Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fiona Ma Ramps Up Prop 1A Campaign

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

As you probably know by now, we here at the California High Speed Rail blog are HUGE fans of Fiona Ma. She has taken the lead on high speed rail in the state legislature, and her trip on the record-breaking TGV journey in April 2007 was the turning point in public awareness for high speed rail in our state.

Fiona Ma is now ramping up her involvement in the campaign for Proposition 1A. This week she unveiled High Speed Rail For California. The website is a good overview of the HSR project, including a route map, a petition link, and perhaps most usefully a letter to the editor tool. We know that the Menlo Park NIMBYs have been taking a shotgun approach to LTEs, writing them to newspapers in far-flung places like Eureka. HSR supporters need to push back, especially in their local papers. Fiona Ma has given us a great tool to do that.

It's part of a wider project Fiona Ma is launching, California Rising, which describes itself as follows:

California Rising envisions a bright future for a growing, more diverse California: increased quality of life, better schools and affordable colleges, cleaner environment and the utilization of green technologies, accessible healthcare, modernization of our State's infrastructure, and an improved economic climate that creates high wage jobs.

Fiona Ma is reviving the Pat Brown vision for California. When Brown was governor in the late 1950s and the 1960s, he helped create the infrastructure that enabled California to become a global leader in innovation, where prosperity was broadly shared. Brown emphasized aqueducts, colleges, and freeways, but didn't focus much on rail. We've been living off those investments for nearly 50 years, and unless we renew them - in the context of 21st century needs - we're going to fall behind.

Fiona Ma gets that. Back in May I posted her remarks at the Ecocity 2008 conference where she explained that "it's now or never" - California must provide national leadership on sustainable transportation. It's worth putting that video up again:

Speaking of websites, you'll be soon seeing a few changes here. The pledge form is going to go away - we've had over 1200 people sign up using it and we're about to deploy some emails to those on the list informing them about various Prop 1A related activism opportunities. If you haven't filled out the form yet, go do it now!

In its place will go a kind of "greatest hits" - links to the best posts of the last six months, the posts that explain the value of HSR in the most clear and direct way.

After November 4 this site will move to its own URL, and a new blog software - either drupal or WordPress, I haven't yet decided which one. The reason I'm not doing it sooner is we have excellent search engine optimization (SEO) on this site - #3 on a google search for "california high speed rail" and the brilliant takedown of the Cox-Vranich study, Truth vs. Truthiness on Prop 1A is #4 for a "prop 1a" search. No need to mess with a good thing!


bossyman15 said...

ummm the "trip on the record-breaking TGV journey in April 2007" link don't work.

bossyman15 said...

ok i found it the correct link is

trip on the record-breaking TGV journey in April 2007

Anonymous said...

I hope you all know that the record breaking trip resulted in burned out equipment. It cost the system over $20 million to replace overhead catenaries

Great demo...

Anonymous said...

...and I'm sure every car that goes for the record on the Bonneville salt flats is all stock and driven to work each day for the next ten years.....

Kevin Gong said...

@ anon 10:20

It was a demonstration run to prove the engineering. Your snide comments are pointless and showcase your shallow intelligence. It's great to hear Assemblywoman Ma step up as part of the 1A Campaign and look forward to voting on it!

Robert Cruickshank said...

Thanks for the note on the link, bossyman. Should work now.

Spokker said...

"I hope you all know that the record breaking trip resulted in burned out equipment. It cost the system over $20 million to replace overhead catenaries"

It was worth it because it was f'ing awesome.

Spokker said...

Fiona Ma is pretty cute. She can majority whip me any day.

Anonymous said...

Someone that has a Brain...good for here

Rafael said...

Perhaps I'm being Captain Obvious here but Fiona Ma left out a few indirect benefits:

a) High speed trains and local transit services will each help generate ridership for the other if they share intermodal stations. More ridership equals more value per taxpayer dollar invested.

b) HSR will give the Central Valley a chance to attract a disproportional share of the state's expected population growth. It will be cheaper to add water, electricity and transportation infrastructure there than in the Bay Area or Southern California, not least because the earthquake risk in the Valley is much lower. California businesses may keep their customer support and back office operations in the state.

c) High speed trains can easily be equipped to provide reliable broadband internet access, greatly enhancing the productivity of business travelers en route. Frequent contact with customers and suppliers is usually good for economic growth.

d) Unlike driving or flying, leisure travel by train is relaxing, which benefits health. Passengers can unwind, socialize or consume entertainment services. Tourists will be more inclined to spend extra time and money in the state.

