Thursday, April 3, 2008

High Speed Rail Polling Details

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

Posting has been a bit light this week as I recover from one of the nastiest flu bugs I've had in some time. (Note to my readers: don't read The Stand during flu season - if you do read it and get sick afterward, you will be freaked out.) I'm also waiting on some reports to come in from yesterday's CHSRA board meeting in Sacramento, where an apparently "lively" discussion on transit-oriented development took place.

In the meantime I thought I would share some details of the high speed rail polling data I discussed last week. At the time all we had was Quentin Kopp's statement of a statewide 58-32 split in favor of the bonds, which was confirmed to me over the weekend by Fiona Ma and her staff. This week the San Francisco Examiner has provided some crucial details of that poll:

A statewide survey of 800 registered voters shows that 67 percent of Bay Area residents plan to vote “yes” on a $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond in November, an approval rating higher than any other California region.

Statewide, 58 percent of voters approved of the bond measure, and 61 percent said “yes” in the Los Angeles and San Joaquin areas, the study said.

Those are stunning numbers. The massive support in the Bay Area and the significant majorities in LA and the San Joaquin Valley would more than make up for whatever opposition might exist elsewhere in the state. Typically, to win a statewide election of any kind, you need to run up big numbers in the Bay Area and LA and break even in the Central Valley and the other parts of Southern California. This poll suggests we are in a good position to accomplish that goal.

Of course, the other important piece of California political wisdom is that support for an initiative always drops the closer we get to Election Day, as negative attacks begin to take their toll on public support. It is therefore crucial that a ballot measure be polling well above 50% in the early stages, and that is exactly what this poll shows.

We still have seven long months to go, and these poll numbers will almost certainly change in that time. But the situation looks very good for the high speed rail plan. November 2008 will see an enormous turnout of voters likely to support something like high speed rail, overwhelming the anti-government spending, anti-transit voters that tend to dominate low-turnout elections. And even as the negative attacks begin in earnest after Labor Day, we appear to have a strong reserve of support that can carry us to victory on November 4.


Martin Engel said...

My first impulse was to ignore this nonsense filled article. But, there's an object lesson here and well worth pointing out. The subject of the article, ostensibly, is a survey showing "strong support" in the Bay Area for the high speed train.

About this poll: 800 subjects is a rather limited number to base a state-wide poll on. With data from 7 discreet regions (see below), that means roughly 114 subjects per region, plus or minus. The margin of error does not appear in the article, but ought to be fairly high, like in the neighborhood of 4%. In a state with a population of about 30 million adults, this 800 person poll is, you should pardon the blunt expression, BS. Statisticians will laugh if you tell them about this.
What were the questions? How was the poll structured? Oh, never mind.

Also, out of 7 regions, northern California appears to be represented by two, while southern California is represented by five. An explanation would have been helpful.

The poll was conducted by J. Moore Methods, Inc. based in Sacramento. I wonder who paid for it. As the old saying goes, whoever pays the piper gets to pick the tune. Which is to say, these "overwhelming" results underwhelm me. Another saying comes to mind: There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

We read that "Bay Area residents are fed up with bumper-to-bumper traffic." I assume that this means that Bay Area residents are fed up with this bumper-to-bumper traffic IN THE BAY AREA, and therefore not on the way to Los Angeles. How will this train from San Francisco to Los Angeles reduce traffic gridlock on, say, the Bay Bridge, or Highway 101 in Marin, or 580 in the East Bay, or, for that matter, anywhere else in the Bay Area?

"Bay Area residents want state money set aside" the article tells us. What money exactly would that be, that is available to be set aside?

Why would Mike Aldax mindlessly quote only the promoters of the train (Diridon, Kopp) for his "facts?" Why, I want to know, has Mike Aldax not done his homework? That is unprofessional.

(That goes for you too, Robert. Do some homework. When the CHSRA feeds you their information, at least digest it, check their arithmetic, use your "crap detector.")

Our highway system is falling apart, says Diridon. So, what shall we do, abandon it? Because of your train, Mr. Diridon, we won't need any highways anymore?

