along the stroad.
What VIA Got Wrong
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The transit centers that VIA got wrong are Madla, Naco Pass, and Randolph.  These transit centers are located away from places where people want go. In Madla's case, (Image 32-5) it located away from South Park Mall, it's located away from the apartments on S Zarzamora, and there just happens to be a fence on Cantrell Dr blocking access to the neighborhood from the transit center.  Now it just happens to be in a perfect spot for a future train station for the Lone Star Rail, however, I will stand by my opinion, it is simply a study collecting dust and there will be no train station at this location ever.  If VIA is ever to improve service on the South Side around South Park Mall, they better put it in a better location, like in South Park Mall's parking lot.  
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Randolph Park And Ride has a history. The buses that serve this place was once located at Windsor Park Mall, now the home of Rackspace.  Back in 1992, (maybe I got this year wrong) a terrible murder took place there.  A man waiting for the bus to go home just had 40 cents in his pocket, the bus fare amount back then.  Another man came along and in the process of robbing him, killed him for not having any money on him except 40 cents.  It was this tragedy that prompted VIA to move the transit center to it's current location at I-35 and Loop 410. (Image 32-6)  People don't know, but the neighborhoods around Windcrest are very dangerous neighborhoods. What VIA got wrong at this location was where they put the parking lot, and where they put the bus shelter.  In a perfect world, the transit shelter would be located next to the intersection of Randolph Blvd and Crestway Dr, while the parking lot would be located next to the interstate. But no, they had to do it the other way so people would have to walk farther.  I don't think that the designers of this place were thinking about walking in the July heat, but I can only hope that today's designers, architects, and engineers will take into account that walking long distances in a 100 degrees heat is a no go for everyone. Other locations could have been sought out such as Perrin Beitel and Loop 410, but no matter.
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Now Naco Pass (Image 32-7) is another failure for it is located far away from the businesses such as HEB, Walgreens and the Walmart around the intersection of Thousand Oaks and Nacogdoches.  The problem is that this cluster of bus stops is that it is located behind a bowling alley at Uhr Ln and Naco Pass.  Maybe one day, VIA can forgo this location and put this cluster closer to the intersection of Thousand Oaks at Nacogdoches, but until then, we hostage users are just going to have to suffer, either wait an hour for a bus going to the proper place, or walk to these places.
 
Future Transit Centers
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They're many new transit centers and park-n-rides planned all across San Antonio and Bexar County. One such transit center is being proposed for Brooks City Base.(Image 32-8)  If VIA want to improve it's image, they better located this transit center at the intersections of Goliad and SE Military, or at City Base landing and SE Military.  It should be quite obvious why it should be located here, because if it's located further into Brooks, then it will simply be cutting off people from where they want to go, like the HEB, the Walmart Supercenter, the Best Buy and even the Target.  The same rules should also go for the future transit centers of Stone Oak, Beorne, and even New Braunfels. Kel-Lac should be the example that VIA strives towards, connecting their patrons to the place that they need to go to.  Transit centers are there to connect multiple bus routes at one location.  They do a better job when they also are able to connect to places that people need to go.

So far what I have written should tell you that we're not just transit users, but we're pedestrians and people just don't like to walk very far.  So closing the distances between bus stops and where people want to go should be a goal for future transit centers and connecting bus stops. This blog is getting pretty long, so I leave the other suggestions in my next blog post in two weeks, so until then, enjoy.  

Images:
32-1: A Google Street View of the former location of the 551 Bus Stop at Rigsby showing by accident where the 30 bus stop is Viewing North.
32-2: Current location of the 551 bus stop showing it to be farther away from Rigsby viewing North
32-3: A Google Satellite Map showing where bus stops where, and are currently and where some business are where people need to go.
32-4: A Google Satellite Map showing where the Current and old Kel-Lac transit center are at US 90 and Military Dr.
32-5: A Google Map showing the location and how things are cut off from Madla Transit Center on the South Side of Town.  I didn't choose the Satellite Map because I wanted to show the walking distance from a random address in the neighborhood next to the transit center and how it's pretty much cut off from everything.
32-6: A Google Satellite Map of Randolph Park-n-Ride showing where the Transit Shelter and the parking should have been placed. 
32-7: A Google Satellite Map of Naco Pass Showing how it is poorly located.
32-8: A Google Satellite Map of Brooks City Base Showing the future failure of VIA's future Transit Center.