Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Big Picture on the Peninsula HSR Battle

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

by Robert Cruickshank

Given my own rather strong opinions on the topic I felt it made sense to take a step back and assess the big picture of the HSR battle on the Peninsula. I know I'm more strident on this than even many other blog readers and HSR. But my assessment is that in arguing that HSR would "harm" cities, the opponents of HSR have allied with people who aren't HSR deniers but who don't really take the project seriously or don't see its importance to their cities' futures, and by doing so have successfully built a coalition that threatens the HSR project itself.

I reach that conclusion for the following reasons:

1. The notion that HSR will damage the cities is powerful, if not based in either evidence or common sense, and creates a strong motivation to ensure the project is either killed outright or severely damaged by not including the SF and Peninsula on the route. It's not easy to talk rationally with people who are certain that a project is the infrastructural equivalent of a "Death Star". The "Berlin Wall" frame is effective at mobilizing city officials to try and compromise the project.

2. Despite the statewide public support for the HSR project, the backing of prominent statewide political leaders and even President Barack Obama for HSR, the Peninsula NIMBYs actually have more political power than the CHSRA and Caltrain regarding the Peninsula corridor. This is because the cities are coalescing into a tunnel-or-nothing bloc whereas there is no countervailing force in the Bay Area to systematically push back against their arguments and claims. The prominent politicians, for their part, are not that interested in this level of detail. You're not likely to see Barack Obama go to Palo Alto and chide the NIMBYs for blocking 21st century progress, as wonderful as that would be. You're not likely to see Gavin Newsom go to Sacramento to lobby State Senators to ignore the NIMBYs, even though that's a necessary move if he wants his Transbay Terminal to include HSR. And as we know, Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't care about the details of governance, since he merely plays a governor on TV. Instead the legislative debate appears dominated by people whose commitment to HSR is weak at best, like Alan Lowenthal, or who are unwilling to stand up to the NIMBYs, like Joe Simitian.

3. The CHSRA has few defenders and many detractors, and the Peninsula NIMBYs are effective at mobilizing a FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) campaign. I am not a blanket defender of the CHSRA, but I do believe that even HSR supporters aren't really aware the extent to which their own criticisms of the CHSRA are used to support a NIMBY attack. It's easy to paint the CHSRA as a typical "big bad bureaucracy" but to do so is to miss the point entirely. I would strongly suggest that the legitimate criticisms of the CHSRA - and there are many - be made with care so that they don't wind up bolstering the NIMBY cause.

4. A tunnel is not going to happen. It is financially impossible. Neither the federal government nor the state government will contribute a dime to it. And when push comes to shove neither will Peninsula residents be willing to tax themselves to the tune of tens of billions of dollars to underground the HSR trains from Belmont to Palo Alto. Yet the NIMBYs have done such a good job of convincing their fellow residents of point #1 that lots of residents and councilmembers see a tunnel as the only viable implementation of HSR along the corridor. Since a tunnel isn't possible, I am very concerned that the cities will revolt against HSR itself when the CHSRA rejects a tunnel, causing many years of court delays that could hurt the project's ability to be properly funded. I also believe this is the heart of the Martin Engel/Morris Brown strategy in the aftermath of their failure to stop Prop 1A in November.

5. As someone pointed out in the comments to one of the recent posts, cities talk to each other. If NIMBYism is able to exert power over the final project design of HSR on the Peninsula, that emboldens similar forces in the Central Valley and Southern California. What happens on the Peninsula is precedent-setting.

In short, I think the NIMBYs are filling a power vacuum on Peninsula HSR that is created by the lack of strong leadership for the project either in San Mateo County or in Sacramento. That in turn leaves me very concerned that a political deal could be cut to preserve the HSR project by cutting it off at San Jose, which for reasons I've articulated before, would do severe damage to the financial viability and overall effectiveness of the project.

So ultimately I find myself in disagreement with those who claim that the Peninsula NIMBYs are overblown and not really a threat to the project. I think they are an extremely serious threat and I believe we ought to find ways to defuse that threat. I'm also open to new suggestions of how to accomplish this - my stridency may not always be the best solution.

Here's what I believe are the necessary pieces of a counter-strategy:

1. Provide high-profile responses to the NIMBY arguments whenever possible. Ideally this would involve getting prominent political leaders who support the HSR project to participate in the process as they can garner TV news coverage. In most reporting I've seen, the NIMBY position is given prominence merely because they're organized and have locally-based leaders who can speak for them, whereas the only pro-HSR side tends to be the CHSRA, which is not preferable since they must maintain neutrality, and because they do not have a strong local base (that's not really their job anyway).

2. Specifically, promote local pro-HSR voices. 65% of San Mateo County voters backed Prop 1A. That's a large pool of support for this project. We need to find ways to amplify their voices, and thereby show that the NIMBYs are working counter to the will of the majority of Peninsula residents and to the detriment of those residents' ability to take meaningful action on global warming, traffic, energy independence and economic recovery.

3. Undermine the "tunnel or nothing" position. Point out early and often that a tunnel is going to be extremely expensive and that the Peninsula will have to pay for this on their own. CHSRA must be neutral on this during the project-level EIR process, so someone else will have to make these points known. Show that the NIMBYs are proposing a Bay Area Big Dig that the Peninsula cannot afford. Nothing undermines a position like pointing out its inherent fiscal irresponsibility. Note that this doesn't mean we attack the concept of a tunnel, but instead those who argue it must be a tunnel or no HSR at all.

4. Undermine the "HSR will destroy our cities" narrative. Much of that narrative is based on deliberate distortions, such as the "Berlin Wall" propaganda that has been shown. CHSRA hasn't been quick enough to produce alternative modeling to show how an above-grade solution can be elegantly implemented, though we have explored that topic here. We know that the "city-killer" claims are absurd and baseless. We have to more strongly make that argument by showing how above-grade HSR will help improve mobility, connectivity, and safety in these cities.

5. Remind people of the ultimate purpose of HSR. Saving on gas money, reducing traffic, fighting global warming, boosting mass transit, creating jobs, etc. How it connects to longstanding local priorities to improve Caltrain service, and local support for Prop 1A. This is probably best done in a positive way with the general public, but in a more antagonistic form with the NIMBYs - i.e. "why are you against" all that I just mentioned.

It's a question of leadership and public advocacy. It's time we offered both.


Rob Dawg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clem said...

I think the point that needs to be driven home regarding tunnels is not just that they are expensive, but especially that they are not a zero-impact solution. They may have far worse construction impacts than any other choice of vertical alignment. There are lots of HSR-favorable people falling in line with the tunnel-or-nothing crowd as a result of this blissful ignorance.

If somebody else pays for the tunnel, as they so often assume, why would the tunnel-or-nothing folks care about expense? (Of course, for those tunnel proponents who opposed Prop 1A on the basis of financial waste, this rapid about-face is downright shameless!)

The tunnel fantasy is much better attacked by pointing out its physical impacts. That's what abutters understand on a very personal level.

Promoting pro-HSR voices is difficult because support is diffuse while opposition is concentrated, entrenched, and passionate. Someone who comes out strongly in favor of HSR, as you know, is rapidly subjected to Godwin's Law.

I still believe that early opposition on the peninsula will only toughen the EIR/EIS against the inevitable legal challenges. That's why they have a CEQA/NEPA process guy, not a railroad guy, in charge of the peninsula HSR project. This project will fail or succeed on its scrupulous adherence to process-- as the lawsuit to be heard later this month will demonstrate, one way or the other.

