Monday, March 30, 2009

Los Angeles Union Station and its Denizens

Los Angeles’ handsome Union Station has weathered changes in transportation preferences for 70 years. This iconic terminal on Alameda Street – constructed literally a block away from the site of the city’s first settlements – represents an appropriate California fusion of historic Mission Revival and modern Art Deco architectural styles and is considered the last great station erected in the United States. Its waiting room is tall, bright, and airy and is clad with decorative marble floors, tiles, and mosaics. Warm breezes and birds are frequent visitors from the outside. Open courtyards and patios complete with fountains and attractive landscaping surround the station on three sides. Not surprisingly, it has served as the backdrop for many films over the years.

Rail travel began to succumb to the growing popularity of air travel and the introduction of the interstate highway system in the 1950s. Southern Pacific, Union Pacific, and Santa Fe streamliners serving Los Angeles labored on until the 1971 formation of Amtrak.

Used by only a handful of Amtrak trains into the 1990s, the station’s future once seemed uncertain and it was practically forgotten in a sprawling, automobile-obsessed metropolis void of rail transit. But today, it has a new lease on life and is again a vibrant transportation centerpiece serving Amtrak intercity and long distance services, Metrolink’s vast schedule of commuter trains, and three lines of the growing Los Angeles Metro. The well-maintained station features restaurants, bars, and shops and hosts private events regularly. Travelers, commuters, and local residents have returned to this largely unaltered historic property in unprecedented numbers. Following are images of people at Union Station.

While walking and eating simultaneously, a man splits a beam of sunlight streaming in through one of the tall windows in the waiting room.

On the inside, looking out: A woman peers through a waiting room window at a wedding reception taking place in a station courtyard.

A woman nonchalantly sweeps the brick floors near a side entrance to the waiting room while a young boy zips across her path on a skateboard.

A couple sits comfortably in one of the station’s sturdy upholstered waiting room settees and busies themselves with news stories, crossword puzzles, and coupon clipping in the Los Angeles Times.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

San Francisco M-Ocean View Line Unreliability

The Muni line most utilized by SF State commuters received the lowest on-time performance rating in a survey, Muni officials reported March 3.

Muni posted a record 72 percent systemwide on-time performance rating. The M-Ocean View line, heavily trafficked by SF State students, faculty and staff, did not perform as well.

“Several times the M failed me. Once when I was on my way to giving a midterm exam,” said Linda Day, an SF State urban studies department lecturer who frequently commutes to campus via Muni. “I was late and it made the students very anxious.”

According to a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency service standards report released March 3, of the Muni metro lines surveyed, the M line posted the lowest on-time performance for the fourth quarter of 2008, at just 62 percent.

“We do have a shortage of operators and on some days we may have vehicle availability issues where we need to run some M runs as one car instead of two cars and that could potentially slow down the service and the reliability,” said Judson True, SFMTA media relations manager. “We try to get all the lines up to the standard that the voters have prescribed and we’re not quite there yet.”

In order to improve Muni service and see that it ran on schedule at least 85 percent of the time, San Francisco voters passed Proposition E in 1999. According to SFMTA's 2008-2012 Strategic Plan, Muni aims to meet this mandate by 2012.

SF State commuters access the M line via the SF State and Stonestown stations and ride inbound to central San Francisco or outbound to Balboa Park to connect with BART or the J-Church line. Weekday M service does not operate around the clock. The first train departs at 5:42 a.m. and the last at 12:10 a.m. Trains are scheduled to run approximately every nine minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes in the evenings.

According to SF State’s 2008 Transportation Survey, 36 percent of university commuters rode Muni, and 45 percent of them took the M line in particular, making it the Muni route used most to access campus.

Steven Severn, an SF State business major and M line rider said he wants to see “more trains ... because there's like a billion students.”

A billion may not be in the university’s future, but enrollment is expected to balloon to 25,000 full-time students by 2015, according to the Campus Master Plan.

SF State has partnered with SFMTA and the city to perfect service and tackle the transit needs of a burgeoning student population.

Jason Porth, SF State’s associate director of community relations, said the university is involved in short-term solutions aimed at hustling service. Among them are modifying the boarding platform at the SF State station to ease overcrowding and to relocate some fare vending machines to campus to speed the ticket purchasing process.

The SFMTA, City Controller’s Office and communities cooperated in an evaluation of Muni operations dubbed the Transit Effectiveness Project, which yielded recommendations for future service. SFMTA’s board of directors voted to endorse TEP recommendations on Oct. 21, 2008.

The TEP calls for the M line from downtown to terminate at SF State and for extension of the J-Church line service west from Balboa Park to SF State and Stonestown. The move would shift more two-car trains to the M line's busier sections.

“Speed, reliability and frequency would all be increased by terminating the line here at SF State,” Porth said. “What that means for SF State students is not only better M service, but for students coming from neighborhoods currently served by the J, it provides an entirely new route to get here.”

