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Thread: High-speed rail and the strengthening of megalopolises

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    High-speed rail and the strengthening of megalopolises

    Why aren't urban planners at the forefront of the discussion of high-speed rail in the United States, especially as the mode promises to expand the productive capacity of megalopolises, which are the true economic engines of the country?

    Among parts of the population, there seems to be a very superficial understanding of the effects of high-speed rail that the mode's detractors are exploiting.

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    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    Why aren't urban planners at the forefront of the discussion of high-speed rail in the United States, especially as the mode promises to expand the productive capacity of megalopolises, which are the true economic engines of the country?

    Among parts of the population, there seems to be a very superficial understanding of the effects of high-speed rail that the mode's detractors are exploiting.
    I think the problem is that the PR of rail, let alone high-speed rail is impossible in this political climate. The general public still sees the car as king, and any funding that goes to anything but roadways as somehow more costly than the upkeep of our roads and bridges.

    Once gas gets to $4.50 we will see how it all plays out, as the last time gas went up, the conversation started to get rational again. It is too bad that some state's governors were too short sighted to see the value in rail. It will be here someday - it just depends on whether it is sooner than later. And how much money, time, and fossil fuel we waste in the mean time.
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    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    If you think that building interstate-standard freeways and tollways into city centers was (and remains) an often cantankerous issue (neighbors, NIMBY, urban fabric, 'social/environmental justice' and so on...), start pondering the establishing and expropriating of routes for major infrastructure corridors into those city centers that are far, far, far less forgiving on engineering standards, especially with regards to horizontal and vertical curve radii.

    Remember that a true high-speed rail line requires a minimum horizontal curve radius of 7000 meters (that's just under 4.5 miles, for the Luddites in the crowd) in order to operate at 350 km/h (just under 220 MPH). Try routing something like that into a big-city downtown area on a new ROW.

    Think $$$$$ for startup costs.

    Mike

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    Cyburbian
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    1. Most mass transit is just too expensive to build and can't pay for itself. With notable exceptions, a larger percentage of ridership is elderly, disabled, and low-income. These groups, although very important, do not provide enough taxable income to offset the construction and maintenance costs. Tax revenue is obtained by other indviduals/groups, many of which may never benefit from mass transit, although that's not necessarily a bad thing either.

    2. HSRs can be economic development tools with the understanding that you can't have a station and/or TODs for every single city, town, and village. Otherwise, they are no longer high speed. HSRs should be a substitute for air travel/interstate travel but not everyday travel. Driving from a large CBD to an exurb is not. interstate travel.

    3. I don't think those governors are so much against HSR concepts, there's just no money right now. It's not on top list of most state's priorities which are (1) balance the budget and (2) lower unemployment. What you hear on the news is often inflated political rhetoric to stir emotion and win votes. In better times, HSRs and other large infrastructure projects were supported by both parties.
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    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    1.

    HSRs can be economic development tools with the understanding that you can't have a station and/or TODs for every single city, town, and village. Otherwise, they are no longer high speed. HSRs should be a substitute for air travel/interstate travel but not everyday travel. Driving from a large CBD to an exurb is not. interstate travel.
    I think this is very true, and further, lots of places - at least in the "Middle" of the country - are playing catch-up with their light and commuter rail systems, so any money and effort is going into making those systems effective and extensive first.

    In Utah, we fantasize about an HSR line between the Metro SLC area and the Las Vegas Metro area which includes a significant southern UT economy in St. George, but we just have too much on our plate connecting the SLC area to it's own disparate parts first.
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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mgk920 View post
    If you think that building interstate-standard freeways and tollways into city centers was (and remains) an often cantankerous issue (neighbors, NIMBY, urban fabric, 'social/environmental justice' and so on...), start pondering the establishing and expropriating of routes for major infrastructure corridors into those city centers that are far, far, far less forgiving on engineering standards, especially with regards to horizontal and vertical curve radii.