One thing you missed: HSR proponents need to sell the improvements to Caltrain. While Caltrain electrification is supposed to happen anyway, the reality is that Caltrain is the ugly step child of Bay Area transportation politics, and is extremely unlikely to pull down the required $1.5 billion of capital funding on its own anytime in the first half of this century. HSR will seriously accelerate improvements to Caltrain, with all the attendant local benefits for peninsula communities. When neighbors ask "what's in it for me?", that's one excellent answer, and certainly a big part of why I personally support the HSR project.

Adirondacker said...

6. Remind people that the No-build option is not "there will be no HSR", it means that HSR trains will be running many times an hour through closed grade crossings. Along with more frequent Caltrain service.

The railroad has been there since 1863. They can run trains as frequently as they want. If that means the grade crossings are closed for 40 minutes out of every rush hour... well there are other ways to drive your car over the railroad...

As part of the process could they test what happens when trains are running through every few minutes? Manually close the grade crossings? Should be relatively cheap. Do it during rush hour on a Friday... all up and down the line, simulating what will happen if the no build option is taken. After all they want the final report to be especially thorough...

second hand info said...

This is second hand information, but I believe it to be from a very reliable source.

The Authority had a board meeting today. Morshed made his report as the executive director of the project.

In the report he stated that he did not believe that the SF to SJ segment would not be ready for construction in the time frame previously counted on, and he recommend that building LA to Anaheim first was the correct way to go.

Well, Diridon disagreed strongly (I was told he went ballistic). He than made a motion to over-ride Morshed's conclusion and the board voted to make the SF to SJ segment the first to be constructed.

If this is not an agency out of control, then what is? The experts say one thing,they are overruled by the politicians.

Spokker said...

Maybe Morshed got a reach around from Curt Pringle in Anaheim and that's why he said what he did...

The LA-Anaheim segment doesn't look that great anyway. I think there is going to be just as much NIMBY opposition in this corridor and it's probably way more complicated to design considering you've got tons of Metrolink, Surfliner, and freight trains rolling through here every single day. It ain't just Caltrain and 4 freights.

Morris Brown said...

Robert brings up the 65% approval of Prop 1A as being the basis of his position that opposition to the project is slight, and being carried on by only a few.

Again I point out that we now have whole City Councils changing their position. The Palo Alto council voted last November 9-0 to support prop 1A. In major reversal that council is now voicing serious objections to the project as presently envisioned to be built. That council has now filed an Amicus brief to support the lawsuit started by Atherton, Menlo Park et al., to invalidate the program level EIR.

(The Amicus brief can be found at:

Link to Brief (enter 2008 and 80000022 to get to the right page and the file is at the top 5/1/09)

Reversal of a council's position is certainly a reflection of reversal of the public's position. There is no way that Palo Alto nor San Mateo county would be voting 65% in favor of this project now. Rather it would be a vote against the project.

That's water over the dam -- 0k. but just remember State wide the project was approved by on 52.5% of the votes, not an overwhelming majority.

Fred Martin said...

Clearly, CHSRA needs to get its public image and trustworthiness together. Kopp, Diridon, and Morshed are not giving the public a warm, fuzzy feeling about CHSRA's competence.

Spokker said...

Which public agencies give people a warm, fuzzy feeling?

The DMV, maybe?

Jay said...

The DMV is so Good there is even A song about it.

I do feel that the problem is people have no expearance with HSR, so they are (needlessly) scared of the unknown.
What I would like to see is more info posted about Urban Planning impacts of HSR in other countries. This will show people that otherwise don't know, the good HSR can bring.
As for me, I have ridden HSR in Japan and Europe. I hope to move in next to one of the stations in the bay area when it gets up and running.

So instead of bashing so much on the NIMBIES..even though they need it, show them the good that can come from HSR.

Spokker said...

"show them the good that can come from HSR."

Bashing NIMBY's is fun, but I think this blog has tried to do that. The most striking example I can think of is when they posted examples of what elevated HSR can look like in other countries.

It didn't seem to abate anybody's fears of concrete behemoth structures. They just said, "THIS IS CALIFORNIA NOT SOME PICTURESQUE ITALIAN VILLA!!!"

Okay, then.

Dan S said...

First off, I'd like to say "thanks" to this community -- it's been really fun for me to lurk here and feed off the excitement of the CA-HSR project! I lived in Palo Alto until this January, and I was able to take Caltrain to work every day in San Jose, and I really learned to love taking the train. I can't believe what a slam-dunk HSR on the Peninsula should be (at least for Peninsula residents!), but sadly, it is really generating a lot of FUD attacks, isn't it?

One thing I think this community could do really well as an advocate for the system would be to create a positive visualization of an elevated track through Palo Alto and Menlo Park. I am really impressed with Clem's recent posting of a San Bruno station prototype over on the Caltrain HSR Compatibility Blog -- I think this shows the tip of what we could come up with to counter the Berlin-Wall scare-tactics that are currently out there, especially the video by Jim McFall.

(I agree with recent statements on these blogs to the point that an elevated track can be done in an attractive way, and that a video truly is worth 1000 pictures! I know we've posted pics of other rail systems here, but I think stronger ammunition is called for.)

This is something that the CHSR Authority could be doing to really help its cause too -- those conceptual vids they posted are really cool, but now they could use some new ones to counter the Peninsula residents frightened of an ugly, industrial presence in their midsts.

I have felt motivated personally to try to do this myself, to the point of downloading SketchUp and Google Earth, but I don't think my attempts would be the best we could come up with. Maybe something the group would like to run with? :-)

Daniel Jacobson said...

Letter to the Editor: High Speed Rail Will Kill Puppies:

(Not really but close enough)

mike said...

To build on Clem's point re: Caltrain, trying to explain the technical and operational benefits of electrification is unlikely to be successful - it's too esoteric for the average person to grasp. What they will grasp is if you say, "With this project (electrification + DTX), Caltrain will become as good as BART. Actually, better than BART (since it will have express service too)." That the average person can understand.

Adirondacker has an excellent point that the no-build alternative is not no SF service (a proposal that does not even pass the laugh test) but rather no grade separations. Arguably CHSRA should design a serious no-build alternative that includes four-quadrant gates (and other safety measures) at all grade crossings and 110 mph top speeds. This alternative would save at least a couple billion dollars and require virtually no eminent domain (the one exception being downtown San Mateo).

The main costs from this alternative would be (a) reduction in operational reliability from grade crossing accidents and (b) increased travel times for local residents due to grade crossing gates being lowered.

Cost (a) could be partially mitigated by using $150 million of the savings (less than 10%) to establish an endowment that funds a force of 40 railroad traffic officers whose sole job is to aggressively ticket anyone that trespasses (e.g., goes around the gate, stops on the tracks, whatever) at grade crossings. What a force of this size would mean in practice is that if you try to "beat the train," you will have a 50/50 odds of getting a big fat ticket. That will probably eliminate 90% of the incidents right there.

Cost (b) does not affect rail service, so it would be left to the discretion of the individual cities, as they are asking. If the cities want to avoid cost (b), then they can choose to request a grade crossing, which will be funded by state and federal tax dollars. If the cities do not want to avoid cost (b) (i.e., they think grade separation is too undesirable), then they are free to choose the no build alternative. I suspect that most cities would choose the former over the latter, but who knows. In the end, however, it would be their own choice.

Anonymous said...

I sense that dissatisfaction with and unfortunately downright opposition to the HSR is growing. And there is a very good reason for it. An excellent idea is being insidiously dumbed down.

