Rail Across America

rail_across_america.jpg

You’ve
probably seen this already. It’s the latest graphic representation of
the nation’s proposed high-speed rail corridors, and it’s been all over
the transportation blogosphere since President Obama stood beside it at a press conference last week.

Those corridors are likely to change somewhat as the administration refines its new strategy for high-speed rail, says Transport Politic blogger Yonah Freemark, who credits the administration for taking serious steps toward a national rail plan.

Perhaps
the biggest positive from yesterday’s presser is that Obama linked the
idea of high-speed rail to local transit, center cities, and car-free
transportation:

Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city. No racing to an
airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no
lost luggage, no taking off your shoes. (Laughter.) Imagine whisking
through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few
steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your
destination. Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild
America.

  • Stats Dude

    But what are the unintended consequences? One may be sprawl.

    In the L.A. area, people don’t commute by distance, they commute by time.

    If one can buy cheaper property farther out, and still benefit by a short commute, then the dream of a $250,000 house consisting of 3,500 square feet on a half acre for only one or two people can exist.

    Of course, that dream is a nightmare for ecologic sustainability.

  • If someone decides to live in palmdale and commute to L.A. via HSR, I don’t see anything wrong with that. Ecologically, it’s much better than them driving the distance in a gas-powered car.

    HSR is sustainable eco-friendly public transportation. Of course development will be encouraged along such transit lines. But just because this will enable people to live farther from their jobs doesn’t mean it’s not sustainable. The mode of transport is important here: electric powered train, not gas-powered car.

  • Stats Dude

    Good points David,

    However, I was referring to destruction of the local environment, excessive use of water and energy to cool such a large structure in the desert heat. Damage to endangered species, the physical collapse of the water tables (the Palmdale/Lancaster area has already had problems with the water tables collapsing).

  • Ah, I see. Well, what you’re talking about is really just amount of energy/resources used per person. In the U.S., we have become used to a luxuriously high ratio. I’d wager there is not much to be done about it. Some day, people in the U.S. won’t be so rich relative to other countries, and some other country will be #1. But for now that’s the way it is.

    Obviously, the denser the population, the less energy/space used per person. But we can’t all live in superdense cities. It’s hard to have a lifestyle where you don’t impact the environment at all. People alter their environment to suit their needs. Dam that river, chop down that forest, farm food in that field. It’s how we survive. Of course, there are ways to minimize our impact, and I’d bet that HSR has more benefits than detriments on that front.

    Although, I have heard people wondering about how a fully-grade-separated HSR would become a wall going through the central valley that could alter the travel/migration patterns of some land animals. Don’t know how serious it is though.

  • I see the Palmdale/Lancaster issue a bit differently. (It is already possible to take Metrolink between Palmdale/Lancaster and Downtwon.)

    SCAG is predicting three million more new people in Los Angeles County over the next 30 years. That means more people everywhere, including Palmdale/Lancaster. With cheapter land out there, that area is likely to continue to grow. There is a possibility now before overdevelopment to develop it in a greener way. HSR will offer another alternative to driving an automobile.

  • Stats Dude

    Good points Dan.
    It’s critical to anticipate these impacts and mitigate them at the beginning of the planning process, not after the build process.

    Perhaps Palmdale was a bad example. I was thinking of California City as a new bedroom community for Los Angeles as maybe a better example.

  • Stats Dude, we have people now commuting from Victorville to L.A. At least with HSR we provide an option other than auto travel. Today folks who want to commute from San Diego to L.A. can use the train. And guess what? Amtrak has a monthly pass for the Surfliner just because some people do so. The worries of some enviros that Fresno will become a bedroom community for L.A. and the Bay Area seems somewhat exaggerated.

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