Category: High Speed Rail

Madera Amtrak Station will relocate again

I have mentioned it in passing, but plans are underway (PDF) to relocate the Madera Amtrak station within the next three years. The title of this post says “again” because the station was moved to its current location in 2010.

Why do they want to move it? Because it has the lowest ridership of any station along the San Joaquin line, and the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority thinks the location is to blame. At least that’s the official reasoning. I propose my own theory at the end of this post.

Madera has a population of 65,000, which is higher than Hanford (56k), and Corcoran (22k). Those stations get more Amtrak ridership because the train stops downtown. Unfortunately for Madera, the rail line runs well to the east of the city. That is, it doesn’t matter where the station is located, it will never serve downtown. Click to read more!

Transportation tidbits

I’ve been super busy, so here is a short post with some recent transportation news I didn’t post about:

Air

  • Starting October 28, Volaris will be adding two flights a week to Leon/Guanajuato airport. This means Fresno will now have service to three cities in Mexico! (Guadalajara and Morelia are the other two). The flight will be on an Airbus A320.
  • United brought back the Chicago flight and upgraded it from a regional jet to a Boring 737 or Airbus 319. Flights leave Fresno at 11:15pm arriving in Chicago at 5:11am. The return flight leaves Chicago at 7:40pm and arrives in Fresno at 10:10pm. Roundtrip starts at $449, which isn’t great – but that shows demand was there last summer.
  • It will be a little easier to fly to Japan because JAL is code-sharing with Alaska. That means you can fly Fresno-Seattle-Tokyo on one ticket, so your bags go all the way and you don’t have to check in twice.
  • Click to read more!

    California High Speed Rail Posts Summer Update Video

    The California High Speed Rail Authority used to post videos every month or two summarizing their construction progress. Unfortunately, that ended around October of last year. Now they’re back with a new video highlighting what has been going on. At under four minutes, it’s a good watch.

    While they’ve been stingy with their videos, they have continuously updated their Flickr account. Usually new photos go up every 3-5 weeks.

    Here are some of my recent favorites. I especially like the ones from angles I cannot get myself.

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    I’m hoping that in 2019, we see these various construction sites linked up with rails and walls. I think that once that happens, the project will really seem to be real, even though we know train service is still far away.

    Additionally, one other major piece of infrastructure was recently “finished,” and that’s the train station in San Francisco.Or at least the box where it goes. Streetsblog has a tour here.

    Of course, I wish this all was moving faster. But it’s still nice to see that it is moving at all.

    Aerial Shots of California High Speed Rail Construction Released!

    The California High Speed Rail Authority have recently posted aerial shots of the various construction sites that are well underway in the California Central Valley, primarily around Fresno. They tend to post updates on their official Flickr account once or twice a month, but most are taken at ground level. Since the Google Earth satellite images are unfortunately over 2-year old at this point, these new photos, taken last week, provide a unique vantage point. Seeing the action from above, you can really understand the scale of the various bridges, and make sense of how they fit in.

    The Cedar Viaduct is probably the most important construction area right now because of the impact it will have. The bridge will take trains over CA-99, which sees around 95,000 vehicles passing by every day. Many people are still unaware that HSR is actually happening, so seeing the bridge take shape will have a large impact.

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    All photos courtesy of the CA HSR Authority

    In downtown Fresno, they’re finally finishing the new Toulumne Street bridge. This bridge will carry cars, bicycles and pedestrians over the right of way. The Stanislaus Street bridge, seen above it, will be demolished because it is not tall enough.

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    A bit north, they’re tunneling under CA-180 to let the trains go through. The trains will go under the highway, under the freight line, and under the canal.

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    They’ve also rebuilt CA-99 to create a new right-of-way for the rail line.

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    Another hugely impact project, in terms of visibility, will be where the rail line crosses over the Union Pacific tracks and then over the San Joaquin River – all right next to busy CA-99. This will be extremely visible to passing motorists.

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    The wet winter means the bridge over the river has been stalled since December.

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    Rural drivers will go over the rail line in a new overpass, in Madera.

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    A bridge almost done over a creek.

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    And the very first active construction site, a bridge over the Fresno River, is wrapping up.

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    Wrapping up? Yes, the first construction package was for the heavy stuff in the Fresno area – bridges, tunnels, and viaducts. The train stuff – tracks and wires – are part of another construction package that hasn’t been handed out. The idea is to have the full right of way cleared, prepped, and ready to go, and then the last crew comes in and places the rail quickly and uniformly. 

    Once again, check out the photos in the official Flickr account and keep them bookmarked because new photos get uploaded at least every month, and usually more frequently.

    Help Bring National Attention to Central California Transportation Issues

    If you’re reading this blog, you know that Central California is not all sunshine when it comes to planning, development, and transportation. You also probably have a strong desire to see improvement.

    For example, Fresno’s half-cent transportation tax has been devoted almost entirely to highway expansions and roadway widening. Road diet projects have been halted due to right-wing elected officials. Fresno’s pedestrian mall is being ripped up, and the BRT project is no longer BRT. Sprawl, of course, continued unabated. This pattern is true across the valley. Sure, there are bright spots and individual wins, but since I started this blog over five years ago I’ve seen much more bad than good.