What the public really wants is a breakthrough in surface transport, something very much on the order of a maglev. When the public was informed that maglev technology was not ready for prime time they were prepared to accept a high speed rail alternative provided it was equally revolutionary.

The public wants the HSR to boldly go where no railroad has gone before. Not in, around, or under the Tehachapi Loop ostensibly because of technical limitations to conventional rail, limitations that were supposed to be the curse of maglev. Maybe it is the HSR that is not ready for prime tine.

To claim that there is not enough passenger demand for a straight shot ultra high speed surface line between SF and LA is a fatal admission. Ergo the highway lobby contention that the HSR is a waste of money is right.

I don't buy that argument at all. But if you want to get this project back on track, get it off the track, figuratively. Get the route of the HSR back onto freeway corridors. Think like you are buiding a highway not a railroad.

Otherwise we would have been better off holding out for a maglev.

Spokker said...

"To claim that there is not enough passenger demand for a straight shot ultra high speed surface line between SF and LA is a fatal admission."

I think the routing was partly decided to get as many votes as possible for Prop 1A. It has to be planned to go to a lot of places. The yes vote for 1A pretty much came down to the counties where it would go in Phase 1 (minus orange County plus much of the Bay Area that isn't SF or the Peninsula).

If it was simply a straight shot between LA and SF would Prop 1A had passed? You would lose votes in the Central Valley, and the measure would have lost by an even wider margin in San Diego, Sacramento, and Orange Counties.

HSR routing is, in effect, trying to do the impossible, make everybody happy at once.

Yeson HSR said...

Blogs and online papers can overhype or makes rumors spread that have no real base.That is what the Nimbys like..They love that you keep bringing up their "cause" even if your throwning eggs at them on this blog because it keeps their loud mouths heard.The vast majority of voters that voted for Prop1A in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties would voted them same today.Just Because one city council is being threated by this little group in Palo Alto and running to protect there jobs does not mean eveyone has changed their minds. The news media also loves stories with drama which is right up the nimbys alley.I think at times this blog gives them another box to stand and
spread untruths and horror stories. Not saying ignore them because they can spread lies but less posts on them here and more going after them in other media where they also lurk would help.Most average BayArea Res. want this built and could careless about this back and Forth we very pro-HSR vs anti HSR battle over

lyqwyd said...

Robert, I think the biggest flaw in your approach is that you are engaging the NIMBY's on their own turf. By attacking them directly you only bring attention to them and embolden them. It also makes you look fearful and on the defensive, which is never a good strategy when engaging in politics, which is exactly what it will come down to.

The NIMBY's are just like we, the strong supporters, are: few in numbers. But what the NIMBY's have, which I'm not seeing much of amongst the strong supporters, is a voice.

We supporters are all here and on a few other blogs railing about the NIMBY's, while they are writing letters to paper's, and talking to the leadership in their communities. I've not seen anybody try to organize a letter writing campaign, or organizing a group of supporters to go and talk to their state senator or representative.

My belief is that the best way to combat NIMBYism is not to attack the individual NIMBY's, but to:

1. Point out the gaping holes and outright falsehoods in their
arguments. I see lots of letters from NIMBY's in the papers, but very few from supporters pointing out the falsehoods.
- One example I just saw was some guy from Atherton claiming that funding HSR was going to hurt school funding (he sent a letter to a Menlo Park paper and the SF Chronicle). That's an obvious lie to us, but there are a lot of people who are not following the subject who might be tricked by such a strategy.

2. Organize and let our elected officials know that this is an important matter that they need to be active supporters of.

The NIMBY's have been able to sway some city councils because they are vocal. If HSR supporters were as vocal the city council members would not be as quick change from 100% support of HSR to majority opposed.

We need to organize as well and let our city and state officials know that we will do our best to get them out of office if they do not strongly support HSR.

Is there anybody out there who is willing to start organizing active and vocal support for HSR?

YesonHSR said...

HERE HERE I will march!! Have to agree we need to be on the offensive! and second the thought that if these people think that HSR will never happen their wrong they will just have it running at grade with standard railroad crossings and maby alittle slower but still running on that 1863 railroad!! If Acela can do it so can CAHSR..its not like the airlines and freeways are going to improve in the next 10 years A 3 hour train will still be packed

Brandon in California said...

I am in Southern California and half the population here has never even heard of the Peninsula. And 99.99% of the population have not heard a peep about the supposed opposition.

All I see and hear is from what is on this site and all the podunk little weekly rags with circulation hovering around 100 issues on good days.... And I learn about those rags from the Yahoo CHSRA group page and Adrian Brandt forwarding every single article and editorial.

You know what... I only look at news articles from up there if they are from the Chron or the Merc. At least news articles from those sites are balanced. And I ignore the editorials; it's not like any editorial writer knows more about the project than I do!

Robert, I think you're over stating the influence of the opposition. What is your evidence?

At the end of the day I do not believe the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee has much weight. Was it a subcommittee that discussed HSR? Anyway, San Diego Senator Christine Kehoe is on the main committee. See bthe link below for maybe some insight to her position on CHSRA. Her change to SB 527 is interesting! The before and after is quite a change.

That all said, I believe the best method to counter the peninsula nimby's is to ignore them; not post anything about their supposed issue. Addressing them gives them an audience.

Spokker said...

Is it too early to start speculating what the restrooms might be like?

Anonymous said...

HSR SF-SJ is a (very large) net negative for Caltrain regional service. Show me any other place on the planet where a HSR line shares its right of way with a regional/local/commuter service for 50 or more miles! (You can't -- it doesn't exist.)

The rule of transportation planning anywhere where it is done competently and with any regard for public benefits is: segregate local and long-distance traffic as soon as possible, minimize local impacts of long-distance services, maximize regional synergies by multi-use of new infrastructure, and maximize economic utility.

Los Banos-Pacecho-SJ-Palo Alto-Redwood City HSR fails on all counts.

The only people people portraying HSR "benefits" to the peninsula otherwise are the proven liars in San Jose/SVLG/VTA who seeks to escape all of the promised commitments to Caltrain improvement funding by having Somebody Else (ie the Tooth Fairy, in the form of CHSRA) pay instead of them, at some indefinite day in the past, while the funnel all available funding into the pockets of their very, very VERY special friends at PBQD and allied BART to San Jose consultants.

Don't pay for promised Caltrain improvements. Don't pay for promised Dumbarton rail service. Don't pay for promised local bus service improvements. But do pay, again and again and again, directly into the pockets of your friends who designed and promoted and will win the "competitive" contracts to build BART extensions.

These people are liars, pure and simple.

SF Pensinsula HSR grief isn't just about "NIMBY": it's about the rank and proven and historically consistent failure and corruption of people of the moral caliber of Quentin "BART to Millbrae" Kopp and Rod "Father of VTA Lighr Rail" DIridon.

It's possible to be 100% pro-HSR and 100% pro-Caltrain while being 100% anti-Kopp&friends.

Doing it wrong is worse than not doing it at all.

So get off your slanderous name calling and cheap "NIMBY" shots, and look at the facts: Pacheco HSR is an immense scam which screws everybody except for those who profit from building excess, unsightly, unnecessary and economically inefficient boondoggles -- namely BART Fremont-Warm Springs-SJ-Santa Clara and HSR SJ-Gilroy-Pacecho-Los Banos.

Follow the money!

HSR yes, but not at any cost. and not purely for the fiscal benefit (like BART to Millbrae) of Friends of Quentin.

Clem said...

I have felt motivated personally to try to do this myself, to the point of downloading SketchUp and Google Earth .

