We've reported on some rather silly anti-HSR op-eds in recent months here at the blog. Typically these come from the far-right, specifically from the Reason Foundation and the Howard Jarvis Association.
This week brings evidence that HSR denial exists on the left side of the spectrum as well (although I have a hard time acknowledging anti-rail concern trolling as anything but fundamentally right-wing). Ben Adler, a writer at the Politico and a fellow at The Next American City (a wonderful publication), has an op-ed at CampusProgress.org titled "Alternative Travel for the Wealthy", arguing that high speed rail is an elitist plaything that does nothing for Californians who need passenger rail service. The concept is absurd, but the execution is stunning in its failure to grasp even the most elementary aspects of HSR and its place in the overall mass transit universe.
But the idea of long-distance high-speed rail is primarily of interest to business travelers and the relatively wealthy.
This is utterly ridiculous nonsense and shows an almost total ignorance of the lived experience of middle-class and working-class Californians.
Does Adler really, truly believe that only the wealthy have a use for long-distance travel? If so he must believe that nobody else wants to see family for the holidays. That nobody else must travel to seek a job. Has Adler ever heard of the concept of migratory labor networks?
As this summer demonstrated, soaring oil prices and the long-term prospect of peak oil - neither of which Adler mentioned - indicate that intercity travel is very much of interest to all Californians. Without affordable rail travel that runs on renewable energy, working-class Californians will not be able to travel around their state. That denies them economic opportunity and cuts down on jobs that their travel creates.
Further, as Matt Melzer pointed out in a comment to Adler's post, HSR is going to provide direct material benefits to all classes of Californians by the considerable numbers of jobs it will create:
a UC Merced study found that HSR will bring $3 billion in direct economic benefits to the Central Valley. State estimates show that HSR will create over 400,000 jobs across a variety of sector, which can only be good for the working class.
Those jobs are green jobs, jobs that can't easily be outsourced. Adler betrays his own class position by dismissing the need for such jobs in a state whose unemployment rate is 7.7% and rising fast.
Adler also shows a lack of understanding of HSR's role in promoting urban density:
Even if you’re considering the middle class who might make trips between cities fairly often, high speed rail does little to combat the fact that one cannot get around L.A. or San Diego without a car upon arrival. If people plan to take the train for shorter trips between cities, they may end up needing a car on the other end. For mass transit to really remove auto-dependence it has to connect walkable urban areas.
This section suggests to me Adler simply does not understand how HSR works. HSR acts as a spark for construction of other mass transit connections. Since the stations themselves are in city centers, they create demand for new transit links to ensure folks can get around without a car. Those stations, being in city centers, promote transit-oriented development (TOD) which, yes, create demand for new transit links. You want a walkable neigborhood? Build an HSR station. You want more people to get around without a car? Build an HSR station.
Adler also shows his ignorance by neglecting the fact that in fact, Californians DID vote for urban transportation programs of the very kind that he calls for:
This was the only smart growth ballot initiative on the ballot; there weren’t other initiatives for increasing city transit.
That's a jaw-droppingly ignorant statement. Los Angeles County, where most of the "housekeepers who commute from East L.A. to Westwood by bus or car" who Adler claims to want to help actually live, passed Measure R in November, which provides funds for a massive expansion of the regional rail network. Santa Clara County may have passed Measure B, which will bring BART to San José along the Santa Clara Street corridor, which will help working-class residents in East San José more easily reach jobs in downtown SJ and in other parts of the Bay Area. Marin and Sonoma counties passed Measure Q creating a passenger rail system there as well.
How can we take Adler seriously when he gets his basic facts so very wrong?
I don’t want to set up a false dichotomy between inter-city travel like the high-speed rail initiative and intra-city and commuter transit like city buses; each is beneficial in their own way.
But that's precisely what Adler has done in his article. That is the sole reason the article was written. Adler is arguing that HSR is a toy for the wealthy that sucks up money from transit projects for everyone else.
Those of us who actually understand the high speed rail project know that HSR is anything but elitist. It is a rising tide that lifts all transportation boats. It helps retrofit the suburbs by providing rapid, affordable commuter services. It helps spur creation of new transit links and TOD in the city centers where the HSR stations will go. It will make travel on Caltrain and Metrolink faster and safer by providing grade separations and dedicated tracks. It will bring reliable and fast passenger rail service to working-class cities currently underserved by rail, including Gilroy, Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield.
I'm rather stunned that the Center for American Progress, usually a very solidly progressive organization, put their name to this ridiculous article. Adler's facts are wrong and he shows an almost total lack of understanding of the issue. Surely Campus Progress and the CAP can do better.