Saturday, March 8, 2008

Question Time - HSR Land Impact

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

A recurring feature here at the California High Speed Rail Blog will be answering questions about the project, particularly those that involve common misconceptions on the part of low-information voters. These might be questions that come up in the comments, in e-mail, or on other websites (as is the case with this inaugural edition).

The first one comes from the CAHSR Facebook group:

Where do you propose this railway go? Undeveloped land in CA is practically non-existent and I think we should save what we do have left. This is a great idea, but its large-scale development could do more harm than good for our disappearing CA natural habitat. What do you guys think?

This is a perfect example of someone who has heard about the concept of high speed rail in CA but knows nothing about its details. In fact, the California High Speed Rail Authority produced a detailed Implementation Plan back in 2002.

The plan explains that the HSR tracks will be built alongside existing rails, particularly in urban areas. In the Bay Area, it will follow the Caltrain line from the Transbay Terminal in downtown SF to Gilroy. In SoCal it will follow the Metrolink line from Palmdale to downtown LA, and then south to Irvine. The route to San Diego follows rail lines out to Riverside, and then follows Interstate 15 to downtown SD.

In the Central Valley the HSR tracks will follow the UP line down the spine of the valley from Bakersfield to Sacramento. The only construction along new right-of-way (ROW) would be between the Bay Area and the Central Valley and between the Bakersfield and Palmdale. Even in these cases the line is expected to follow existing roads - such as Highway 152 over the Pacheco Pass - as much as possible.

Following existing ROW - and especially existing track - means that the impact to surrounding communities is minimal, while bringing those cities immense value. The HSR stations would be upgrades and extensions of existing stations, such as LA Union Station, or are already at the centerpiece of urban planning, such as the Transbay Terminal in SF. Virtually all the cities along the line want HSR and support its construction.

The route over the Pacheco Pass is controversial, as will be discussed in future posts here. And although there will be some impacts to land, the environmental benefits of HSR - including its low carbon footprint, non-oil based propulsion, and mass transit aspects - would help mitigate any land impact. Finally, the HSR implementation plan seeks to limit the ability of localities to use HSR as an engine for sprawl, and there have been efforts to write language into the bond proposal to provide strong development rules and open space protection measures.

Consider the alternatives - expansion of airports and freeways is far more damaging to the environment, requires more land, and is more costly to both the state and the individual traveler than HSR.


無名 - wu ming said...

the last line is key.

people compare this to the status quo, and get worried about the impact of the new HSR construction, when in fact the choice is between:

a) a future of new high speed rail

b) a future of expanded airports and highways (which have much greater environmental and fiscal costs)

c) a future of ever-increasing gridlock if nothing new is done.

of those three choices, i'll take the train.

ps. saw a flyer recently, looks like calpirg is starting to lobby for HSR.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

The question is valid and has more to do with access than alignment. Yes the lines will follow railroad ROW, but it will also create better access for people from the central valley to get in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Many people already live in Tracy and commute to SF or Bakersfield to LA perhaps a few days a week. With better access from HSR this allows people to get there faster therefore opening up land to development. While I think HSR is still the way to go, this is an important issue that needs to be ironed out, how do we keep from eating up valuable farmland with endless sprawl.

PS. I'm glad to see a blog starting up on this topic. Thanks for doing it!

Robert Cruickshank said...

wu, those are excellent points, and I am planning to develop those in future posts. I have also heard that Cal-PIRG is getting active for HSR, which is great - they have a strong campus presence and as the Facebook group shows, college students instinctively get the value of this plan. They definitely need to be mobilized.

pt, glad to see you found the site - I was just going to leave a comment at yours introducing this place.

You're right about the possible impacts especially in the Central Valley. HSR has very strong support there, especially from local governments and developers who want to use it to promote more sprawl. This is a problem, especially as some environmentalists are already upset with the Pacheco Pass alignment. I think that it's wrong to place on HSR alone the burden of containing sprawl in the Valley - that really needs to be done at both the state and the local level - but it is an issue that will continue to arise.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I completely agree. It's bad when people try to tie saving the world with one project when its really a number of different things. Here in San Francisco, BART is supposed to be everything to everyone when really we need a real metro network that seems like its never coming. We have an excellent bus network with heavy rail and commuter rail for commuting but not a high density heavy rail metro. HSR is part of the puzzle too along with land use codes and possible growth boundaries.

Brandon in California said...

Yeah, I landed here after recieving an email from the Yahoo CHSRA group. I'm putting a link to this site on mine... already have for the overhead wire.