Before this line reconfiguration can occur, Muni infrastructure and facility improvements must be made along 19th Avenue, according to the Campus Master Plan.

“The M is a very heavily used line, especially for SF State students and we want to do everything we can to have it be as reliable as possible,” True said.

Note: This story - authored by Christian Goepel - appeared in the March 12, 2009, edition of the Golden Gate [X]Press.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

San Francisco N-Judah Line Nocturne

Inbound and outbound San Francisco Muni N-Judah metro trains meet at the tight curve connecting Irving Street and Ninth Avenue in the hip Inner Sunset neighborhood. This heavily patronized transit route spans the narrow peninsula from San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean, serving the Financial District, Castro, Haight-Ashbury, Inner Sunset, and Outer Sunset along the way.

Within sight of a homeless woman Amy, her dog Fire, and oblivious passers-by, an outbound N-Judah train curves into Ninth Avenue.

While walking in the opposite direction, the photographer encountered an inbound N-Judah train slowing for the stop at Irving and Ninth.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nothing to LOL about: texting-crazed zombies run amok

Why must some San Francisco State University students exhibit disrespectful text messaging habits around campus and in the classroom?

Such behavior is particularly bothersome considering the technology's myriad communication benefits and surging popularity among students. Individuals in the 18-24 age group sent and received an average of 790 text messages per month in the second quarter of 2008 alone, according to Nielsen Mobile. The same source reported that "the typical U.S. mobile subscriber now sends and receives more text messages than they do mobile telephone calls."

Texting provides valuable public service on campus. Gayle Orr-Smith, SFSU's emergency preparedness coordinator, said the university's Emergency Notification System warns students, faculty and staff of an emergency via text messaging. After the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, when a student shooting spree left 32 dead and 25 wounded, such capability is reassuring.

At least the cacophony of cell phone conversations has died down. Even so, students must realize that text messaging, like nosepicking, has its proper time and place.

It is irksome to navigate campus through a gauntlet of students too preoccupied with texting to see where they are going. These oblivious, hunched creatures are known as textwalkers. They impede safe, expeditious pedestrian traffic flow, and occasionally cause unnecessary human collisions as well. California outlawed motorists from text messaging on Jan. 1. Maybe the law should be expanded to protect us from textwalkers, too.

Students who text in class not only needlessly disturb professors and fellow students, but also impede their own education as well.

"Many people believe they can 'multitask,' but research is clear ... the brain cannot perform two conceptual tasks at the same time," said Dr. Mindi Golden, assistant professor in SFSU's communication studies department. "It is impossible to focus on class content while checking messages or texting."

Neither the California State University Executive Order of Student Conduct nor SFSU Student Code of Conduct broaches text messaging etiquette.

Donna Cunningham, university coordinator for student judicial affairs, is aware of the text messaging issue and said, "Just about any law or policy takes years to catch up with what is really going on."

Some faculty took matters into their own hands, admonishing students to turn off or silence phones.

It is unlikely that the university will craft policy soon. Frankly, why go to the trouble when the solution is so painfully obvious? If students simply demonstrated equal parts courtesy, common sense and self-restraint, the problem would vanish overnight.

Note: This op-ed piece - authored by Christian Goepel - appeared in the Feb. 26, 2009, edition of the Golden Gate [X]Press.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why can't there be more hours in a day?

Howdy from Northern California! I scaled back my blogging efforts in recent weeks to honor my academic commitment to San Francisco State University's Golden Gate [X]Press . Some of my stories and photographs featured in this semester's print and online publications can be found on my companion blog, The City ... of San Francisco.

Additional content will appear on both blogs as time permits. Thank you for your patience.

As usual, I welcome your comments, concerns, questions, and suggestions at

Christian Goepel

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

No Fish After Dark: Seattle's Pike Place Market

Folks mill about the entrance to Seattle, Washington's historic Pike Place Market after closing time on a clear January evening. This popular marketplace - believed to be the oldest of its kind in the United States - has operated continuously for 101 years and offers an extensive assortment of local seafood, fruit, vegetables, flowers, crafts, and wares daily.

Opinion: Mercifully, George W. Bush's Reign is No More!

To the delight of many around the globe, Republican and former President George W. Bush departed Washington on Marine Two yesterday afternoon, but left behind a festering and unparalleled domestic and international crisis for his successor Democrat Barack Obama to address. Presidential scholars and U.S. citizens remain uncertain about how to measure Bush's eight-year tenure, which was sullied by an unpopular war in Iraq, questionable expansion of executive powers, feeble response to natural disasters, botched foreign diplomacy, illegal torture acts, reckless fiscal policy, lack of oversight for corporations, tax breaks for the wealthy, a monumental housing crisis, and soaring unemployment.

With the inaugural pomp and circumstance over, today marked Obama's first official day of business in the White House. The young 44th president and leader of the free world must resolve scores of pressing issues during his first term in office. Indeed, he has his work cut out for him.

Photo above: A sign marks the western terminus of Bush Street in San Francisco, California.