Wednesday, September 2, 2009

More Pushback on Major Media HSR Denial

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

For much of the last week we've been consumed with the news coming out of the Bay Area, from the Menlo Park Town Hall to the Atherton v. CHSRA decision (which both occurred on Wednesday, making that one of the more HSR-heavy days I've had lately). But I wanted to pause for a moment to bring readers' attention to some of the excellent takedowns of the HSR denial we've been seeing in the Washington Post and the New York Times lately, particularly two articles that I'd intended to write about but got sidetracked with the Great Peninsula Debate.

  • Over at the Infrastructurist Yonah Freemark offered a thorough, numbers-based refutation of Ed Glaeser's four-part exercise in HSR denial in the NYT's Economix Blog. Freemark's numbers-based assessment shows, as he writes, "In this more comprehensive model that takes into account trivialities like regional population growth and a reality-based route, the annual benefits total $840 million compared with construction and maintenance costs of $810 million. Which is to say, our numbers show that HSR pays for itself rather handily. And this would be early in the lifecycle of the system, with those benefits likely to grow in future decades."

    As one of the core problems with Glaeser's faulty analysis was his decision to examine a hypothetical HSR line rather than an actual one, Freemark looks at the actual Texas T-Bone plan. By examining the actual context in which it would be built, he shows how HSR is going to provide benefits far outweighing the costs. But since the US economics field, from academia to the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, is dominated by short-term and flawed concepts of costs and benefits. Freemark's full post is well worth the read.

  • The St. Louis Urban Workshop has a great "re-mix" of Robert Samuelson's ridiculous screed, showing how the real transportation boondoggle are the interstate highways that continue to get gobs of federal funding despite bringing diminishing value to the country.


Anonymous said...

Robert, what do you think the ratio of readers of Samuelson in the Washington Post vs. the "ubran workshop" blog is?

Maybe 10,000 :1

Matt said...

@Anon 10:09

Which means absolutely nothing to the validity of each. High readership does not equate to journalistic integrity. I think each of the cable news networks has shown us that.

BruceMcF said...

Anon, that is exactly why Robert ought to bring these to light. It surely warms the cockles of the hearts of people wanting to push an argument if Robbie Samuelson uses his profile to promulgate that argument. They respond to that by distributing links to the nonsense hither and yon.

Even though there will be large numbers of people capable of debunking multiple points in the Samuelson column at hand, it is handy to have a link to reply with that highlights the numerous pitfalls.

Taking for granted that in posing the issue as one of readership rather than one of content, you realize that the Samuelson column in question does not hold any water as an actual argument, without Robbie Samueleson's name attached.

YESonHSR said...

AND the vast majority of the comments(over 500) loudley BOOED the opinion of Samuelson in the Post..The oil/necon funded "think"
tanks will not stop and what needs done is to debunk their lies in every media that they post in.

Spokker said...

Just because you read or watch something doesn't mean you agree with its message. I watch (or rather listen to on satellite radio) Fox News all the time. Doesn't mean I agree with anything anybody on that channel has to say. Except maybe Geraldo.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 10:09am -

the urban workshop piece is going to get a lot more readership than you might think, because it's not just true but also funny. Among those who care about HSR either way, it'll go viral quickly.

That said, the MSM do still enjoy a large audience and "journalists" love to crib off each other.

I doubt a whole lot of people make up their minds based on a single article, mostly its about each side reinforcing its convictions. Right now, rail is "sexy" to many politicians, but that will disappear faster than snowflakes in July if the federal money dries up.

California is an exception in that voters were willing to take on $9.95 billion in new state debt for HSR. It's also an exception in that it hasn't delivered a balanced budget on time in 23 years. That's just what happens when you need a 2/3 majority to pick your nose in Sacramento.

Andre Peretti said...

