Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pacheco It Is

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

The California High Speed Rail Authority today approved the EIR, including the Pacheco alignment. This comes as a surprise to nobody, but it may hopefully lay to rest the long-running debate over whether it or the Altamont alignment is the best way to connect SF to LA. I never had strong feelings either way - each had their pros and cons, neither clearly outweighing the other. Yes, Pacheco provides us folks in Monterey a closer stop, but it wouldn't have been difficult to get to San José for the Altamont alignment if that had been chosen either.

It's time now for HSR advocates to unite behind this project alignment and help ensure the bond is passed this November. The last piece is AB 3034, which goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee tomorrow in Sacramento. It's not clear what will happen - whether Leland Yee's changes, including reprioritizing the SF-LA "spine", will remain. There isn't a great deal of time to make these changes, as the bond language has to be prepped for the ballot presumably sometime in August.

The HSR project is moving from the refinement stage to the campaign stage. It's about time. The bond vote was postponed twice, of course, but it's hard to imagine how 2004 or 2006 could have been better - high gas prices, the airline crisis, global warming, soaring passenger train ridership are all showing Californians the value of high speed trains. With a huge turnout in November Proposition 1 has an excellent chance of passage.

There'll be one fewer reporter to cover it though. Erik Nelson, aka the Capricious Commuter, is leaving his job with the Bay Area Newsgroup - 29 employees were to be fired, and Nelson chose to switch places with one of them. He's heading to Afghanistan, or somewhere near to it, where his wife works as an NPR correspondent. He may not have always had the firmest grasp of the HSR project but he was willing to engage the public through his blog, and his knowledge of HSR did improve over the last few months.

As the California political press corps shrinks, blogs like this become more important in getting information out to the public about HSR. Thanks to all our commenters for helping us do that. On to November!

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Any word on a decision regarding the Redwood City/Palo Alto station?

Anonymous said...

Well Rafael are you going to continue to support the project?

Clearly you understand Altamont was the superior route on all counts, and you pointed out how the CHSRA had fudged travel times and construction costs to favor Pachecho.

I hope by now you understand, this is nothing but back room deals being created by San Jose and San Francisco and Diridon and Kopp right in the middle.

Rafael said...

@ anonymous @ 11:54am -

the decision on whether there will be a second station in San Mateo county and if so, whether it will be in Redwood City or in Palo Alto appears to have been pushed out yet again to the project-level stage.

I'm not familiar with the reasons why this is the only station siting decision that still has not been finalized. Redwood City has more available space and is a little easier to reach for residents of the southern East Bay.

Palo Alto University Avenue would be at the northern end of Silicon Valley, but the ROW is narrow there. More space and better road connections would be available just south of Oregon Expressway, but that is quite far from the downtown area.

@ anonymous @ 12:26am -

I would indeed have preferred a decision in favor of Altamont variation 9 minus the Oakland spur, preferably with the Silicon Valley station at Santa Clara/SJC. I believe it would have saved money in the long run, both by eliminating any consideration of an HST overlay network and, by relieving congestion on at least I-80, I-580/205 west of Tracy, I-680 south of Dublin and I-880 south of Fremont. It would also have made the Delta counties more attractive locations for corporate back office operations and new migrants to the state, relieving pressure on e.g. water and electricity distribution and, reducing earthquake risks to the state's economy. These opportunity costs will ultimately have to be borne by California taxpayers.

It was clear from the moment the high speed commission was disbanded in favor of the present authority that San Francisco peninsula interests were pushing for Pacheco. Their primary objective was the north-south link, with all trains serving both ends of the peninsula. Added to that were the politics surrounding the planned BART extension to San Jose and the tax base impacts of enabling long distance commuting from the Central Valley.

My perception is that many of the real reasons for choosing Pacheco over Altamont were not made explicit because California consists of a weak state and powerful counties, with no formal mechanism for seeking consensus to reconcile their legitimate differences. Unfortunately, at some point someone apparently decided to resort to tweak the line haul time data to secure the outcome they desired and, the Authority allowed that to stand.

