Back to the Peninsula this Saturday afternoon, where Palo Alto is working to find allies to demand a "tunnel or nothing" approach to HSR:
At the same time, city officials have been getting a plethora of free assistance from a group of city residents who, over the past few months, immersed themselves in rail-related issues. One of the group's leaders, Sara Armstrong, has been reaching out to neighborhoods both inside and outside Palo Alto to strengthen the citizen coalition. Residents Rita Wespi and Elizabeth Alexis have been tracking the web of rail-related bills passing through the state Capitol, while Nadia Naik has joined Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto in advocating a "context-sensitive solution" to the design of the new system.
We will be doing the same kind of work in tracking rail-related bills - if anyone wants to help, drop me an email (my last name at gmail).
But the part that really stood out to me, as you can tell by the title of the post, is Kishimoto's "context-sensitive solution." Just as with Redwood City and "stakeholders" how you actually define these terms matters a great deal. What is the "context" that Kishimoto describes? Is it a very narrow notion of context, including the 1/4 mile next to the Caltrain ROW? Or is it a holistic notion of context, including the community as a whole, the economic, environmental, and energy context? Do finances play a role? As the news this week shows, there isn't exactly a whole lot of money lying around to build a tunnel. Or are those things arbitrarily excluded from Kishimoto's notion of "context"?
The residents recently formed a new group -- Citizens Advocating Reasonable Rail Design -- which lobbies for more transparency for the $40 billion project and for the context-sensitive approach, which requires outreach to stakeholders before development of a transportation project and a focus on local context when designing the project.
So what looks to be the case here is "local context" which is probably defined as "whatever a small group of Palo Alto residents who bothered to organize the group want the HSR to look like." I would be pleasantly surprised if finances, job creation and ability of ALL residents to afford travel, impact on air quality and global warming, and on energy independence are included as part of the "local context." If those things are not included, then this "context-sensitive solution" will not be context-sensitive at all, and it certainly would not qualify as reasonable rail design.
Dominic Spaethling, project manager for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment of the proposed line, said the rail authority and Caltrain are both sensitive to the concerns of the various communities. But he warned that cities could have different ideas for how to collaborate with the rail authority on design ideas.
"It's important to acknowledge the need for collaboration in design, but it's not a 'one size fits all' situation," Spaethling said. "Charrettes may be fine for Palo Alto, while other cities may have other approaches."
Which is a key point, since Palo Alto is trying to impose a solution on the CHSRA and Caltrain - and the whole of the state. And unfortunately, the city is still trying to undermine Caltrain service by demanding that the 101 corridor be studied:
On Monday, the City Council attempted to make this dialogue smoother by adopting a set of guiding principles for its newly established ad hoc committee. The committee, which includes Kishimoto and councilmen Pat Burt and John Barton, is authorized to speak on behalf of the full council on rail-related issues whenever the city's input is needed on short notice.
The principles proclaim the city's support for consideration of alternative alignments (other than the Caltrain right-of-way). They also call for a collaborative approach to urban design, more transparency in the design process and an economic study that would help determine which design alternatives are feasible.
Councilman Greg Schmid, who wanted the principles to explicitly state the city's concern about elevated trains, was the only council member who voted against adopting the principles (Barton and Vice Mayor Jack Morton were absent).
Hey Greg: if you're going to have a process where all implementations are fairly studied, you can't stack the deck by saying "we hate elevated trains." Of course, the rest of Palo Alto's work is merely an effort to stack the deck using more subtle means.
It's entirely possible that Kishimoto's efforts are well-intentioned and meant to get HSR built in a way that's acceptable to both Palo Alto and the state they are still a part of. But the way the efforts are set up and defined strike me as being too much of an effort to force CHSRA and Caltrain to accept a tunnel. And in the absence of a reasonable discussion of finances, it is difficult to take seriously those that demand a tunnel.