I stumbled across the videos below on YouTube and thought I'd share them with you. In them, Prof. Peter Newman, a leading rail advocate in Perth (Australia), articulates why and how that city (pop 1.65m, annual growth ~2.5%) has managed to revive its regional rail services in the face of strong opposition from the asphalt lobby and conservative media outlets. The keys to success were strong public demand for speed and capacity, episodes of high gas prices and a few good few men and women in city/regional politics. A boom in the prices of commodities mined in Western Australia has been instrumental in getting the projects funded.
Perth is yet more evidence that passenger rail isn't just about transportation. Stations can and do act as anchors for re-inventing entire neighborhoods and city centers to shift the focus back from cars to pedestrians.
HSR in California will run at much higher speed, so results will be different. However, I expect some parallels at a larger length scale that includes short-hop flights. In particular, there should be similar synergistic ridership effects with connecting transit and pressure to expand freeway capacity should ease.
Will urban planners in car-crazy California be as inspired as their Australian counterparts to invest in local transit and to make room for transit-oriented development near HSR and especially, HSR feeder stations?
UPDATE by Robert: It's worth noting, in advance of the likely "omg Californians will NEVER leave their cars for trains" comments, that such planning and TOD work is already taking place here in the state. The notion of California as a place without alternatives to the car is at least 30 years out of date. Potential HSR stations in downtown San Francisco (whether Transbay or 4th and King), San José, and Los Angeles already are served by significant amounts of local transit (LA Union Station is the hub of the heavily used Metro Rail system as well as the nation's busiest bus system). TOD is also commonplace near those stations.
As Rafael quite rightly points out, of course, there's more that can and should be done. SB 375, the 2008 law which provides clear mandates to planners to include carbon emissions in their studies and gives CEQA exemptions to many TOD projects, will play a significant role in promoting TOD alongside AB 32. Of course, local activism will be necessary to see this through.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009