Claremont Insider: Square Head, Round Hole

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Square Head, Round Hole

Whatever else you have to say about Claremont Trolley supporters, you cannot deny their persistence.

A reader wrote in to tell us about a Facebook event this afternoon from 12 noon to 2pm in the Claremont Village. The event is a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored rally to support the trolley, which went belly-up at the last City Council meeting.

As part of the event, you can follow it live on Twitter. Here's the tweeting party's description:

Join me, Joey Coombe, as I Twitter Live from the Claremont Trolley. This event approaches the issue of public funding for transportation related uses through new media and technology.

Follow at

[NOTE: This was actually a joke by Coombe. No real involvement form the Chamber of Commerce -ed.]

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Yesterday's Courier had a letter from reader Rochelle Darrow, who wrote that she liked the trolley but thought the routing was sketchy:
The trolley was a good intention, but I for one was confounded with its route. If you were for instance visiting the theatre you would just drive there. Once in the village area everything is in walking distance. The trolley route served no purpose.

It would be wonderful if the trolley made a wider route, say north on Mills taking people to Vons. West on Baseline then south on Indian Hill stop at Trader Joes and proceed back down to the village.

The real problem wasn't just the route. Cost was the limiting factor. The trolley runs only three days a week. That really isn't a regular enough schedule to be considered a true transportion service. After all, who'd utilize a bus service that operated less than half of the time?

Why only three days? The trolley ran the schedule it did because the City couldn't afford to spend more than the $887,000 it did on the current level of service.

To run the trolley five days a week would have raised the cost to $1.27 million on its current route. And that's for one trolley that takes 15 minutes to circumnavigate it's little 1.5 mile circuit of the Claremont Village. If you were to add on stops at the Claremont Colleges and trips up to Foothill and Base Line Rd., you're talking about potentially quadrupling the time it takes one trolley to complete a circuit. With only one trolley that could mean up to an hour wait - only 12 circuits in the trolley's 12-hour day on its three days of operation.

To extend the route and keep the stops at the same 15-minute level of service, you'd have to add two or three trolleys, depending on how much you lengthened the route. And to really make the trolley a functional transportation service, you'd have to run it at least five days - and probably seven - a week. You're not only talking about multiplying the $887,000 cost by adding more trolleys and their drivers, you'd also be adding at least two more days of service, not to mention the expense of building the new stops and the added cost of fueling, insuring and maintaining the extra trolleys.

The City bought all it could afford with the money it had and couldn't come close to spending millions more to turn the trolley into a true transportation service. City staff has said as much, maintaining that the trolley was not a transportation service but an economic engine designed to bring more customers to the Village - a mission it failed miserably at.

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David Allen was at the April 14 City Council meeting when the council voted 3-2 to pull the plug on the trolley. Allen neatly summed up the non-Trolley boosters' take:
And if you happen to gaze in the trolley's windows as it passes by, you rarely see anyone inside except the poor driver. It's like a - gaaaahh! - ghost trolley.

Condemned to endlessly circuit the Village, making a series of hard left turns, the drivers are on a voyage of the damned, the Claremont equivalent of the Flying Dutchman.

At last, city leaders voted this week to lift the curse, free the drivers and allow the trolley to head into the sunset.

Allen also quoted a clearly out-of-touch Sam Pedroza, who typically did not get it, sounding a lot like former Councilmember Sandy Baldonado.

You might recall when Baldonaldo, along with Pedroza and the rest of the Claremont 400, tried to foist a $48 million assessment district on Claremonters in 2006. After property owners resoundingly rejected the assessment, Baldonado said, "'s not the city that I know and love."

Pedroza, as quoted by David Allen, displayed a similar tin ear, bringing up another failed Claremont transportation idea:
Councilman Sam Pedroza, however, said another trait of Claremonters is to rush to condemn new ideas. He brought up the traffic circle, which was torn out within weeks of its installation in 1999 due to jeering.

It's simply stunning that Pedroza can reinterpret history so freely. The traffic circle he spoke of, at Indian Hill and Bonita Ave., failed not because of any "jeering," as Pedroza calls it. It failed because it was a potentially good idea shoehorned into much too small of a space to handle the volume of traffic safely. The radius of the circle had to be fitted into the corners marked by the existing sidewalks, which left too tight a space for the number of cars passing through. All it did cause more delays than the existing traffic signal because of driver confusion.

These circles can work if they're in the right places and if they're sufficiently big enough to allow the traffic to flow smoothly - they're everywhere in Europe, and in a number of places here in Southern California - but the Claremont circle, much like the trolley, was jammed into the wrong place without any forethought and with very predictable results.

But, in Pedroza's mind, it's much easier to blame public rather than rationally assess the facts at hand.