    Remember that a true high-speed rail line requires a minimum horizontal curve radius of 7000 meters (that's just under 4.5 miles, for the Luddites in the crowd) in order to operate at 350 km/h (just under 220 MPH). Try routing something like that into a big-city downtown area on a new ROW.

    Think $$$$$ for startup costs.

    Mike
    Mike, this wouldn't have been the situation in FL with the proposed train elevated over I-4. Nor is it the situation in the northeast where we have the rail infrastructure in place and existing high speed service along the Boston to Washington corridor (although it can be faster with upgrades). There is no one-size-fits-all situation, we have to consider context for high speed rail. It can work in some places but not everywhere.

    The state of CT is asking for the money that FL turned away for the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield HSR line. This corridor has the existing infrastructure, population density, and economic activity in place to make HSR a slam dunk.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    High speed inter-city rail faces competition from both ends – from the automobile and the airplane. In order for high speed rail to be competitive it has to be as convenient as driving and as quick as flying. For shorter trips between two nearby cities (50 to 100 miles apart) a car will usually be more convenient and for very long distances (+300 miles) air travel will usually be quicker. It’s the small window of opportunity in between where rail can be competitive.

    So why hasn’t it been built in North America? In Europe, Japan and a few other places old indirect road networks and the high cost land means that it’s generally been cheaper to build a high speed rail corridor than new expressways or airports, while in North America the interstate network is relatively direct and airports are well-established near most destinations. In other words because driving is more direct and convenient, and flying is quicker (e.g. getting to and from city centre airports) in North America than in Europe the window of opportunity for rail is a lot smaller. Some would argue that it’s non-existent except for in a very few special locations.

    There are three things that may make high-speed rail more attractive in the future: One is urban sprawl, which leads to traffic congestion – if inter-city expressways become clogged with commuter traffic on a regular basis more people making the intercity trip will be enticed into taking the train; Two is the cost of fuel – rail is more efficient that both cars or aircraft and so will be less impacted by high fuel costs, and: Three is urban lifestyle – if enough people don’t need cars on a daily basis then those people will be more likely take the train to get from one city to the next.

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    The Future of Air Travel

    One of the interesting aspects of High Speed Rail is the fact that current technology cannot replace air travel without oil. When the cost of jet fuel becomes too expensive because of Peak Oil, there is no technology available to propel jetliners with batteries. They're just too heavy.

    Maybe fuel cells - but maybe not.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Howl,

    I mostly agree with your points. Where I hesitate is when you claim a trip of 300 miles may be easier by flying. It comes down to time and service. Small airports may have a very limited number of daily flights, sometimes as few as one. Then there is the need to make connections. If the timing of flights from the regional airport to the hub is off, you could wait hours to make your connection. If trains can make the trip as quickly and run more frequently, they will be the better option for most people. Also, I doubt that we will continue to support many of the smaller regional airports far into the future. There is just too little demand and profit for commercial carriers, and the public pays huge sums to subsidize operations.


    MGK,

    You are wrong in assuming that speed rail will travel at 220 MPH through cities. It is intended as intercity rail - Chicago to Minneapoli or Saint Louis to Kansas City, for example. In metropolitan area the speed would not exceed 79 MPH, and more likely be lower in heavily developed areas. Existing track and right of way can support the design needs for this speed. Even in rural areas, track improvements could mostly be accommodated in existing right of way. Finally, the current proposed improvements would allow speeds of 79 MPH with future incremental increases - nobody is seriously proposing to run bullet trains at 220 MPH any time soon.

    As for start-up costs, they are incredibly low compared to highways, and benefit freight rail transport to a much greater degree than passenger rail. Consider that the lost opportunity for Wisconsin would have cost the state something over $20 million. By comparison, we will have spent over $1 billion to reconstruct the Marquette and Zoo Interchanges. How much more will we spend to widen I-90 and I-94 from the state line to Madison/Milwaukee?