    One way to combat these problems is being active politically. Calling council members, attending meetings, and getting involved.

    Unfortunately, sometimes these efforts are fruitless. When a developer holding bags of campaign donations is on one side of the issue, and hundreds of concerned locals are on the other, the bags of money tend to win out. That’s how you get statements like this, which fly in the face of reality:

    “This doesn’t perpetuate the legacy
    of sprawl,” he said. “Gunner Ranch is contiguous; it’s a logical
    expansion for urban development.”

    So what’s the solution, if you care about smart planning, good transportation, and sustainable development?

    Media attention.

    A group of 100 advocates can easily be ignored when the electorate is made up of 100,000 people who are unfamiliar with the issues of transportation and development. But when headlines are generated, the elected official no longer has to worry about the 100 advocates, but how the headline reads to the general public.

    That’s why I am encouraging you to visit Streetsblog California and consider supporting their work.

    My blog has a nice core of engaged readers who are interested in planning, development and transportation in the Fresno area. However, I’ll be the first to admit that the subject matter of my blog is incredibly niche. And that’s before even accounting for Fresno’s dwindling blog scene, which includes mainstream subjects such as music events and food.

    That’s where Streetsblog California comes in. They take important issues brought up by dozens of blogs such as this one and shine a national light on them. The fact is, politicians – especially those with larger aspirations – care about how the media portrays them. Taking a local story that is noticed by 100 Fresno activists and elevating it to a national level does have an impact.Thanks to Streetsblog, posts about Fresno have made the rounds from a small planning circle all the way to the BBC.

    Check out their post which summarizes some of the great stories they’ve done in the past two years, and consider providing them some support.

    A quick look at the reconstruction of the Tuolumne bridge for HSR

    One of the most obvious signs of High Speed’s Rail’s (HSR) coming arrival to downtown Fresno has been the demolition – and now reconstruction – of the Tuolumne street bridge. The bridge was two lanes wide and carried traffic eastbound over the Union Pacific right of way. It was paired with the Stanislaus Street bridge which carries two lanes westbound.  

    Both bridges will be demolished and replaced by a single bridge carrying traffic in both directions. The bridge will feature wider sidewalks as well. The reason is that aside from being 50 years old (or more?), the current structure of the bridge does not allow enough room for the new High Speed Rail tracks to fit. Once the new bridge is in place, and the Stanislaus Street bridge has been demolished, more serious work can be done downtown to create the new tracks and station.

    Meanwhile, other construction is underway just north of downtown, as they have begun to build a trench. However, I was unable to get any good pictures. The construction area is surrounded by private property or the highway. 

    Let’s take a look at the work on the bridge. I will begin with pictures I took back in January to see what it looked like a few days before closing forever. Below them are the pictures I took two weeks ago showing the current progress.

    Here is the bridge back in January, taken from the sister bridge.

    Frankly I don’t understand  why so much space has been wasted for 100 years.

     The bridge itself

     Not the best of sidewalk conditions.

    I’m sure the structure itself was on its way out.

     Coming back you see the official sidewalk path – not ADA

    The old pedestrian path also didn’t inspire much confidence in safety.  

     Frankly, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable parking here.

    But these folks did.

    There she is.

    Wasn’t surprised to see this.

    Looking towards Fulton.

    That was January!

    Now let us look at some recent pictures, starting from the other bridge again:



    As an aside, here we are on the same bridge looking north.  No other construction is visible.

      

     I don’t know if this bridge will also be rebuilt (max zoom!) 

    Oddly, they removed the traffic signal head but kept the signal functioning. What was the point, huge waste of time. Should be blinking red.

    Bridge used to touch down here.

    A new view of these lofts. I don’t know if they’re losing their parking lot?

    Now from H street.

    The other bridge.

    The new supports.

    H is blocked off for construction.

    I hope the new bridge has good lighting underneath, especially because it will be much wider.

     And now walking back.

    Hope you enjoyed the pictures! 

    An overhead look at downtown Fresno before high speed rail changes everything

    About a month ago, I went out and took hundreds of pictures around downtown Fresno. The intention was to post them quickly, but that obviously didn’t happen. My post about the changes at Fresno State took a few days to put together, and then I was away from the internet for a week due to a planned surgery.

    This set of pictures was originally intended to show the current state of High Speed Rail (HSR) construction in Fresno. However, a lot has happened in a month, so they’re no longer current in regards to construction activity on the project itself. Instead, they will serve as a benchmark of what downtown Fresno looked like right before serious construction started in earnest, and before private investors started taking note of the prime empty lots.

    I believe that HSR is going to absolutely transform downtown Fresno. Office towers that have sat empty for years will become hot amenities. Empty lots that have lain fallow since a fire 50 years ago will be quickly scooped up. Sidewalks that are empty past 5pm will be bustling when trains start unloading passengers.