Anonymous said...

Let me add a few other benefits (?) from this project.

Any land use expert will tell you the central valley will be the next recipient of extreme urban sprawl. Without restrictions being put on areas where there are to be placed stations, sprawl will be the name of the game. The land developers will have a ball. Western Merced county was to be the first to get this treatment, as Diridon and company wanted a station at Los Banos, right on the site of a dairy farm owned by a paid consultant to the Authority. The Wall Street journal published an article on the new community of San Luis to be developed there.

Then as Rafael points out, you will have luxury train travel, which benefits health etc. Wonderful. The taxpayers of the state are to pay from a relatively few to experience this form of luxury travel.

Contrary to the miss guided forecast from Robert, the central valley will not get relief from air quality problems, since the relatively small amount of pollution saved by the train, will be overwhelmed by the major population increase in the valley, where ordinary families use their cars to do ordinary tasks.

Anyone with a 4th grade education should be able to see that the economics make no sense. The cost of the core segment is put at 33 billions. They are getting 9 billions from the bond issue and say they will get 9 billion from the feds and 9 billion from private investors. Wonderful!!!

That's 27 billion. That's 6 billion short by their own estimates. What does this mean? Who knows. Well the Cox-Vranich report has a Whole section on a skeleton system. Is that what you want?

Finally I guess proponents are getting a bit worried. I'm still waiting for a new poll, which I am sure the Authority has in hand and is not releasing. The numbers must be pretty grim.

Then, pray tell, how are they going to get from San Jose to Gilroy. They certainly aren't going to use the studies route owned by the Union Pacific. Will they be aboe to go on a 101 corridor? Are there really any other possibilities?

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 3:57am -

a) All cities selected as HSR stops are supposed to formulate plans for transit-oriented development near their stations. That translates to mixed commercial/residential zones with medium rise or else a mix of low and high rise buildings. The zones are to be served by local public transport such as light rail and buses. There will be pedestrian shopping zones, bicycle paths and plenty of shrubbery supported by recycled water.

Such neighborhoods are more expensive to construct than traditional car-centric subdivisions, but they are popular. Downtown Vancouver, BC is a good example. The objective - especially in the Central Valley - is to attract both a white/green-collar workforce and the businesses that employ them.

Granted, holding the line against developers will prove difficult, especially where flat land is cheap and plentiful. Town planners will have to focus on quality rather than quantity, even if it means slower growth. Sprawl is not a given, it's a choice - one that can easily lead to asset bubbles. When those pop, cities end up in a world of hurt.

b) Air quality in the Central Valley is poor because of a combination of particulate and NOx emissions coupled with sunshine. Some of the NOx gets blown inland from the Bay Area, but much of the rest comes from 18-wheelers with dirty diesel engines plying highways 5 and 99.

The engines on those trucks typically last 600,000-1,000,000 miles. However, that only represents a few years of operation. Current EPA and CARB rules call for reduction of 80% in NOx and over 90% in particulates and, new heavy-duty vehicles will have to meet those targets by 2010. The requisite technology has been in use in Europe since 2005.

Gasoline engines are equipped with three-way catalysts. Tailpipe emissions are only measurable until those devices reach their light-off temperature, i.e. for the first 20-60 seconds after a cold start. In principle, every car could meet SULEV standards if the catalyst box were heated with an auxiliary burner prior to cranking the engine. However, CARB decided to pursue hydrogen fuel cells instead.

c) Riding a high speed train won't be a luxury only a select few can afford. Prices will be set to maximize ridership volume, because the examples of e.g. SNCF and Renfe prove that high capacity utilization yields the greatest fare box return.

Japan Railways does charge high fares for its shinkansen, but that's because it can: most airports are far from city centers and roads are incredibly congested.

d) The bond volume was not adjusted for construction inflation since 2002 for political reasons. However, note that CHSRA expects the cities and counties served to chip in a total of $2-3 billion toward the construction of stations and adjoining infrastructure. It will now have to convince Congress and private investors to include these as in-state public contributions and match those.