@Dan S., this ought to give you a new appreciation for Richard Mlynarik's skill with these tools.

Caltrain will become as good as BART. Actually, better than BART .

@mike: Aggghh!! Never claim superiority to BART, or your project will be zapped with a death ray emanating from MTC headquarters.

CHSRA should design a serious no-build alternative that includes four-quadrant gates (and other safety measures) at all grade crossings and 110 mph top speeds .

Even if legal under federal law, such urban 4-track crossings are highly unlikely to be approved by the CPUC. When a grade crossing is significantly altered (such as with additional tracks) the CPUC has the authority to mandate grade separation. This decision is not up to the CHSRA.

something very much on the order of a maglev (...) Get the route of the HSR back onto freeway corridors .

@anon: Without laughing out loud at your maglev suggestion, I will note that maglev is highly incompatible with Bay Area freeway corridors because their horizontal and vertical curvature is much too great to achieve the necessary speeds. The freeway corridors have been looked at and eliminated for good cause; the Caltrain alignment was selected for valid reasons previously pointed out.

It's possible to be 100% pro-HSR and 100% pro-Caltrain while being 100% anti-Kopp&friends .

@anon2: Amen brother!!

Spokker said...

"Show me any other place on the planet where a HSR line shares its right of way with a regional/local/commuter service for 50 or more miles!"

Show me any other place in the world that loves personal automobiles more than the United States.

In Japan the bullet trains are entirely separated from local trains. In fact, they run on an entirely different track gauge. Of course, they started building their network in the late 1950s.

What were we doing in the 1950s? Building freeways.

Today we have to do what we can to ram rail lines into our built-up city centers. You can do anything with the right amount of money, but then people will bitch at the cost. When you get the cost down, they'll bitch that the rail line is a pile of shit. Somehow freeways get built and widened without much opposition.

So what the hell are transportation planners supposed to do with the 8 billion for high speed rail that Obama is touting. We heralded the recent HSR announcement as one of the best things to ever happen to passenger rail in this country. But it was only $8 billion measly dollars. That's how bad it is in this country. We cheer for table scraps.

HSR will run alongside Caltrain on the Bay Area Peninsula. It's not the CSHRA's fault. It's our fault.

Spokker said...

"HSR SJ-Gilroy-Pacecho-Los Banos."

The Los Banos station was thrown out. But keep on bitching.

Adirondacker said...

Even if legal under federal law, such urban 4-track crossings are highly unlikely to be approved by the CPUC. When a grade crossing is significantly altered (such as with additional tracks) the CPUC has the authority to mandate grade separation. This decision is not up to the CHSRA.

Four tracks wouldn't be a no build alternative would it?

No additional tracks. Maybe four quadrant gates which would probably get FONSI'd. Though without four quadrant gates and other measures that would mean running at a max or 79 MPH. It would take longer for the train to clear the crossing. Great idea! Tie up traffic in downtown NIMBYland even longer! Be sure to bring a "quiet zone" horn to the planning meetings so it can demonstrated. And a set of four bells - because of each of those gates is going to be equipped with nice clanging bells isn't it? Have to make sure the nearly deaf can hear it ...

15 - 20 trains an hour on a two track system is very doable. They wouldn't be able to so anything so silly as actually make a stop on the two track part of the system. Palo Alto and all the other towns can convert their abandoned train stations to Starbucks. Or White Castle/Taco Bell. . . nah, White Castle wouldn't be interested. I'm sure they could run express buses once an hour or so to the places where there are open stations.

... Or give them tunnels. Which would of course require closing the railroad for a few years while the tunnel is built using cut and cover. Caltrain could run luxury buses up and down Alma Street and El Camino Real to shuttle passengers around the construction. Every three minutes from 5 AM until Midnight. Since 101 and 280 are so crowded make sure all the trucks that replace the freight trains also use local streets.

They have to be reminded that the alternatives to reasonable solutions are unpleasant.

Pat Moore said...

@Spokker --

"Los Banos station has been thrown out".

naivete at its best.

Q: What does it take to reverse this?

A: 1 developer with $100K in re-election money. Cheap.

Pat Moore said...

@Robert --

I am not a blanket defender of CHSRAof course not ... which is why you say later:

I would strongly suggest that the legitimate criticisms of the CHSRA - and there are many - be made with care so that they don't wind up bolstering the NIMBY cause. (be sure to genuflect and kiss Rod's ring after you are done).

Robert I am really curious why you think that anyone should engage you at all from the other side? You have demonstrated repeatedly that in your view talk is only get people to admit that they were wrong and you were right. I am really curious why you feel like anyone should pay attention to you when you show no ability to listen.

I am sadden ... but I am having fun putting together your prayer set.

Our HSR:

Our father who art on rails, CHSRA be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Rod's will be done in Palo Alto as it is in San Jose.
Give us this day our daily diatribe,
and forgive us our slander,
as we slander those HSR deniers who trespass the HSR ROW;
and lead us not into Altamont Pass,
but deliver us from reason and understanding. Amen.
"HSR denier" -- what exactly is an HSR denier? Is that someone who doesn't believe that HSR exists?

Perhaps a Creationist for foamers?

Color me ... curious.

I will work through the Cult of
CHSRA's Nicene Creed later. ( Who knew that my good Catholic education could pay such dividends. )

Spokker said...

"Q: What does it take to reverse this?

A: 1 developer with $100K in re-election money. Cheap."

Oh no. Developers. They might develop places people might want to go near train stations. The horror.

Spokker said...

Here's what was said about HSR in 2007 by some random guy.

"It’s disappointing that transit agencies put real estate developers in front of their passengers. I have been a supporter of the Altamont Pass alternative since the beginning and am, like you, concerned that the Pacheco Pass alternative will derail the whole project –> no more votes from the East Bay counties, Sacramento, or the Central Valley…"

Interesting. The selection of Altamont didn't seem to dissuade most of the Central Valley and the East Bay Counties from voting yes. Sacramento voted no, but I think that had more to do with not being part of phase 1. San Diego, a phase 2 city, voted no as well.

I personally don't care which alignment is ultimately chosen, but I don't want this project to be delayed because of some ducks.

Not In My Nature Preserve

Spokker said...

An article on Palmdale's fight to get an HSR station from 2004.

"Up and down the state, people have complained that they don't want the planned bullet train from San Diego to Sacramento thundering through their communities.

But not in Palmdale.

The Antelope Valley city has spent more than half a million dollars on lawyers, public relations specialists, and economic and geological studies to persuade state officials to bring the high-speed trains its way.

"Quite frankly, we're prepared to go further to win the alignment," said Palmdale Mayor James C. Ledford Jr."

Damn, these guys are rabid.

"No one voiced any such concerns about the proposed Antelope Valley route -- one of two paths being considered in the region -- at the most recent public hearing in Los Angeles in June.

Officials in pro-growth Palmdale believe the train would bring an influx of business people to work in new office complexes and would thrill commuters who could zip home to Palmdale from downtown Los Angeles in 20 minutes."

Palmdale, how dare you want a train in your backyard! I think you owe some people an apology.

Spokker said...

Also from the above article.

"Since the Antelope Valley Freeway opened in the 1960s, the town has been friendly to developers. Luxury homes in gated communities with names such as "Pacific Renaissance" and big-box shopping plazas with espresso cafes seem to spring up every few months. Sport utility vehicles with Harry Potter stickers and shiny trucks with vanity plates dominate the city's pothole-free roads."

Yes, HSR will cause sprawl, because it's not like it isn't already fucking happening and hasn't been since the 1960s.