    Here are where things stand now.

    We begin our journey from above. I’ll follow up shortly with photos showing the view from the ground.

    Pictures were taken from the Pacific Southwest Tower, access thanks to Craig Scharton’s tour. First photo was taken in the direction of the red arrow, with the following pictures moving in a clockwise order, as shown by the orange arrow.

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    This will be ground zero of high speed rail. The building with the yellow triangle features is the Southern Pacific Depot. The old train station, built in 1889, it is the oldest commercial building in the city. Today, it serves as office space. Amtrak runs on a different rail line and does not stop there. However, the new High Speed Rail station will be built directly behind and above it. The structure will be preserved of course.

    The less attractive building in front of it was the Greyhound station. Greyhound recently left the station and moved to the current Amtrak Station. I’ll do a separate photo post about it. That building will remain standing for a couple of years for HSR related work, and then be demolished for the new station. 

    Pulling back a wee bit…

    Moving to the right, clockwise, we see an existing roadway underpass that’s set to be expanded to accommodate HSR. That dark blue building on the corner, in front of the Bank of America, was a very large adult store (Wildcat Adult Superstore) and has since been demolished. It had to come down due to a change in alignment of the roadway to accommodate the new underpass. Across the street, the Cosmopolitan Tavern will be demolished once their new location opens by the Convention Center. They made a deal where they bought a portion of a city owned surface parking lot to erect a new structure.I would guess the big white building closest to the tracks will also go away.

    Moving the camera to the right, we see the enormous potential. Giant empty surface parking lots will make way for new offices and residential towers that want to be near the station. That pinkish building on the right is Hotel Fresno, an asset that has seen a series of failed renovation efforts. Once the station feels real to investors, watch that old hotel bloom.

    Zooming in a bit (Hotel Fresno isn’t in great shape), we see the two roadway bridges over the existing rail properties. One of them is now completely gone, and I’ll have photos of that in the ground update post.

    Moving to the right again, we see the Fulton Mall. If you’re familiar with Fresno, you know that this pedestrian mall is about to be ripped up and turned into a street in the name of urban revitalization. I am fully confident that those efforts will fail in returning the corridor to a shopping oasis. However, once the station opens, the corridor will be bustling. A shame that green canopy will be almost entirely obliterated.

    Moving right again…

     Continuing right, we can see how far Fresno has sprawled to the horizon.

    And now we’re facing the opposite direction of the rail station. The centerpiece here is the courthouse, with its park. High Speed Rail won’t bring much change to this government dominated landscape, except in adding happy pedestrians. Community Regional Medical Center are the two large buildings further back. They currently have a UCSF branch, and I can see that expanding with improved connections to SF.

    Moving on, we see a more modern side of downtown Fresno, sort of. That tall building in the back is the Federal Courthouse, supposedly the tallest building in the city, I guess depending on what you measure. Built in 2005 it’s the city’s only modern tower. It’s also very attractive. The Amtrak station sits right behind it. That section of town, with the modern City Hall and the new First 5 building has a cluster of modern development. All government, but attractive. HSR won’t really make a dent over there.

    I’ll have a photo update of the completed First 5 building coming up, along with a look at how Greyhound fits into the Amtrak station. Also near Amtrak is a new project which renovated and expanded an old warehouse into modern offices. 

    As we keep turning, we see another lot just prime for some great development.

    Now we’re back at the Fulton Mall, and Chukchansi Park, a failed effort to spark redevelopment downtown. Sure, it’s a nice stadium (and hosted the New York Cosmos in a friendly exhibition game tonight), but since it opened in 2002 it hasn’t generated much interest in the area. Supposedly that is going to change soon, but I think the HSR winds are the real reason. Let’s check back in a year to see if that proposal goes anywhere.

    Behind the baseball stadium, we see the industrial side of town. There have been many plans for this area, including trying to bring in Bass Pro Shops. That obviously never happened. Lots of potential though. The South Stadium dream:

    The reality:

    And now we’re back to where we started. See that white mound thing in that dirt lot across the railroad tracks? The Central Fish Company is located right behind it, an interesting business that’s a mixture of a seafood counter, Asian supermarket, and lunch spot. I suggest checking it out if you haven’t. It’s part of Chinatown, an area that has a cute street grid which reminds me a lot of Old Town Clovis – but with a lot more empty buildings. That whole part of Fresno has been neglected for decades, as it sits on the “wrong” side of the tracks.

    That is all for our look from above. I hope to upload pictures from the ground in the near future as well, which show the city before HSR.

    They will focus on:

    • Old train station and Greyhound (future HSR station)
    • View from Chinatown
    • View from above the railroad track

    An Attempted Look at High Speed Rail Construction in North Fresno

    Is 2016 finally =&0=&year for High Speed Rail (HSR) in California? Construction has been underway on the boring part for over a year now – relocation of utilities, and demolishing of abandoned buildings. However, for most people, that type of invisible work doesn’t count. It’s hard to tell if a hole being dug in a street is for HSR or one of 200 other possible reasons, after all. =&1=&