Had I been aware of the details of the project a year ago, I would definitely have contributed a formal comment in the EIR/EIS process in an effort to challenge the way the authority was implementing the process. However, after listening to some of the other comments made at the Jul 8 hearing, I reluctantly decided against trying to throw a curve ball at the very last opportunity. To paraphrase an old Irish proverb, there's no point trying to change things that are beyond your power to change.

Pacheco may well prove a suboptimal choice for meeting the intercity transportation needs of the inland portions of northern California, but for the state as a whole it's much better than nothing at all. So while I have reservations about both the process and the outcome of the Bay Area to Central Valley EIR/EIS, I do believe it's important to keep an eye on the big picture:

California really needs an HSR network and, this November is its one and only chance in the foreseeable future to get one. Anyone who agrees with that statement should consider the route final and focus on contributing to get prop 1 passed.

Anonymous said...

From the SJ Mercury article

http://www.mercurynews.com/traffic/ci_9836649

"When I look at Pacheco, I think this is going to generate huge amounts of sprawl," said Len Conly, a Berkeley public transit advocate, at a board hearing Tuesday on the environmental study.

Altamont backers urged the board to "follow the lights" of a nighttime satellite photo of the Bay Area, which glowed with pre-existing development through the Livermore Valley and around Tracy, while the Pacheco route was largely dark.


So now the battle lines are shaping up. Will the environmental groups oppose or not?

AB-3034 in key committee today and then on to full senate. It sure looks like a close call in the Senate.

Robert Cruickshank said...

The state's major environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, support high speed rail and Proposition 1.

As to sprawl, I don't know who Len Conly is, but his objections are nonsense. AB 3034 would specifically prevent a station from being built between Gilroy and Merced - so that dark area on the map will STAY that way. Gilroy itself has some good anti-sprawl rules.

More importantly, sprawl is not a force of nature. It's not at all the case that if you drop down an HSR station you're going to get sprawl. Sprawl is a product of cheap credit, cheap oil and favorable land use rules. You need all three. The first two are gone, perhaps gone for good. All the favorable land use rules in the world won't help you if it's too expensive to drive from the exurb to the HSR station, or if nobody can get loans to buy the houses.

nikko pigman said...

Well watching this unfold from Florida, I'm a little bit disappointed on the route selection. Altamont was IMO the better route. It would have served more people.

I don't know a whole lot about the route times and considering the rumors that the time on the Altamont route was skewed....

In any event, I looked at that route from the CAHSR site with the HSR route overlay on Google Maps. The Pachecho route passes makes an abrupt turn west and crosses a small mountain chain. To me, it would just be quicker to head for the bay area first continuing through flat, straight land.

It also allows you to serve a more developed corridor.

nikko pigman said...

Take a look at the difference. Go to 'terrain' and then zoom out.

Pacheco
http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&q=Pacheco%20Pass&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wl

Altamont
http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&q=Altamont%20Pass&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wl

The Altamont route is a lot less troublesome terrain-wise and its more populated. It also allows passengers from up the Sacramento River Corridor to get a better connection, so that they don't have to get off near Tracy and then switch trains or go all the way round the Bay to the southern peninsula.

Brandon M. Farley said...

I am glad it's is decided; Pacheco or Altamont. It removes the deciveness of the two corrdors and allows us to focus on November.

That is what is important now.

As a San Diegan, I am not concerned about being linked to HSR in a later phase. I believe that once the proect gets started, either its success or local politics will eventually bring it here. It's only a mater of time.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to get into a fight with Robert, but his statements about urban sprawl are just total garbage. Anyone who has any knowledge of land use and population growth realizes that this project will induce tremendous growth with urban sprawl and all its wonderful side effects.

His statements here are only over shadowed by his absolutely ridiculous comments awhile ago about how the small savings in fuel was gong to improve the quality of the air in the central valley while ignoring the fact that the increase in number of auto because of new population growth was somehow going to be ignored. Just remember they thnk 450,000 new jobs in the central valley will be created. Way overblown, but certainly there will be plenty of new jobs.

Whatever.