Brandon in California said...

No, it's not to earlier to start talking about restrooms.

In fact, wifi service at high-speed has been discussed. Why not restrooms.

For northbound trains, I think an auto release of the onboard tiolet urns can be released at some mid-peninsula location.

Which reminds, I need to take care of business. Do I sense a pavlovian response associated with the word 'peninsula' developing?

Anonymous said...

I think it would help the HSR cause to spend more time playing offense. Much of what I've read has focused too much on playing defense, trying just to counter the claims of the NIMBYs. Instead of simply saying "no it won't be a Berlin Wall", it might be better to point out instances where the current setup acts as a barrier/wall. While the tunnel "option" should certainly be discredited, we should remind people that they are presented with a once in a century opportunity to improve the corridor and remedy current problems similar to those NIMBYs claim HSR will create. Maybe we should do some research and find out if and what the NIMBY arguments were when the rail line was first build, even if it was a vastly different landscape. Then HSR could be portrayed as an opportunity to remedy even those objections. Certainly don't stop reminding people about the benefits of HSR to the region and state as a whole. Then be sure to mention how it is threatened by a small group of people who basically just don't want change. Without playing offense and reminding people of the big picture, including the percent of the state population the NIMBYs represent, it will be too easy to lose sight of the big picture, which can only help the NIMBYs.

Rob Dawg said...

39 counties (2/3rds) as diverse as Sacramento, Riverside and San Diego voted against HSR. It is not a case of "statewide" support.

Owen Evans said...

"Show me any other place on the planet where a HSR line shares its right of way with a regional/local/commuter service for 50 or more miles!"

Show me any other place in the world that loves personal automobiles more than the United States.

In Japan the bullet trains are entirely separated from local trains. In fact, they run on an entirely different track gauge. Of course, they started building their network in the late 1950s.
Even so - take a look at the Shinkansen through Tokyo. I recognize that the original question was 50+ miles, but by my estimation, it shares a right-of-way with local/commuter trains for about 38 miles. But that's not at all comparable.

See it hereTrue, the tracks never connect - but the right of way is absolutely shared over that entire distance.

The truth is, the reason many HSR systems overseas use different rights of way so much is that existing rights of way would be too curvy or too slow. Caltrain does not have this problem as it is such a straight line.

In addition, there are dozens of places all over the world where HSR trains run in mixed traffic with slower intercity and commuter traffic, both on branch lines and on approach to major cities.

Owen Evans said...

Whoops my link from the previous post didn't come through. Try this one.

K.T. said...

I have read your article. BTW, was reasoning for using Caltrain ROW included in one of the CAHSRA official documents?

I would like to add that if US 101 alignment was selected, pretty much entire corridor between SF and SJ will be within the 100-year floodplain, which would require mitigation measure to not impact the floodplain (plus sea level rise needs to be considered). For 280 route, first thing i thought was about fault running parallel to 280 (forgot the name...).

A Lynch said...

Round up all the NIMBY leaders and take them to Europe or Asia. Have them walk through the communities that are bisected by HSR, let them ride the trains. I doubt it would convince everyone but if you could change a few opinions in the end it would be cheaper then the delays and legal fees.

Anonymous said...

Using Japan as a model of urban planning is not going to get you very far.

I have spent a LOT of time there. For a country with such wonderful aesthetic taste in most arenas, the absolute ugliness of most of its infrastructure and buildings is a mystery. Concrete, concrete and more concrete. It is truly awful and not a model to emulate.

HSRA is trying to shove the problems that exist under the rug- and they exist on the peninsula as well as south of San Jose. Did you know that MOrgan Hill is now on record as opposing the alignment?

Anonymous said...

Anywhere we can get video, audio, transcripts, notes or minutes from the CHSRA boad meeting yesterday? Can anyone confirm they took the vote that 2nd Hand Info described?

Anonymous said...

You mean, like this?

May 7, 2009
"Cities Join Forces.."

(re: Burlingame and Belmont)

You wonder why we don't see politicians stepping up to 'lead' the HSR cause? Politicians generally hve pretty well developed sense of self-preservation.

Jay said...

"Show me any other place on the planet where a HSR line shares its right of way with a regional/local/commuter service for 50 or more miles!"

One area that shares trackage right with both HSR and commuter rail is the DB.
I use to live in near Nurnburg...and the ICE that I took to Munchen (before the High speed line opened) shared trackage with the Regio and local trains untill it got out of the city limits.
This might have changed with the new High Speed link that opened.

Also the line from Wurzburg to Nurburg hosed the EC/ICE/IC/ and the local trains, the DB had an upgraded line for the IC/EC/ICE from Wurzburg to Frankfurt.

Again this is when I lived in Germany from 2000-2004

Anonymous said...

No one with a brain objects to Palmdale seeking improved rail service. Just not the HSR, unless your destination is Sacramento, not the Bay Area.

It's curious just how much hand-wringing, kvetching, and just general p*ssing and moaning is going on about mining tunnels on the Peninsula while not a word of caution is uttered about numerous long tunnels thru the Tehachapis.

There was a signigicant earthquake there in 1952. Would serve the developers and their toadies right if unknown fault lines were uncovered by drilling.

The meaning of NIMBY is being totally distorted. A true NIMBY is a prissy hypochondriac who wants to micro-manage everyone else's life, like a nanny stater politician or a condo owners association. Objecting to a massive elevated that will blight your town is not NIMBY. If this thing is implemented along BART-Bechtel lines these so-called NIMBY's will become BYEBYE's and take their money with them.

lyqwyd said...


no, people complaining about a project that will benefit the entire state and trying to destroy the project is the essence of NIMBYism. There are many examples of elevated rail that has NOT destroyed the neighborhood, El Cerrito and Albany in the bay area being perfect examples. Albany has elevated BART runing through it, and yet still has high property values and good schools. I had a friend who lived right by the line and it wasn't a big deal for him.

Another trait of NIMBYism is spreading falsehoods, massive exagerations, and trying to use every excuse possible to make the project seem like the end of the world. All of which are being used by the current NIMBY attacks against HSR.

an Atherton resident claiming HSR funding will hurt school funding. That's a plain falsehood.

"Berlin Wall" comments... massive exagerations.

classic NIMBY approaches.

NOnimbys said...

NO Resident your are a NIMBY period
and very thing that your just typed

Anonymous said...

Ok, as far as I can gather from the few news accounts of yesterdays meeting, the vote was to basically put almost the entire California project on the list for 'shovel ready' stimulus funding:

"Projects selected by the board on Thursday are spread throughout the planned 800-mile system, including the entire Los Angeles-to-Anaheim and San Francisco-to-San Jose corridors. Also included was the identification, selection and negotiation of right-of-way acquisition in the Merced-to-Bakersfield section."

This strikes me as a blatant Hail Mary since none of the segments are anywhere near having EIR work complete, none have engineering or designs or costs or business plan or agreements with the other ROW owners, or investors, or anything else that the state will require to let this move forward..

So they just throw all the shit up in to the fan in a desparation move, and see what sticks where?

And did they put the SF work on the list?

I'd still like to know if this was the vote that 2nd hand was referring to, or if there really was a vote to literaslly put SF to SJ first for construction. (THAT's not what was on the agenda - the agenda was to vote on what would go on the federal stimulus request list...) So what WAS the vote on? Exactly?

flowmotion said...

There's a greater issue here that goes way beyond the Peninsula.

CAHSR chose a route that largely followed existing rail lines, rather than a dedicated right-of-way. This apparently was the most inexpensive and easy way to construct the route, from an engineering expensive.