Then Diridon says that the bond measure won't increase our taxes since the money comes from the general fund. And, Mr. Diridon, if I may ask, where does the money from the general fund come from? And, Mr. Diridon, how much money does the general fund have in its coffers? Wait, isn't there a $16 billion deficit in the state at the present time? Well, we could cut school funds even further. Right?

Shame on you Mr. Aldax. Do you not see the pattern of dissembling and distorting; what, if I may say it forcefully, amounts to an outright scam?

Martin Engel

Published Tuesday, April 1, 2008, by the San Francisco Examiner

High-speed rail bond has strong Bay Area support

By Mike Aldax

Bay Area residents fed up with bumper-to-bumper traffic
overwhelmingly support shelling out nearly $10 billion in state
funds for a 200-mph train connecting the state's major cities, a
recent poll indicates.

A statewide survey of 800 registered voters shows that 67 percent of
Bay Area residents plan to vote "yes" on a $9.9 billion high-speed
rail bond in November, an approval rating higher than any other
California region.

Statewide, 58 percent of voters approved of the bond measure, and
61 percent said "yes" in the Los Angeles and San Joaquin areas, the
study said.

That Bay Area residents want state money set aside for high-speed
trains is little surprise, seeing as recent studies place the
region among the worst in the nation for traffic congestion and
deteriorating roads, said Rod Diridon Sr., a member of the high-
speed rail board.

"I think [the Bay Area has] the perfect storm of negatives," Diridon
said. "Our highway system, built back in the '50s, '60s and '70s, is
now falling apart and our population is growing rapidly. Traditional
sources of revenue for transportation maintenance and development is

Diridon added that most Californians don't realize the bond measure
would not increase taxes. He said the bonds would derive from the
state's general fund.

Lawmakers and transportation officials alike say passing the bond
measure is crucial to speeding up the start date for rail

Former state Sen. Quentin Kopp, chairman of the rail board, said
a November approval of the bond issue "will enable us to be in
construction in 2009."

Kopp called the recent poll "a cherry result" demonstrating increased
awareness about the proposed 700-mile, $40 billion rail network that
would be built over a 20-year period.

The bond measure has faced obstacles in the past. Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger, who has yet to sign on to the measure, twice
supported legislation postponing it from going to the ballot.

But that doesn't mean he doesn't support the measure, spokeswoman
Sabrina Lockhart said. She said there's no indication at this point
that any legislation will be proposed to pull it from the November
ballot and added that it's not unusual for Schwarzenegger to reserve
an official opinion on a measure so far from the November election.

Rail support

A poll asked 800 voters whether they would vote "yes" or "no" on a $9.9 billion
high-speed rail bond planned for the November ballot.

Yes No ?? Region
64% 27% 9% Bay Area
61% 29% 10% Los Angeles
61% 36% 3% San Joaquin Valley
59% 39% 3% Riverside-San Bernardino
55% 38% 7% San Diego
53% 44% 3% Orange County
50% 45% 5% Sacramento Valley
59% 34% 7% Northern California
57% 36% 7% Southern California
58% 35% 7% Statewide

Source: JMM Research

Robert Cruickshank said...

About the only thing I agree with in your comment is that we need some more polling data. This one poll alone isn't enough to provide firm data - we need several polls, over a few months. Ideally the Field Poll or PPIC will ask some HSR questions in the near future to provide us that information.

As to the rest, well, you seem quite happy in your anti-HSR role. Far be it from me to stop you. But I will reiterate that nobody from CHSRA - or anywhere else - is "feeding me information." This blog is mine and mine alone. If I ever did get such info I would pass it along and note the source so folks could make up their own minds.

johnd said...

So our pedantic friend Martin is not only a transit overlord but also apparently a developmental psychologist with a doctorate in statistics. Why don't we just hire this guy to fix the state infrastructure for the next generation...I bet he could do it all by himself and save us from our train loving selves.

It wouldn't bother me so much except that these comments you post Martin, do NOT constitute any sort of debate or discourse around this important and controversial public works project. Rather they assume the tone of my 5 year old cousin when he doesn't want to take a bath.

Why don't you either drop the personal attacks and nonsense arrogance and engage us in a rational, reasoned, and differential debate or just leave us alone and start your OWN blog and pontificate about how damn clever you are, and what a bunch of chumps we all are.

