About a mile north of downtown Fresno, at the intersection of Blackstone and McKinley, a really exciting project is well underway: Fresno’s first transit-oriented apartment building. Aside from looking impressive in person, I think this is the first time in Fresno history that a real apartment building is being constructed outside the downtown core. And by “real,” I mean as one urban unit. There are apartments all over Fresno, but they tend to be two-story, 2 or 4 unit blocks built among an oasis of parking and grass. Those are perfectly fine, but they’re suburban in nature. This building will have four floors, which will make it twice as tall as 98% of Fresno buildings.
This project doesn’t just add housing, but may be the start of turning Blackstone from an auto-oriented drag into a real neighborhood, and that’s thanks to the Fresno 2035 Master Plan, which encourages infill development (the one developers keep trying to kill). Speaking of developers, they’re not involved. This big boy is being built thanks to tax money and will include 88 affordable units.
The Link (Blackstone & McKinley Transit Oriented Development)
The apartments are set back, with retail and a medical clinic at the street level. Home Avenue looks like it was last paved when it was built.
Peaking through the fence, there could be a generous sidewalk. The render (header image) shows a narrow sidewalk with large landscaping adjacent to the building. I hope that is just artistic license. The landscaping should be between a wide sidewalk and the roadway to protect pedestrians from the drag races.
Fortunately, they left some sidewalk for pedestrians during construction (not a guarantee in Fresno).
The retail won’t run the entire length. I’m not sure if they’re planning a park or plaza in this next section. I hope that any landscaping is active (ie, with benches), and not just unusable grass.
Approaching McKinley, the building is set back further because of the railroad.
Unsure if this will be staying.
So here we reach the one little asterisk with this development. It’s right next to the BNSF tracks.
Not only is it next to it, but it’s between two grade intersections. Grade intersections can mean horns. Loud horns. VERY loud horns. The good news is, from what I found, these intersections are part of a quiet zone, which means the intersections were upgraded to make it close to impossible for a car to drive around the gate. If that’s done, no horns are needed. It is important that the city maintain that classification (I believe the FRA has to renew them every few years). I also hope the building is being built with the vibrations in mind – it’s a very busy rail corridor.
One thing to note, is that the city is studying grade separation for these intersections. From what I’ve read, this means lowering both Blackstone and McKinley to pass under the tracks. Unfortunately, that would mean giving pedestrians a longer walk, creating a slope for bicyclists, and leaving the rail line right outside the windows of these apartments. Personally, I would think lowering the rail line would make more sense, from an urban perspective, and maybe even a cost one? The issue is that the rail companies are real a-holes and are always difficult to work with.
The transit component
So what makes this transit-oriented? Well, Blackstone is home to Fresno’s one and only somewhat rapid transit route, the fake BRT service branded as Q. There is indeed a bus stop right at the northeast corner of the development, but it only serves Route 20.
Unfortunately, the nearest Q stops are 1,300 feet to the north, and 2,200 feet to the south. While the stops are less than a 1/4 mile away (which I believe is the funding requirement), it can feel really far on Blackstone. Although it makes sense for the Q line to have a large distance between stops, I think it would make sense to have the Q stop here at night (after 8pm?) so people don’t have to walk as far after dark. At least until the rest of Blackstone gets improved as part of Better Blackstone.
Another short-term need is the fact that crossing Blackstone to get to the bus stops is not easy.
Parking is being included in the back, in a surface lot. I didn’t get any photos of that area and wasn’t able to find how many spaces are being built.
Could this project be more transity?
Absolutely. The easiest change would be adding more local routes. Route 20 reaches McKinley and turns west – there’s no bus service to the east. Additionally, the bus only comes once every 30 minutes.
There’s also the fact that the rail line could be an asset instead of a nuisance. Aside from BNSF trains, Amtrak uses it on its way to Sacramento and Oakland. A couple of small DMU* trains ruining back and forth along the line could form a really helpful commuter line within Fresno, especially since it cuts across the grid and goes downtown. Imagine a commuter line with the following stops:
- Amtrak Station
- Community Hospital
- Fig Garden Loop
Wouldn’t that be grand? Nothing like that is in the works, but I think it should be studied.
*DMU is like a light rail train, but powered by diesel, so it can run on regular freight tracks. There’s one in San Diego.
I look forward to visiting the site again when construction is done, and hopefully, more of these projects pop up in the area.