What you witnessing is the power of the cities of San Jose and San Francisco, who with especially Diridon directing the show, along with CalTrain seeing HSR as being a life saver by paying for electrification of their line along with paying for grade crossings.

The route chosen is really ridiculous on so many fronts, yet it appears it will prevail.

davisgrad said...

@ anonymous-

Do you really think that HSR will promote sprawl? You do realize that the flight to the suburbs began in earnest with the interestate freeway system, and continuing to rely on that will only continue that pattern? How could HSR create sprawl when compared to the equivalent roads or even airports, which are often far from the city center? I'm curious, since you claim to be well informed about urban issues.

Brandon M. Farley said...

Anon 3:04,
I am educated and informed on land use and transportation. To this I ask you, are you aware that the state population increases each year by 400k to 700k?

Are you aware that demographers expect that inland areas, and particularly the valley, will absorb much of that growth?

Are you aware that those forecasts are unrelated to HSR?

It seems to me that the valley will grow one way or the other with or without HSR. And, there will certainly be transportation challenges there... and doubly so with transportation funds being siphoned off to fund education...

Now, I see HSR as being part of the solution to the Valley's expected problems.... and not the source.

nikko pigman said...

Anonymous - don't think anyone is just going to let you get away with an absurb statement like that. Of course you're asking for a fight.

Contrary to your statement, HSR and public transportation help to work to prevent sprawl. Evidence in every place HSR has been brought proves that. It encourages dense development near central urban locations.

Sprawl is light density development over large stretches of land on the outskirts of of city. That completely the opposite of the effects public transportation brings.

As for fuel savings - these electric trains will be using 0 fossil fuels (relying on clean energy like wind, solar, nuclear, etc). In routes where HSR has been established, parallel highway traffic was diminished so significantly that the majority of riders take the train. If you go to France, major TGV routes will take up 50% to 90% of the traffic, the rest being taken up by airlines and highways. Thats a BIG impact. The energy savings here aren't just minute, they'll make a huge difference in the long term.

HSR isn't just supposed to take a small percentage of intercity traffic up -- its supposed to grab the lions share and dramatically increase fossil fuel savings.

With an impact and success of HSR lines seen in Europe and Asia, you're not only making a significant cut in oil usage, you're also making a huge impact emission wise. These trains will produce zero emission (and are considerably more energy efficient with their resources than zero emission automobiles). Assuming the same impact, this will be a major improvement in air quality.

It's irrelevant whats driving the increase in auto traffic. The point is that you're trying to grab as much of that market as possible and divert it to rail. An increasing population is only more reason to create an HSR line. Do you really want that increasing population straining California resources even more?

Robert Cruickshank said...

anon, you haven't slightest clue what you are talking about. How about you try refuting my specific points? You explain to me how it is that sprawl is going to continue when the cheap oil that sprawl depends upon is gone? have a look at this article and tell us with a straight face that sprawl will continue unabated.

When gas prices broke $3 in 2006, that was what caused the collapse of the housing bubble. No longer could people afford long commutes. Stockton, Modesto, Merced were the hardest hit places in North America by the bubble collapse, because they were so sprawling.

Without cheap oil and without available credit you won't see more sprawl. Instead density and transit-oriented development become the norm, especially when there's an HSR station in the middle of town.

HSR alone won't reverse the end of cheap oil or rain new credit on the real estate markets. Nor will it rewrite laws like AB 32 or CEQA which will increasingly be used in the coming years to limit sprawl.

anon thinks sprawl is a force of nature, that it's inevitable. It isn't. It's a product of cheap oil and political choices that stemmed from it. Sprawl was viable for the last 50 years, but that era is now over.

Eric said...

Also, it seems everyone forgets that the east bay cities such as Livermore and Pleasanton did not want 4 tracks running through their city. Or, like Fremont, did not want it at all. So don't go harping on the CAHSRA about the alignment they selected. Those cities voiced their opinions last year and were adamant about having that much rail traffic, or any.

Anonymous said...

@nikko pigman

You write:

"HSR isn't just supposed to take a small percentage of intercity traffic up -- its supposed to grab the lions share and dramatically increase fossil fuel savings."