    A study released last week by the DOT estimates that moving one ton of freight by truck requires six times the public subsidy of moving the same amount by rail, and nine times as much as moving it by water. This country needs to invest in its rail infrastructure. If improved passenger rail is a byproduct of that investment, then it is only better.
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Nate22 View post
    One of the interesting aspects of High Speed Rail is the fact that current technology cannot replace air travel without oil. When the cost of jet fuel becomes too expensive because of Peak Oil, there is no technology available to propel jetliners with batteries. They're just too heavy.

    Maybe fuel cells - but maybe not.
    It's an interesting point you make.

    As alternative fuel (less well-suited currently for long-distance travel) propels more and more cars travelling locally, and people continue trending toward mass transit for longer distances, maybe the demand for Oil is decreased enough to allow it to "hold-out" long enough for alternative viable solutions (like better fuel cells) for air and longer distance travel?
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  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    I'm specifically referring to the use of high-speed rail to connect suburban airports, to revitalize those cities that were decimated by Euclidean zoning and the highway system, and to greatly intensify land use surrounding stations in order to promote the economic output that more urban places produce. Outside the U.S., high-speed rail is sometimes even used to create metropolises from nothing.

    While Californians, as a group, seem to grasp, with California High-Speed Rail, the extraordinary capacity for this particular kind of transportation infrastructure to maintain and expand the economies of the two megalopolises there (as well as Las Vegas and Phoenix through the DesertXpress, Desert Lightning, and Super Speed Train projects), people in other states still seem astoundingly oblivious.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    One advantage that rail does have over other modes is that a train can draw its tractive energy from whatever source is most economical in any given location and at any given time - via an overhead catenary wire. Civil aviation and most road vehicles ('trackless' trolley buses for local transit being the major exception) do not have that capability, most are fully dependent on the vagaries of the market for one commodity, that being crude oil, for their operation. Yes, there are little 'niche' fuels, but I do not see any of them becoming economically workable on a wide scale at any time in the foreseeable future (and no, government subsidies of various 'alternative' fuels does not make them economically workable).

    And, Cardinal, what you are telling me is how the major North American railroads operated their passenger trains during the first half of the 20th century - that would only be a service restoration, not true 'high speed'.

    One more point regarding efficiency of freight rail, I strongly suspect that there are quite a few smaller industrial companies that would love to make use of rail freight service, BUT, unless you are talking 10-15 or more cars per day, most of the railroad operating companies, especially the Class I carriers, will not be interested in providing that service and/or charge so much for it that trucks will be the more economical alternative (CN here in central and northeastern Wisconsin is a prime example - their bad local carload service is becoming a serious drag on our local economy). Perhaps as part of a long-term strategy, requiring that rail lines be opened to competitors, both freight and passenger, on an 'open access' basis will go a long way towards solving that problem - and taking many more trucks off of the highways in the process.

    Mike
    Last edited by mgk920; 18 Mar 2011 at 3:43 PM.

  13. #13
    Acela outdraws airplanes in the northeast corrido even now. The train between San Diego and Los Angeles is faster than driving.

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    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    I understand the draw of high-speed rail and its ability to improve transportation access within and between megalopolises, but as has been pointed out, it will mainly benefit interstate travelers, air travelers, and current rail travelers (i.e. Amtrak). Having a high-speed rail line, for instance, from Minneapolis to Milwaukee to Chicago to Indianapolis to Cincinnati, would be great (and other similar lines as well), but it does little to improve the daily commutes faced by people in large metropolitan areas, which tend to be the larger drain on fuel and precious time for people everyday in our country.