However, politically, it is the MOST expensive way to construct a project. Rail lines tend to run through older and established communities that also tend to be the most organized. All of these communities must be involved in the planning, by law, and have their concerns mollified and mitigated.

What this means is the Peninsula is just the tip of the iceberg. We are hearing them whine first because they are the wealthiest and most organized. CAHSR directly affects many, many more communities beyond Shallow Alto Yuppies, and it's only a matter of time until we hear from them too.

(Now one might question whether Kopp & friends really has the cojones to win all these political battles.... That's another issue altogether.)

The other thing I think this blog needs is little perspective. Robert Moses and pals made it impossible to blast through projects "for the good of society" and we aren't going to turn back the clock to 1950s-style planning. Yelling at NIMBYs is not going to make them go away, they have their rights as part of the process and they WILL use them.

For a project the size of HSR, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect dozens of intensely fought NIMBY and environmental battles, especially with the "city center" route they chose. This is just the reality of our process.

Hopefully the blog author won't blow a gasket and burn-out when Fresno Neighborhood #23 gets organized and starts stamping their feet for a tunnel or other mitigation. Because it will happen.

(Note: I live in SF and believe the US101 corridor would be much better from a local transportation perspective. I understand why it's been ruled out, but it will be interesting to eventually compare the final tally.)

NOnimbys said...

Well watching Fox news should answer all your questions...That
right wing info channel

Anonymous said...

On the issue of school funding two impacts: several of these Peninsula school districts are Basic Aid school districts, that means they are not funded by the STate, they are funding directly through local property tax. Anything that reduced property values, will reduce school funding - directly, and that could even kick them back to Revenue Limit districts, which puts them back on State handout status.

Secondly, Bonds interest payments come out of the general funds. In fact, that doesn't hurt the Peninsula basic aid school district, but that DOEs hurt every other California school district (and every other state program) that competes for the general funds.

Furthermore, there are several schools that will DIRECTLY impacted by the HSR route. That means that at LEAST, their fields and parking lots would be damaged by the widening of the tracks. Their walk/bike ruotes into and directly adjacent to the schools will be damaged. Those will be direct hits the school districts that will have to dump funds into protecting the environents, the fields, the parking, the noise, etc for those schools. That's a direct financial impact to those schools and the other schools in those districts who will be shortchanged those funds for use on other projects.

But the BIG PICTURE that Robert would like us to focus on is that it saves gas, and gets people to Disneyland faster. So really, who gives a crap what happens to a few top tier California High Schools.

But yes, HSR will hurt the schools. (But no, I'm not that Atherton guy, don't have any idea what his arguments were)

Spokker said...

If the project was planned to design and construct new avenues to get into LA and SF instead of using existing but upgraded track, I don't think it would have happened due to cost.

They're already balking at $40 billion.

Rafael said...

Hmmm - how about CHSRA take the members of these councils on a junket to France or Japan. Expensive, yes, but peanuts compared the construction escalation cost several years of public wrangling would produce.

In particular, they should focus on how railroads dealt with running tracks through relatively affluent areas. There won't be a 1:1 equivalent anywhere because other countries were smart enough not to let their passenger railroads wither on the vine for half a century.

Still, it's worth exposing them first hand not just of the passenger experience but also that of people living near an HSR line. The sound and vibration are markedly different than for a freight or commuter train on clapped-out rails and endless horn-blowing. Indeed, in many cases those living near an HSR station have seen their property values go up, because taking the train is often a superior experience to driving or flying.

In addition, council members should be shown just what subway or bored tunnels mean in terms of construction impacts. Subsidence under a $4 million dollar home, anyone? How about a little flooding upstream during a winter storm?

flowmotion said...

Spooker - you can forget about the $40 Billion, that was the "berlin wall" basic estimate. Let's just accept it will be $80B and move on.

Also I wonder how much "existing track" will end up actually being used. What's being proposed on the Peninsula seems to be a rather heavy reconstruction, and the exact same issues exist in every other urban/suburban area.

Spokker said...

"Let's just accept it will be $80B and move on."

I'm fine with $80 billion, but that better be one damn good looking rail line.

mike said...

@Clem I guess it sort of depends on how we define the no-build scenario. I've heard people from both sides of the debate argue that the no-build scenario should include electrification and additional passing tracks because those are things that Caltrain wants to do in the long run anyway. But it could make sense to do a true no-build alternative (i.e., Caltrain exactly as it is today...HSR couldn't run because there's no electrification) and then a minimal-build alternative that adds catenary, quadruple tracking, and improved grade crossings. I don't think an alternative has to be pre-approved by CPUC just to appear in the EIR, no? The true no-build alternative will obviously fail on both economic and environmental grounds. The minimal-build alternative could theoretically pass if Peninsula communities don't mind the idea of crossing gates being down a lot. But maybe CPUC would veto it anyway in which case you'd be back in grade separation land.

@Richard (re: commuter and high speed services sharing track) Absolute statements often turn out to be false! What about the NEC from Newark, NJ to Wilmington, DE (100 miles)? 125 mph intercity trains share the 4 track corridor with NJT and SEPTA commute services. What about the West Coast Main Line from London to Milton Keynes (45 miles)? 125 mph intercity trains share the 4 track corridor with London commute services. These are just two examples.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Anon @11:16 AM, your points are a perfect example of what we have to push back against. HSR will NOT meaningfully damage property values in these cities and will NOT hurt schools or access to schools.

Only a tiny, tiny handful of properties *might* see reduction in value from HSR - and only then if you somehow believe that removing diesel engines and train horns and trains that might hit people is going to lower values (seems to me they'd raise values). In any case we're talking about a few dozen, if that many, homes along these tracks in each city.

As to the schools, the freak-out over Palo Alto High School, for example, is totally misplaced. I actually DID attend a high school that lost a significant portion of its acreage to a freeway widening (Tustin High, in Orange County, when Interstate 5 was widened in the early 1990s). It didn't do a damn thing to negatively impact student safety, academic programs, or athletics. Looking at the maps of Paly, it's obvious that the school will experience no major negative impact from the HSR trains.

And the grade separations will have the added benefit of killing fewer students. Maybe I'm nuts, but I think a dead student is a bit worse off than a student whose school has to move a few things around to accommodate a train.

Robert Cruickshank said...

second hand info, I'm shocked, just shocked to hear that a board and its staff have been in strong disagreement. Anyone who's ever worked for nonprofits or seen government agencies in action knows that such disagreements happen ALL THE TIME. In itself it means nothing.

Spokker said...

"I actually DID attend a high school that lost a significant portion of its acreage to a freeway widening (Tustin High, in Orange County, when Interstate 5 was widened in the early 1990s)."

As I kid I remember there being very little opposition to that freeway widening. Even a Norm's, which was forced to relocate because of the widening, was for it. They put up a letter near their entrance that said that they supported the freeway widening and they voluntarily were relocating. That's how beloved this goddamn project was.

The ending to this story is a SHOCKER. There's still heavy traffic.

Anonymous said...

Burlingame joins the chorus.

At this point, more or less everyone from Burlingame down to Gilroy is objecting to current plans - either opposing alignment or asking for alternatives that are not in current budget.

Morgan Hill has come out forcefully against Monterey Highway alignment.

Gilroy "needs" an 11 mile trench.

This is not a handful of ranting NIMBYs.