I bet is still available.

johnd said...

PS. I DO have a question for you Robert. Do you know anything about the plan for the peninsula alignment? I'm wondering if the HSR will run on the Caltrain mainline tracks or just share the ROW and run on a parrellel set of tracks.

Either way strikes me as potentially problematic as caltrain is hoping to run at least 110 daily trains by the time HSR is built, so i don't know how they would fit in between headways. If they plan to build parallel track, it seems kind of silly that Caltrain is spending a bunch of money to redesign all of their stations (with two tracks).

Great news on the polls though, I've been watching this project ever since i worked on validating the signatures for the proposition with the elections department in 2003-04.

I think however that the looming energy, our new found national environmentalism, and the high expected turn-out of liberal democrats for a (fingers crossed) Obama/McCain match-up in November is a winning formula worth waiting several elections for.

Robert Cruickshank said...


The tracks will run right alongside the Caltrain tracks. Where there are currently two sets of tracks on the peninsula, with HSR there will be four - two for Caltrain and two for HSR. This will also involve completely grade-separating the corridor, which is WAY overdue.

I agree with your assessment of the politics in November. There really is no better time to go to the ballot.

MikeOnBike said...

"two for Caltrain and two for HSR"

I think it's more likely that Caltrain and HSR will both use all four tracks. Typically, the inside track for skipping a station and the outside track for stopping at a station, but that's probably oversimplifying.

Robert Cruickshank said...


Yes, you're right. I stand corrected.

Anonymous said...

Four tracks for both High Speed Trains and Caltrain TOGETHER?

Will they be sharing tracks because of the speed the High Speed train will travel through the peninsula? About the same right? Is this bad for the High Speed Train? Will it become slower?

MikeOnBike said...

In urban areas, HSR was never expected to run at max speed. For basically the same reasons that airplanes fly slower near airports.

DavisEconomist said...

Martine Engel seems to be shooting the messenger. People on the losing end of polls always critique the methodology. Ask any politician when they're down, but they love the polls when they're up.....

If you knew any statistics, you would know the population size isn't as important as the sample size. With a large enough sample size, you can estimate parameters of any population with high degree of accuracy. And how high do you think the margin of error would be? Not nearly enough to cause high speed rail to lose the vote.

The trains mean less upkeep/new building of highways. Is that so hard to understand?

The only good point you make is the ridiculous statement that bonds don't increase taxes.

NMD said...

I am going to be going door to door all over North County letting people know about this, come election season.

People need to learn that higher state/local taxes is a good thing. It means that your money is actually going toward things that matter instead of sucked into a different country that we should never have invaded.

If you complain (vote against) about higher state/local taxes, and then "somehow" your schools have no money and have to fire teachers, well you've just shot yourself in the foot and have no one to blame but yourself!

bikerider said...

Plans for Caltrain segment have not been specified. Normally, it would be done as described by "mikeonbike" -- Caltrain Express and HSR using inside express tracks, and the Caltrain local on the outside. The big problem is that this requires a waiver from the FRA, to allow Caltrain to run HSR-compatible light-weight equipment.

In the past, FRA has not allowed this. For example, under the Clinton administration, FRA denied waiver for the Amtrak Acela project. The end result was that the Acela had to be custom built, with twice the weight -- resulting in a train that has frequent breakdowns and is extremely expensive to operate. Caltrain staff has spent the past two years trying to get a waiver, with no success.

Unless the FRA changes its Tier I rules, CAHSR faces some difficult choices; either: 1. Build very heavy trains (way too expensive to operate at 224 mph), or 2. Build an entirely separate infrastructure.

Option #2 is what the BART district ended up doing, with the result being a train network that cost 10-100x more to build than it should have, and which cannot provide proper intermodal connections with other train services. Also note that where you have "incompatible" rail lines that run parallel, FRA requires a substantial buffer between the tracks. Given the limited Caltrain ROW, that would probably mean expensive tunneling.

Incidentally, this is also why the so-called "upgraded" ACE "commuter" overlay that has been proposed is complete BS. The FRA would simply never allow it.

Anonymous said...

Good for you, nmd... I applaud and thank you for your efforts.

sexy said...