    As a result, I think greater focus needs to be placed on improving mass transit systems in our metropolitan areas. For example, in Chicagoland, unless you are planning to commute from a neighborhood/suburb to another neighborhood/suburb along the same line or to downtown Chicago, it is impossible, inconvenient, and impractical to use public transportation. Inter-suburban commuter rail lines need to be constructed to connect the lines, and criss-cross the system, and make it easier to commute north-south, and to connect the various employment centers and residential concentrations on the fringes of the city and in the suburbs. I think the same holds true for many other metro areas. Additionally, it should be noted, that, bad as it is, Chicago's system is probably the 2nd or 3rd best in the country (behind NY and DC), and yet it still does not remain an option for me, or many other people who live and work in the suburbs. Many large metro areas in the U.S. have pathetic mass transit systems, if at all. If you really want to cut down on 45, 60, 90, 120 minute one-way daily commutes, you need to improve the mass transit systems first, because as it stands right now, so many people have only one option to commute...cars.

    Right now, Amtrak, air service, and bus service (Megabus, Groundhog, etc.) currently exist to provide long-distance regional access, in addition to the interstate highway system. I think a smarter solution to improving regional travel would be to improve and expand these systems, especially Amtrak. Basically revamp Amtrak, eliminate some of the smaller, less-used stops, create additional lines where they're needed, add capacity, increase frequency, bump up the speed, and turn Amtrak into the high-speed rail network it should be. It would be a lot less costly.
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    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    I am a big fan of the idea of HSR, mostly because of its efficiency in terms of energy and time. This might be especially true with a Maglev line (barely any output in energy and the ability to operate under extreme weather conditions because of the track elevation). I remember reading in an article a while back that rail lines would be most efficient for trips between 50-500 miles in distance (cars and buses for shorter trips, planes for the longer trips). If that's a valuable estimate, that is one hell of a radius each major metropolitan area would have.

    I think one thing that hasn't been mentioned is the cultural shift more rail lines would bring. People are still big fans of owning cars and use their car as an expression of their own character, I'm guilty of this myself.

    Still though, one day gas will get expensive enough where a lot fewer people will even have the option to own cars, they're going to need some way of getting from a to b.
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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by illinoisplanner View post
    I understand the draw of high-speed rail and its ability to improve transportation access within and between megalopolises, but as has been pointed out, it will mainly benefit interstate travelers, air travelers, and current rail travelers (i.e. Amtrak). Having a high-speed rail line, for instance, from Minneapolis to Milwaukee to Chicago to Indianapolis to Cincinnati, would be great (and other similar lines as well), but it does little to improve the daily commutes faced by people in large metropolitan areas, which tend to be the larger drain on fuel and precious time for people everyday in our country.

    As a result, I think greater focus needs to be placed on improving mass transit systems in our metropolitan areas. For example, in Chicagoland, unless you are planning to commute from a neighborhood/suburb to another neighborhood/suburb along the same line or to downtown Chicago, it is impossible, inconvenient, and impractical to use public transportation. Inter-suburban commuter rail lines need to be constructed to connect the lines, and criss-cross the system, and make it easier to commute north-south, and to connect the various employment centers and residential concentrations on the fringes of the city and in the suburbs. I think the same holds true for many other metro areas. Additionally, it should be noted, that, bad as it is, Chicago's system is probably the 2nd or 3rd best in the country (behind NY and DC), and yet it still does not remain an option for me, or many other people who live and work in the suburbs. Many large metro areas in the U.S. have pathetic mass transit systems, if at all. If you really want to cut down on 45, 60, 90, 120 minute one-way daily commutes, you need to improve the mass transit systems first, because as it stands right now, so many people have only one option to commute...cars.
    We have to do all of the above at the same time. The California High-Speed Rail Authority, for instance, considers intermodal connectivity with other public-transportation systems to be among the agency's foremost priorities. On-site parking at stations will be minimal. So, the urban form and the transit services must improve with the addition of the high-speed trains.

    Ultimately, high-speed rail will help correct jobs-housing imbalances that are creating these crazy commutes in the first place.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    Ultimately, high-speed rail will help correct jobs-housing imbalances that are creating these crazy commutes in the first place.
    I don't believe this is true at all. As a previous poster pointed out, in order for rail to be high speed, it can't stop at every other corner or every station, so it's advantage is that everybody gets on at Point A and exits at Point B. This scenario is likely to do just the opposite of what you think it will. It does nothing to change the suburban residence/city job paradigm. What it will do is enable people to live further from their jobs to take advantage of lower housing costs but still take less time to get there as long as they live within a short commute of Point A and work within a reasonable distance to Point B.