You can try and pretend there is no problem but that does not make it go away.

lyqwyd said...


you present another classic NIMBY approach, point out the POSSIBLE negative effects while ignoring mitigation of those possible issue, and completely ignore the ACTUAL positive effects:

you said "Anything that reduced property values, will reduce school funding" as if it's a fact that HSR will reduce property values.

It's not certain that HSR will reduce property values. It is POSSIBLE, but it's also possible that it will raise property values. How? you may ask:

1. It may actually reduce noise: no whistles, lighter weight trains mean less shaking, the trains move faster, so noise persists for a shorter time period, the frequency is different, and happens to be more easily blocked by trees and such, the majority of noise is more directly perpendicular to the direction of travel, meaning it covers less area.

2. Proximity to a station may increase property values, as regular riders may want to live closer to a station (of course that would assume that PA fights for a station)

3. Grade separations make getting around town easier, and therefore living closer to the tracks may not be as much of a negative as it is now.

4. The properties are already reduced in value due to proximity to tracks, so there may be no further loss, since everybody already knows the houses are right next to a rail line, and have been for decades.

you said "Secondly, Bonds interest payments come out of the general funds... that DOEs hurt every other California school district" as if that is somehow is only true for HSR. Even if I accept the argument that a bond reduces the money available for education that would mean that EVERY single bond would reduce money for education, but you (as does the Atherton resident) convienently leave out that fact, implying that only the HSR bond reduces money for schools.

I could also extend your argument to say that EVERY SINGLE project or program that comes from the general fund hurts school funding.

The fact is that school funding is determined by the varied desires and needs of the population of california, and all projects and programs are weighed against each other and funded based on those factors. HSR has nothing to do with school spending.

you say "Furthermore, there are several schools that will DIRECTLY impacted by the HSR route. That means that at LEAST, their fields and parking lots would be damaged by the widening of the tracks. Their walk/bike ruotes into and directly adjacent to the schools will be damaged."

First off impact does not mean negative. Perhaps the students will be excited by having fast cool trains running by their school... lots of kids love trains. Second, kids don't need perfect silence to learn. I went to school under the path of a military flight path, and there were relatively frequent sonic booms that would shake the building and disrupt class, yet somehow I still got a good education and was able to get a good job.

As far as fields and parking lots: Students need parking lots, that has no bearing on an education. Exactly how much of the field will be taken? I don't believe much, if any of the field will be taken. And considering that the engineering and final alignment is far from being determined nobody knows exactly how much, if any, will be taken from a school, so that's only a possible negative impact. Even if some is taken, I seriously doubt it will have any impact on the student's ability to learn or play.

Finaly claiming that their ability to get to/from school will be harmed is a blatant lie. It will be in fact improved since no student will ever have to risk being hit by a train while crossing tracks, nor will they be forced to wait while a train passes. The trip to and from school will be made easier, faster, and safer.

Daniel Jacobson said...

I got a letter published in tomorrows San Jose Mercury News, and it should be published in next week's Mountain View Voice. Still no word on the SF Chronicle, San Mateo Daily Journal, or the Peninsula Daily News, or any other Peninsula papers:

Nevertheless, there was just a feature letter to the editor from a moderate-sounding resident of Palo Alto in the Daily News, saying how she voted for HSR and is anti-tunnel but thinks there's no practical reason to extend HSR to San Francisco. This is another ESSENTIAL point that we must drive home.

Morris Brown said...

The report from "second hand info" on what happened at the Authority's board meeting last Thursday, was confirmed by others who attended today a rail meeting in Palo Alto. I am still hoping to obtain the audio from that meeting, since it apparently was quite illuminating.

The consortium of Peninsula Cities, is now up to 5, Belmont, PA, Menlo Park, Atherton and Burlingame and a Brown act group will be the result which should start meeting soon. Other cities may well join.

So here you have the Authority executive director (Morshed) telling the board that SF to SJ should not be first in line for construction since it doesn't fit the time line, and Diridon, who seems to rule the board with an iron fist, making a motion to over-rule that decision.

HTNB gave a presentation on the SF to SJ public outreach -> project level EIR time line and they say they are looking at late 2012 before an approved EIR will be finished. Yet I still see people talking about digging in 2011. Lots and lots of confusion. The Authority is not looking good.

There are apparently 20 different pieces of legislation going on in the legislature now, relating to HSR. I guess everyone is trying to get in on the action.

Even though Diridon would like to believe that SF to SJ will get stimulus funds, apparently CalTrans which is to submit the final proposal for these funds, will not include that segment, since it apparently will not meet the criteria.

Alon Levy said...

Anon at 12:37: Berkeley paid for the costs of undergrounding the line from its own municipal funds. If the cities of the Peninsula are willing to do that, it won't impair the rest of the project.

Anonymous said...

BART opposed the Berkeley subway. Just as the CHSRA opposes the Peninsula tunnels. Only the in-crowd, ie. Oakland and SF, were to get tunnels. And of course the Caldecott bore.

Why don't we just rename this thing the "Palmdale Air Line"?

Alon Levy said...

Berkeley didn't threaten to sue BART if it didn't spend the region's money on a Berkeley subway.

crzwdjk said...

Very interesting information on the board meeting. If nothing else, it confirms my theory that the strange focus on the Peninsula above all else really is being driven by Diridon rather than any economic or engineering considerations. That's rather unfortunate and probably bad news for the project overall in the long run.

Anonymous said...

I live in Gilroy and wholeheartedly support HSR. There! My voice has risen to the level of the opposition mounting in tiny towns and daily gazettes. I say play hard ball with the peninsula: HSR in a trench or tunnel, and no Caltrain service! That's right! Eliminate Caltrain as we know it for two-track HSR between SF and SJ. This hardball proposal should bring out HSR supporters, who wouldn't want to loose Caltrain. In closing, it still amazes me that a few small communities coming out with HSR concerns is all of a sudden "massive opposition" to a few. Tell SF they aren't getting HSR because of PA or Morgan Hill...yeah right!

Bay Area Resident said...

I took Bart from Fremont to North Berkeley yesterday and counted exactly ZERO decent housing neighborhoods aligned with the tracks. Most of the above ground track areas featured a bunch of BARBED WIRE, the trains were noisy and generated a ton of dust. Whoever says Bart runs through high end neighborhoods on any kind of frequent schedule is wrong. The Lafayette route is one line, similar to Caltrain today that mitigates the damage of constant trains that you have on the above ground Bayfair/San Leandro route area. CHSRA is proposing turning San Jose->SF into Bayfair not Lafayette from a frequency of trains perspective.

Dan S said...

probiscus12:it might be better to point out instances where the current setup acts as a barrier/wall.Would raising the tracks create additional opportunities for rail crossings that don't exist today? Seems like pedestrian undercrossings in particular wouldn't require that much in additional dollars to add to the project. And that would mean more connectivity between east and west Palo Alto (to take a random example) than exists today, kindof an anti-Berlin Wall effect. (Of course a tunnel would add infinite more crossings, I suppose, but the cost is the problem.)

Anonymous @ May 8, 2009 7:48 AM re: JapanI have spent a LOT of time there. For a country with such wonderful aesthetic taste in most arenas, the absolute ugliness of most of its infrastructure and buildings is a mystery.True, in Japan, the elevated tracks and most stations are not designed with aesthetics in mind, and I would agree they're pretty ugly. But I gotta say that having created an all-electric, no-car transportation system is a pretty beautiful thing in and of itself, and perhaps Planet Earth would agree. (The convenience of it all is definitely beautiful.)

But to your point, no, using pictures of elevated trains in Japan will not convince people that an elevated solution can be attractive.