When the Paris-Lyon HSR project was launched in the seventies it was attacked both from the left and the right and the unexpected result was that the public, from indifferent became supportive. The special interests (Air-Inter, the big highway contractors, oil companies), who had the means to really harm the project, never took it seriously. When they realised the TGV was a game changer it was too late and no Samuelson or O'Toole could have done anything about it.
The 2009 situation is different. The US special interests have certainly done their homework. They know HSR will work in the US as it does everywhere else. They also know that if one line is built it will be the first of many others. They can't let it happen without a fight.
The campaign they seem to have started may work, as the public knows little about HSR. This campaign is unethical by nature because it has to be mainly based on lies. But it can be clever, by customising it for each level of society. The sophisticated will get seemingly objective academic studies loaded with data which look so carefully researched that no-one will bother to check them. For the less educated, no need to go to such lengths. Just repeat often enough "tax", "subsidy", "boondoggle", and the trick is done. HSR will remain subliminally associated to these words.
I think CHSR is particularly vulnerable to adverse campaigning because it is led by politicians, not by engineers.

Morris Brown said...

the draft scoping report for the SJ to Merced project level EIR has been released and can be found here.

Draft Scoping

Morris Brown said...

From the draft scoping report, comments by UPRR are found on

page 96
page 100 has:

It is not in UP's best interest to permit any proposed alignment on its right of way

pages 116-117

Interesting stuff..

Morris Brown said...

The Peninsula Cities Consortium (PCC) now has a website up and running at:

The group has council members presiding from Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Belmont and Burlingame.

The purpose of the group is described at:

Robert should note that his blog is given a link as well as is Clem's blog at the get educated page:

The group meets every other Friday; the meetings have just shifted to Burlingame from Palo Alto.

Alon Levy said...

Anon, the ratio is lower than you think. The WaPo has only about 600,000 circulation. CAHSR Blog has, what, 3,000 daily readers?

On the other hand, the WaPo readers are more politically influential. This goes doubly for the various insider magazines: TNR has a circulation of 40,000, on a par with a largish blog.

NONIMBYS said...

And can we come and meet you "NIMBYS" at these little groups I wont be as nice as Robert.

Anonymous said...

from the report In the south part of San Jose between the Tamien station to Coyote Valley, an option to
follow State Route 87 and 85, replacing the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority
(VTA) light rail that runs along that corridor with high speed rail, and relocating the VTA light
rail to Monterey Highway.

• South of San Jose, an option to follow U.S. 101 to reach Gilroy, bypassing downtown Morgan

uh hello thats exactly what I said a couple days ago.

Anonymous said...

The public comments are funny.

What about the children!

What about the terrorists!

Construction makes poor people sick!

Electromagnetic Fields will attract the Martians!

Now I understand why this country is in the toilet.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

VTA light rail along 87 and 85 actually works fairly well because that section is fully grade separated. Nuking it to create a ROW through south San Jose for HSR isn't going to be popular with the people who use it.

Streetcar service along the Monterey Hwy is a poor substitute for those in the Santa Teresa neighborhood and none at all for those in Blossom Hill.

If they absolutely, positively have to rob Peter to pay Paul, they should be nuking carpool lanes, not an electrified rail line. But frankly, I'd much rather they just find an alignment that doesn't reduce already existing transportation capacity at all.

Anonymous said...

@ Rafael

Can't they just do an arial above the current VTA tracks down the 87 & 85?

Anonymous said...

rafael they can use the vta row/87/85 like this and leave the light rail in place.

Anonymous said...

like this

Anonymous said...

And that Harvey guy with 10,000 word rant lame...

BruceMcF said...

Jim, that's why its cheaper to put the VTA tracks up ... the support columns for light rail are smaller than the support columns for heavy rail.

And of course as a highway median line, the VTA loses patronage to highway median stations ... putting the light rail corridor up allows it to swing over to put a light rail station directly above the access, eliminating half of the vertical separation required by a pedestrian subway.

Anonymous said...

Alon Levy posted:

Anon, the ratio is lower than you think. The WaPo has only about 600,000 circulation. CAHSR Blog has, what, 3,000 daily readers?

How you would know how many visit this site I don't know --- did Robert tell you that?.

But I visit the site at least 10 times a day. Rafael must do more than that, and so does Jim etc.

So more to the point is how many different people are visiting?

The Post's numbers would represent more readers than just papers going out, as well has toms of viewers on the web. On the other side of the coin, as opposed to this blog which is viewed by somebody wanting to learn or know about HSR, the Post has many many who buy or view and could care less or even read about HSR.