    What high speed rail would do along the Hudson River/Northway corridor is allow people who live in Hudson, NY to commute to Manhattan in 40 minutes or less. That would mean that tens of thousands of people would likely move to the Hudson area from NYC because of lower housing costs instead of the thousands who already do this with the commute being 1 1/2 hours by train.

    It would also allow people to live in Albany and commute to NYC with a 50-60 minute commute rather than a 150 minute one. The disparity between NYC metro salaries and Albany metro salaries and the cost differential in housing leads a few people to do this even now, so shortening the commute would encourage more of this. HSR is NOT going to change the fact that many people who work in Albany choose to live in Colonie, Clifton Park or Bethlehem because HSR is NOT applicable to local mass transit.

    Pushing HSR up the Northway corridor to Saratoga Springs or Glens Falls or even Plattsburgh, would spread more suburban sprawl even further up Route 9/Northway than it is now by making the commute between these cities and Albany where the jobs are much more palatable.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    I don't believe this is true at all. As a previous poster pointed out, in order for rail to be high speed, it can't stop at every other corner or every station, so it's advantage is that everybody gets on at Point A and exits at Point B. This scenario is likely to do just the opposite of what you think it will. It does nothing to change the suburban residence/city job paradigm. What it will do is enable people to live further from their jobs to take advantage of lower housing costs but still take less time to get there as long as they live within a short commute of Point A and work within a reasonable distance to Point B.

    What high speed rail would do along the Hudson River/Northway corridor is allow people who live in Hudson, NY to commute to Manhattan in 40 minutes or less. That would mean that tens of thousands of people would likely move to the Hudson area from NYC because of lower housing costs instead of the thousands who already do this with the commute being 1 1/2 hours by train.

    It would also allow people to live in Albany and commute to NYC with a 50-60 minute commute rather than a 150 minute one. The disparity between NYC metro salaries and Albany metro salaries and the cost differential in housing leads a few people to do this even now, so shortening the commute would encourage more of this. HSR is NOT going to change the fact that many people who work in Albany choose to live in Colonie, Clifton Park or Bethlehem because HSR is NOT applicable to local mass transit.

    Pushing HSR up the Northway corridor to Saratoga Springs or Glens Falls or even Plattsburgh, would spread more suburban sprawl even further up Route 9/Northway than it is now by making the commute between these cities and Albany where the jobs are much more palatable.
    You're wrong. The problem isn't enabling people to live at a distance from employment centers. Fixing the jobs-housing imbalances is, instead, a matter of attracting employers, entrepreneurs, and venture capital, along with more affluent residents, to areas that have existing housing. Airports currently do this to a large extent, but the suburban facilities are often hindered by unreliable ground access and relatively-weak local demand for air travel. Major businesses need easy access to a large number of non-stop flights. So, high-speed rail not only "regionalizes" aviation demand; the mode also effectively transforms each station into an airport.

  19. #19
    In general, high speed rail does not change patterns inside a metro area. The stops are too far apart and it's too expensive for daily commuters. It does tend to boost the economies of satellite cities, those that now have better access to the big city. But again, it's too expensive to allow people to live that far out and commute in.

    At least that has been the experience in other countries.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    You're wrong. The problem isn't enabling people to live at a distance from employment centers. Fixing the jobs-housing imbalances is, instead, a matter of attracting employers, entrepreneurs, and venture capital, along with more affluent residents, to areas that have existing housing. Airports currently do this to a large extent, but the suburban facilities are often hindered by unreliable ground access and relatively-weak local demand for air travel. Major businesses need easy access to a large number of non-stop flights. So, high-speed rail not only "regionalizes" aviation demand; the mode also effectively transforms each station into an airport.
    I'm sorry, but I fail to see the connection between HSR and getting businesses to set up shop in existing areas. To me, that's a function of general economic development not of a specific mode of transportation. I also fail to see how you can prevent HSR from being used to create more sprawl unless you disallow passenger HSR. Good luck with that since taxpayer $$$ would undoubtedly be used.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    I also fail to see how you can prevent HSR from being used to create more sprawl unless you disallow passenger HSR.
    Parking is the short answer.