Quite obviously you haven't read Cambridge's projections. They project taking 50% of the air trips between LA and SF and 6% of the auto trips. All of a sudden 6% is the lions share? WOW!

The 6% number would compare to nationally where rail currently takes only 1% of these trips.

You can't just make up the numbers.

Anonymous said...

@robert

Why don't you read articles published by Levinson.

Robert Cruickshank said...

anon, I can send you a whole list of works on urban history and land use planning history that will explain quite clearly that sprawl isn't a guaranteed product of growth, but a product of specific policies and energy conditions. To argue sprawl will always result from any growth or infrastructure project is to argue against reality.

nikko pigman said...

@Anon:

The transportation and energy climate will have changed dramatically by the time this system is finished.

The figures you are refering to are percent diversion of a particular mode statewide. In other words, a good amount of this figure is derived from theoretical local trips, which helps to outweigh the intercity market share captured by HSR.

Remember, the purpose of HSR isn't to provide local service, but to provide intercity service. In that realm, HSR captures 40% - 50% of the market share -- and this study was made in 2007.

Since then, oil prices have gone through the roof. And by 2030, we will have a dramatically different transportation and energy climate than we do today or what could have been predicted back then.

And thats only by 2030. We're not looking at the long term. The numbers are going to accelerate like a missile. A lot of France's TGV system already holds 50% - 90% of the market share depending on the route that you look at.

This is the future we're looking at, not the outdated figures that you have chosen to skew and proclaim as the failure of HSR.

Brian said...

Unfortunately it is a brain-dead decision and will probably take a successful lawsuit to change.

As for HSR and sprawl, hey! I'm doing my thesis on it! Short story: France built the "beet field" TGV station in an edge of nowhere beet field twenty plus year ago. Guess what surrounds that station now..... Beet fields!

People and business that love their auto-addiction of soulless sprawl and office parks love their cars, and are indifferent to HSR. Think about it, if at you ever do is drive everywhere, why would you locate next to the drive you don't use?

HSR will lead to more condos next to the train stations. Especially the downtown ones. Because people who use the train to commute will want to be near it. That is the OPPOSITE of sprawl.

As for anon's 6% of all trips, yes only a minority of trips in the state go long distance; people go buy milk more often than they leave the Central Valley to visit SF or LA. YOUR POINT?? Should we close all the airports since they or carry less than 1% of all trips?

Show me one country where HSR has failed to grab huge intercity travel market share. Hell, look at the crappy Acela it dominates its markets at half the average speed the CA train will go. How can CA's HSR fail when it will go twice as fast?

Anonymous said...

sorry ... will not plan on supporting Prop. 1.. CHSRA demonstrates many times that they are only interested in listening to you if you are agreeing with them.

Why should we "unite" when we have been given the big fat finger for so long?

無名 - wu ming said...

that sucks about pacheco, but i can't say it was a surprise. they've been pretty set against altamont for a while now. i hope it doesn't take them forever to get the sac spur built, tho. 3 hours to san jose + 2 and a half hours to LA's faster than now, but it isn't as nice as if the train went direct to sac.

as for the projected traffic numbers, if oil and gas continue their current trajectories, noone's going to be driving at today's levels, much less at the projected future ones. the choice with HSR may well be between a future california that still functions more or less as a state, and a california where everyone's edges are a whole lot closer in.

having that fast, gas-independent statewide trunk line will take the pressure off the slow rail lines, which will be bearing a lot of the burden of inter-city transportation (as well as freight being shifted from trucking to rail) in the period of time between the present and when the HSR finally goes into action.

noone's going to build those airport expansions or new highways when people are using less of both. the cost we need to be measuring HSR against isn't just that, it's the cost to the economy of a california that crash-course localizes by necessity because it's too energy-expensive to move people around by the old ways.

Hugh Jardonn said...

I'm going to have to vote against this in November. Please see the following article:
http://venturebeat.com/2008/04/11/why-the-california-high-speed-rail-plan-is-fundamentally-flawed/

Some arguments carry more weight than others.

