Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

It’s fun to walk the line

Here’s my report on Tuesday’s downtown walk, delivered on Tuesday rather than four days late.

* I headed from The Bee to the Tuolumne Street Bridge. On G Street, as I neared the stairs, I bumped into a homeless man — Manuel.

I met Manuel last week in front of the old Fresno Guide building on H Street near Divisadero. I worked in that building in late 1980 when the Fresno County Reporter (the final incarnation of The Guide) was written and printed there.

The old Guide building, locked and apparently unused, is now owned by Union Pacific Railroad. Manuel was sweeping the sidewalk next to the front entrance as I walked by.

“Why the sweeping?” I asked.

“I’m going to sleep here tonight,” he said, pointing to the wide step leading to the doorway. “If the police come by, I can point to how I’m keeping the place clean.”

Fast forward to early Tuesday afternoon. Manuel said he had turned in his application for a room at the Hotel California — $60 a month with a $60 deposit.

“That’s half the money I got.”

* The scuttlebutt at City Hall: The Fresno City Employees Association, the city’s white-collar union, was to hold a membership meeting Tuesday night.

FCEA leadership and members are in a tight spot. The union is leading the fight to stop outsourcing of the city’s residential trash service. But if the effort succeeds, City Manager Mark Scott says he’ll almost certainly have to send people to the unemployment line.

FCEA members have been first to get pink slips in previous downsizings. They could be first on the next downsizing.

* I headed to Fulton Mall and walked by the new Social Security Office. It’s located at the mall’s south end, across from the old Gottschalks building and next to Downtown Fresno Partnership’s headquarters.

Downtown Fresno Partnership and Mayor Ashley Swearengin are hosting the mayor’s annual State of Downtown Breakfast on Tuesday, Feb. 5. It’ll be in the Pacific Southwest Building. Henry Beer, a well-known architect and urban planner from Colorado, is the keynote speaker.

The Social Security Office used to be on C Street, a stone’s throw south of Fresno Street. I’ve seen lines of applicants forming outside the mall Social Security office.

Downtown Fresno Partnership under Executive Director Kate Borders does great work. But I’ve got to wonder about the mall’s future now that the Social Security Office is firmly established there.

The mall has three parts — south, middle and north.

The south part is now anchored by the Social Security Office. The middle part includes federal Immigration offices in the old Guarantee Savings building. The north part features the Fresno County Social Services Department, the Fresno County Department of Health and the Fresno Housing Authority.

The mall is becoming the city’s center for government-run social and distributive justice. It’ll be interesting to hear what Mr. Beer has to say about this trend as a catalyst for downtown revitalization.

* I went through Chinatown on my way back to The Bee. There were cameras and lights in front of La Elegante Taqueria on Kern Street. Ben Sager, a graphics editor with Fresno’s AD-Venture Video Productions was keeping an eye on things.

“We’re working on an advertising campaign,” Sager said. “Water conservation.”

Turns out the public service spots are being produced by a New York City firm. AD-Venture Video is pitching in. Sager didn’t know when or where the spots will run. I guess we’ll know when we see La Elegante on TV.

* I headed west on Kern over Highway 99, then north on C Street. Remember the Shell gas station on the southeast corner of C and Fresno streets. They’re ripping it down. It’s just a couple of piles of rubble now. No idea what’ll take its place.

* All in all, it was an interesting walk. I hit Tuolumne, Fulton, Calaveras, M, Merced, N, Fresno, P, Mariposa, M, Tulare, L, Kern, the mall, Inyo, H, Kern, C, Kearney Palms, B, Stanislaus and E streets. And a few others. I was gone about two hours.

My charge is to give you, dear reader, the distance I travel as well as time spent on foot. I’m still getting up to speed on my smart-phone aps. So, once back in the newsroom, I decided to do things the old-fashioned way.

I got out a pica pole and the city of Fresno road map I always carry in my briefcase. I would measure how far I traveled.

There’s a precedent.

In an earlier walking blog, I mentioned a two-day conference I attended in late 2011 hosted by the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization. The conference was held at McClatchy/Sacramento Bee headquarters.

One of the first-day topics was fact-checking. To emphasize fact-checking’s importance, the lecturer recalled a story he had written at a Houston newspaper.

The story’s first sentence, he said, included the words “Harris County has one million miles of roads…”

Houston is the county seat.

The lecturer said he hit the sack the night before the story was to be published, then suddenly sat up in bed: “A million miles. Is that right?”