Anonymous @ May 8, 2009 11:16 AMFurthermore, there are several schools that will DIRECTLY impacted by the HSR route. That means that at LEAST, their fields and parking lots would be damaged by the widening of the tracks. Their walk/bike ruotes into and directly adjacent to the schools will be damaged.What schools are you referring to? To take one example, the Caltrain ROW along Palo Alto High is 85 feet wide, which is enough room for 4-tracks (which need only 75 feet), elevated or at-grade, without impacting any neighboring properties. (True, there's an existing bike path currently on that ROW, but there should still be room for it if the community thinks it's a priority.)

And in my opinion, elevated tracks would be much safer than the current at-grade tracks, especially right next to schools, virtually eliminating the possibility that a child could scamper over a fence and onto the tracks. And won't the new electric trains be much quieter than the current diesel ones?

SpokkerI'm fine with $80 billion, but that better be one damn good looking rail line.Hah, maybe they can invent that system for invisible overhead electric lines!

Anonymous said...

"HSR will NOT meaningfully damage property values in these cities and will NOT hurt schools or access to schools. "

You seem to say this a lot, Robert, as if you know this to be entirely true. But this is a very big assumption. What makes you think that it won't damage property values?

Just saying it a 1000 times doesn't make it automatically true. Just because you said it on a blog, doesn't make it true either.

What data do you have?

Anonymous said...

There is no need for the HSR to be hated the way it will be if an elevated is rammed thru the Peninsula. If you insist on an elevated build it along the 101 corridor. Un-dig your heels and exercise a little flexibility.

The removal of the Embarcardero and Central Freeways in San Francisco provided a real world demonstration of just how blighting elevateds are. Property values skyrocketed. The reverse holds true.

I am positive there is no one in El Cerrito who wouldn't prefer to have the BART elevated undergounded.

Alon Levy said...

Anon: elevated highways blight their surroundings; elevated rail doesn't. The same is true for trenches - highways in trenches can kill neighborhoods just like elevated ones, while trenched rail is desirable and often inaudible.

For what it's worth, in New York, els tend to increase property values by a factor of 2-4. This is worse than the factor of 10 that comes with subways, but it's far better than having no grade-separated rail at all. Just today I visited a 6th-floor apartment facing a street where the subway runs at 2nd floor level; I didn't even hear the trains go by. It was less noisy than my current apartment, located on top of an underground subway line where maintenance trains blare horns at night. It's less pleasant for people whose apartments are at the same level as an el, but unless your house is 20 feet from the line, you don't have to worry.

I fully expect whichever Peninsula city gets the HSR stop between SJ and SFO to see steep rises in property values, especially near the station, with the obvious consequences for schools and municipal services. Here in New York the neighborhoods that have either el or subway service are if anything worried about becoming too desirable and gentrified, leading to higher rents.

Anonymous said...

There is no question in my mind that freeways are more blighting than railways. At night you can hear the roar miles away. Trenching doesn't help at all.

That said, elevated railways do not increase property values in California. There is no part of the Bay Area that is as urbanized as NYC. Mostly it is suburban and most Californians have no problem with gentrification, especially those whose jobs depend on property taxes.

BART elevateds are very noisy - the rail squeal travels quite a distance. And this is at 60mph - multiply it by 2 for speed and 2 for four tracks and you have a din.

Even if the elevated were silent there would problems. "The dark side of the force is strong" with elevateds. Policing gangbangers, addicts and homeless encampments would be a constant headache for Peninsula towns.

Bianca said...

Anon 9:27 said:

multiply it by 2 for speed and 2 for four tracks and you have a din.

HSR is not BART. Apples and oranges. Much of the squealing on BART comes from curves in the tracks, of which there are only a few on the Peninsula ROW. It's highly unlikely that all four tracks would have trains passing in exactly the same spot at the same time, so the "multiply by 2 for 4 tracks" is disingenuous. Tracks alone don't make noise without trains on them. Also, by that formulation, you'd also have to divide it by 2 or 3 because the speed of the trains means that any noise lasts for a much briefer period of time.

Policing gangbangers, addicts and homeless encampments would be a constant headache for Peninsula towns.

It's language like this that makes people call HSR opponents "NIMBYs". It's a classic NIMBY manuever to claim that HSR will "attract the wrong kind of people" and we've discussed it before. "Gangbangers"? Really? I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt this time, and allow you to clarify what you mean without accusing you of racism. But I will tell you that when I see those words I read it as code for "brown people, and that makes me nervous." If that is not what you meant, by all means please clarify.

Alon Levy said...

Anon: the elevated line I was referring to in New York is in Harlem. On one side of the line there are auto shops, on the other a large low-income housing projects. There are no drug addicts there and there is no graffiti. I find it hard to believe that these problems will crop up in Palo Alto but not Harlem.

You can even compare the same area with and without els. The South Bronx had a very old el running along Third Avenue until 1973, when it was torn down. The social problems then only became worse, as the area lost connectivity to the rest of the city. The entire area depopulated in the 1970s, including the parts that did have rapid transit, but there was no improvement coming out of removing the el.

I know the New York trains run more slowly than Peninsula HSR, but they're also inherently noisier. Every time I go to JFK I notice how the AirTrain is almost completely silent at speeds at which the subway makes grating screeches. Even the new subway cars are better than the 1970s- and 80s-era squealers; and HSR is typically far less noisy at the same speeds, since it's designed to have reasonable noise emissions at 220 mph rather than at 30 mph.

Anonymous said...

I probably used the wrong word. It is a hissing, ringing sound, sorta like what you get when you hone a big chef's knife with a sharpening steel. Like scratching a chalkboard. Very loud, very unpleasant and travels a long way. I think it has something to do with BART's aluminum wheels.

About every bridge or overpass in the Bay Area has got bums living under it. Who needs more social problems. Besides BART is getting so expensive the low-income people soon won't be able to afford to ride it anyway. Or Caltrain and definitely not the HSR

Alon Levy said...

Anon: BART is run by idiots. CAHSR won't have aluminum wheels; usually HSR trains' noise is dominated by air resistance rather than the wheels, and of course air resistance is a function of both speed and aerodynamics.

As for homelessness, it's a function of a police department that permits panhandling and housing prices that people can't afford. Put some affordable housing in SF, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto, and get rid of whichever idiot police chief let SF get a murder rate higher than this of West Harlem, and the problem will go away, regardless of whether there are els or not.

Anonymous said...

Alon, you seem to focus on the stop, not the elevated section. And Palo Alto is not New York City

Olivier said...

I really don't understand the logic of the HSR planners. The idea of having high speed rail tracks right in the middle of an urban corridor is simply ridiculous.

I'm originally from France and I loved using the TGV. It takes a lot for me to make such a statement. I actually voted no. The peninsula routing is a clear indicator of a very poor planning.
I don't even mention the $50 ride from SF to LA...

The TGV (in France), when it gets into cities, goes much slower than in the countryside. Could a HSR train from SF afford going at 1/2 speed for 50 miles or more?

Have you ever heard a TGV passing by at full speed? Any aerial construction would require such sound proofing that building a tunnel may be cheaper.

There is no good reason to have the HSR go through pretty much all the downtowns of the peninsula. HSR isn't a commuter train (at least not at that scale). The 280 corridor is an obvious alternative. So obvious that they should have made the initial proposal. You could still have a station by Palo Alto, with much more (cheaper) space for a parking lot... Do we really need SFO to have its own station ?...
By the way this is exactly how new stations are built right outside provincial cities in France.

The only real difficulty in my view is the routing through the Silicon Valley suburbia.