Note that the $950 million reserved for HSR feeder service upgrades are eligible for federal matching funds. It's unlikely these will attract private investors as they have never generated farebox recovery rates in excess of 100% in the past.

e) I'm not privy to the alternatives CHSRA has studied for the ROW. In general, they have said that if they cannot strike a deal with UPRR to buy their unused land, they will buy land next to it. The former could involve eminent domain against UPRR at the federal level, the latter against homeowners at the state level.

f) At this point, no-one knows how the recent events on Wall Street have affected voter sentiment toward prop 1A. I'm sure there will be fresh polls after the dust settles.

Anonymous said...

If these cities build TOD along with ped/bike access in the areas around the stations rather than gigantic parking lots where will the sprwal come from?

In addition to the arguments Roberto brings to challenge the "enevitable sprwal" argument posed by the derail crowd, sprwal is encouraged by free parking!

Anyone else wanna tell me how land developers stand to gain much from owning property next to a railroad with no stations for a hundred miles? Eh?

I've asked this before and your silence is defening.

Rafael said...

@ guysimley -

the issue is not land next to the railroad in-between stations.

Sprawl aka suburbanization would happen several miles away from the tracks, at the outskirts of existing cities. Public transport is usually not cost-effective because the population density is deliberately kept low, so people drive everywhere.

Transit-oriented neighborhoods are designed to support substantially higher population and/or job densities and are usually located closer to city centers, which is where the train stations are. That makes transit services much more feasible. Residents have to pay more per square foot of living space but they can get by without owning a car.

Brandon in California said...

California is expected to grow to 60 million residents by 2050 from today's 38 million with or without HSR.

It's been anticipated for years that additional growth will increasingly happen in the valley because there is simply not enough land, or affordable land, in coastal areas.

Check projections at the California Department of Finance demographic unit.

Again, it will happen with or without HSR.

With that said, it is disengenous as the White House claiming invading Iraq was because of terrorism that HSR will spur urban sprawl in the valley.

Brandon in California said...

What I meant was...

It is disengenous to link HSR and sprawl in the valley together, and doing so is comparable to the White House claiming invading Iraq was because of terrorism... when it was supposedly because of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Robert Cruickshank said...

I should probably toss up a post this weekend summarizing my points on sprawl. The gist:

1) Sprawl is a choice. We too often treat it like a force of nature, but it is no such thing. It is a choice of developers, buyers, bankers, and most importantly, governments. If we want to stop sprawl, we can. Ventura County has had some success, Monterey County has had some success, and Portland has had the landmark success.

2) HSR doesn't change the underlying fundamentals. As I repeatedly argue sprawl requires three things to function: cheap oil, cheap credit, and favorable land use policies. The first one is vanishing for good. The second one is imperiled and even with a financial bailout we're not likely to see the same lax practices and dirt-cheap credit that led to unprecedented Valey sprawl. The third is something we need to fight with or without HSR.

3) If you want to discourage sprawl you need to encourage density. Again that is the Portland lesson. To encourage density you need to provide mass transportation bandwidth. HSR is a vital piece in the density puzzle.

Anonymous said...

@ Robert:


Sprawl is a choice. We too often treat it like a force of nature, but it is no such thing. It is a choice of developers, buyers, bankers, and most importantly, governments. If we want to stop sprawl, we can. Ventura County has had some success, Monterey County has had some success, and Portland has had the landmark success.

Absolutely correct -- in no uncertain terms.

What you fail to understand, or acknowledge is that sprawl is what the developers, land speculators and others money grabbers want. That's why this project is being pushed through Pacheco.

Heavens, why was there going to be a station at Los Banos? Now prohibited -- maybe -- maybe not.

There in no incentive for these powers, to want anything else, and they are controlling the whole picture.

The Reason report has a whole section titled "Community Considerations". A land use expert after reading told me it was appalling that anyone could possible say this project won't cause sprawl.

Yes it could be stopped; there is no legislation to stop it. The cities where this is going to occur, Fresno being the prime example, don't want to stop it.

Get with it, Robert. Time to grab the whole picture. This is not a project about going from LA to SF. It is all about greedy money grabbers pushing though a project to make themselves rich.

Then there are those, who want this luxury travel, subsidized by all the taxpayers.