A strong argument is cost. Right now the official estimate is $40 BILLION. But of course we all no that all large infrastructure projects like the Big Dig, new Bay Bridge, MIA's North Terminal, will always go over budget. It's part of the plan for, once the project is started government says "in for a penny, in for a pound" and pays the overruns.

note that the author is from Menlo Park, a city full of NIMBYs. Normally I'd take such article with a grain of salt, but Martin Engel makes some good points.

Another problem is the route on both ends. Rather than go directly from LA to Bakersfield over the I-5/Grapevine route, for political reasons the planners routed the thing via the Antelope Vally to serve Palmdale and Lancaster. On the North end, they opted for Pacheco instead of Altamont. Why is that flawed? See this map:
http://trainblog.com/2007/10/follow-the-people-follow-the-lights/

Going vis pacheco [the blue line] means that a future Sacramento extension will cost much more. [see cost overrun discussion above]

Finally, anybody who buys those promises of $55 SF-LA tickets hasn't checked rail fares on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor between Boston, NY and DC. Those fares are in the triple digits. No reason not to believe the CAHSR fares won't be at the same level or higher, unless you subsidize it big time.

I can't support CA HSR as presented in this plan.

MikeOnBike said...

Eric said... "Also, it seems everyone forgets that the east bay cities such as Livermore and Pleasanton did not want 4 tracks running through their city. Or, like Fremont, did not want it at all."

Those cities were apparently fed a lot of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). Who spread the FUD, do you suppose? Why aren't cities in Santa Clara County complaining about HSR through their cities?

And nothing about Fremont's transportation priorities is rational.

Brian said...

Amen to Mike on Bike. If you want to know how not to do something in transportation planning, look at San Jose. If you want to know what NOT to do, what is the OPPOSITE of what you should do, look at Fremont.

the "six lines through your whole city" was total BS-- FUD

The hard part is separating the bad decision-makers trying to mess up the project, from the fact that HSR will be a boon to the state even if they run it through the sub-optimal Pacheco route.

Hugh Jardonn, if you are voting against the bond then what? How do you get the right system built. Would you prefer highways (the default policy) or do you have some plan to bring back HSR?

A better strategy is sue the CAHSR Authority now for their sham of an EIR and support the bond. That is what is being discussed by transit and environmental groups right now. One bill from the Governor and Legislature and the Authority (or its current members) is gone replaced by something better. That is much easier than a whole new bond campaign.

nikko pigman said...

@hugh: thank you for making a more reasonable argument versus the lies that anonymous is dishing out.

The current cost is $40 billion, and I do believe the cost will go up. I'm not accusing CAHSR officials of being corrupt or anything, but its a well-known fact that for all projects, the price tag is usually underestimated to get people on board and then try to get the rest of the money later. But thats how all of these major projects work out. Highways follow the same procedure. And even if the price did come up from $40 billion, its still going to do a lot more than what that amount of money could do spent on highways.

In the long run, it will save California money from having to have spent more on resources to support urban sprawl, support oil addiction, and support more inefficient transportations. As Robert puts it, 'It's the cost of NOT building HSR'.

The Palmdale vs Grapevine routing is an interesting one. The reasoning for building through Palmdale was a) capture some of the commuting market and b) the expanse of wind power available in that region (which could be used for powering the trains).

As for Pacheco vs Altamont: I have to agree with you. Going through Pacheco is a big mistake. I don't think it'll cause HSR to fail, but its going to be a decision that they'll regret later on. its possible they might build an Altamont route later on and have alternate trains use alternate routes.

nikko pigman said...

@anonymous

You can't make up numbers but you can certainly skew them, which is what you have shown us.

Quoting Brian
As for anon's 6% of all trips, yes only a minority of trips in the state go long distance; people go buy milk more often than they leave the Central Valley to visit SF or LA. YOUR POINT?? Should we close all the airports since they or carry less than 1% of all trips?

Show me one country where HSR has failed to grab huge intercity travel market share. Hell, look at the crappy Acela it dominates its markets at half the average speed the CA train will go. How can CA's HSR fail when it will go twice as fast?


I guess that was what I was saying, but you put it in more clear terms.