    In California, at least, parking will neither be cheap nor convenient. ( www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov ) Station locations are being selected based on surrounding walkability and development potential. Lower-order transit improvements are also being made. Los Angeles, for example, is completing 30 years' worth of such projects in ten.

    The 80-minute Los Angeles-to-San Diego line is a prime example of a service that would transform a megalopolis. Linking the city pair (the two largest cities in California) will create the most ridership of any American corridor with the exception of the Northeast. An intermediate station location roughly equidistant between the two end points may exist in the City of San Bernardino, which is repositioning itself to compete in the category of first-tier cities. The urban centers of Ontario and Riverside may also have intermediate stations, which would provide direct connections to the established Ontario International Airport and the emerging March Global Port. The San Bernardino terminal is likely to, itself, be linked by a fixed-guideway system (now under study) to the recently-completed San Bernardino International Airport. So, the foundation for California's future economic growth is being laid by this integrated transportation infrastructure.





    Simultaneously, DesertXpress, a private-sector project, is due to have high-speed trains running between Victorville and Las Vegas in 2013 with full-revenue service in 2014. ( www.DesertXpress.com ) Desert Lightning is a competing proposal that would connect the Inland Empire with both Las Vegas and Phoenix via Palm Springs. ( www.DesertLightningProject.com ) And, the California-Nevada Super Speed Train is a third project that would link Las Vegas with Anaheim by magnetic levitation. ( www.CANV-MagLev.com ) All three are being planned to complement California's intra-state system.


  22. #22
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    Parking is the short answer.

    In California, at least, parking will neither be cheap nor convenient... Station locations are being selected based on surrounding walkability and development potential....
    The problem is that there is really limited potential for development in the immediate vicinity of the stations. Most of the employment growth and residential growth and commercial growth will happen elsewhere, and I am afraid it is going to continue to be the same old suburban format. Most people will continue to drive their cars from suburban homes to suburban strip centers and suburban office parks. There will be nodes of something called TOD, but they are only nodes. HSR is means of travel between metropolitan regions and I do agree that it will take the place of airports as a more efficient means of moving people intermediate distances.
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  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    The problem is that there is really limited potential for development in the immediate vicinity of the stations.
    Why would you say that?

    Downtown Los Angeles might be largely built-out, but many of the other station locations offer staggering development potential.

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    Why would you say that?

    Downtown Los Angeles might be largely built-out, but many of the other station locations offer staggering development potential.
    What "other station locations"? How is it HSR if the train between LA and SD spends an hour stopping at multiple stations within LA and another hour at the other end stopping at stations in SD?

    As I understand the concept of HSR is connecting 1 station in a metro to 1 station in another metro. If your plan is to have 5 stations in a large metro connect to 3 stations in a smaller metro, I think that would create two big problems:
    • Numerous in-city rail lines that would cut through existing neighborhoods. I don't know what California cities are like, but most cities in the NE and the Midwest don't have railroad lines running everywhere in the city.
    • This kind of system would create the need for multiple runs that are unlikely to be able to be sustainable. I think that a 5 station/3 station configuration would require at least 15 trains going in 1 direction.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    Why would you say that?

    Downtown Los Angeles might be largely built-out, but many of the other station locations offer staggering development potential.
    Stagging? The remaining infill and redevelopment sites around the few HSR stations may provide an opportunity to build hundreds, and perhaps thousands of new homes - or about as many in one Centex or McStain-type developer subdivision.
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    Replies: 3
    Last post: 13 Oct 2001, 3:22 PM