The lecturer said he got a ruler and a map of Harris County, Texas and got busy measuring. It took time, he told three dozen McClatchy reporters, but — sure enough — Harris County has one million miles of roads. He said he was exhausted but satisfied to know he got the detail right.

That was an inspiring story.

But something didn’t seem right to me.

Sitting there, I tried to recall conversations I’d had with Public Works Director Patrick Wiemiller about the city of Fresno’s roads. I thought Patrick once told me Fresno has about 1,500 miles of municipal roads. Fresno is 105 square miles in size. Granted, there are non-municipal roads going through Fresno — state highways, for example. But even if Fresno had 2,000 miles of roads in 100 square miles, that would be 20 miles per square mile. For Harris County to have one million miles of roads, it would have to be 50,000 square miles in size if it had 20 miles of road per square mile.

Let me emphasize that, as I sat in the McClatchy conference room chewing on this math, I didn’t know the size of Harris County, Texas. But I did quite a bit of cross-country hitch-hiking and bicycle touring in my youth. I studied a lot of state maps. I seemed to recall a lot of fairly small counties in eastern Texas. More than 40 years ago, I hitch-hiked through Houston on my way to Fork Polk, Louisiana. Houston back then had a lot of roads. But it also had a lot of office buildings and houses and yards and parks.

A million of anything is a lot. But a million miles of roads in one East Texas county?

I went up to the lecturer during a break.

“A million miles, huh?”

“Yeah,” he said, “and I must’ve driven every one of ‘em!”

He definitely wasn’t hedging his story.

Well, it turns out Harris County is 1,778 square miles in size — 1,729 square miles of land and 49 square miles of water.

One million divided by 1,778 is a bit more than 562. So, each square mile of Harris County, including the waterways, contains 562 miles of road.

A square mile has 27,878,400 square feet.

A mile is 5,280 feet in length. Let’s say the average road in Harris County is 35 feet wide. Each mile of road in Harris County covers 184,800 square feet. That means the 562 miles of roads contained in each square mile of Harris County cover 103,857,600 square feet of Mother Earth.

Wait a second. That means every square foot of every square mile of Harris County is covered by road. Then you go up a bit in the air, and every square foot of every square mile of Harris County is covered, once again, by road. Then you go a bit more up in the air, and every square foot of every square mile of Harris County is covered by (you guessed it) road. Then, you go up in the air a bit more and breathe a sigh of relief — only 72.5% of every square mile of Harris County is covered by road.

Thanks to such amazing public works projects, Harris County apparently is able to cram a million miles of road within its borders.

Harris County must have built a lot of roads since my army hitch-hiking days.

Then I thought: The lecturer said he measured the one million miles on a map.

The legend on my city of Fresno map says one-and-three-quarters inches equals one mile. If the lecturer’s map had a similar legend, his one millions of road would be 1.75 million inches of lines on a map.

Harris County appears to have a somewhat rectangular shape. For the sake of argument, let’s say Harris County is 40 miles by 45 miles — 1,800 square miles. If the map used by the lecturer was nothing but Harris County, and the legend was 1 mile equals 1.75 inches, then he handling a map that measured 70 inches by 78.75 inches.

That’s 5 feet 10 inches by 6 feet 6-and-three-quarters inches. That’s a pretty good-sized map. But we are talking about Texas.

So, this map is 5,513 square inches in size. And on it are 1.75 million inches of lines (equaling one million miles of road).

So, each square inch of this map contains 317 inches of lines — distinct, separate lines, I assume. That’s a lot of lines to measure, even if they were all going in the same direction. Just imagine if they were going in a bunch of different directions, like parts of downtown Fresno.

But let’s say the lecturer’s map had a different legend. Let’s say it was one inch on the map equals 100 miles in real life. With such a legend, the lecturer would need to measure only 10,000 inches to verify the one million miles of road in Harris County.

Let’s see. Harris County is approximately 40 miles by 45 miles. That means our Harris County map, with a legend of one inch equals 100 miles, measures four-tenths of an inch by slightly more than four-tenths of an inch.

That’s certainly a manageable map in the hands of most men.

And on this map, the lecturer measured 10,000 inches of lines. That’s nearly three football fields-worth of lines on a map the size of a postage stamp.

What do I know? Maybe it really happened that way.

All I know is this.

Based on my use of a pica pole and my city of Fresno map, George Hostetter during a two-hour walk in downtown Fresno on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 29, 2013 walked 9,782,452 miles. And two-fifths.

Honest.

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