Sunday, October 18, 2009

Building an Organic Machine Along the LA River

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

It is impossible to address the broad crisis facing California without affecting some preexisting plan in some way. Whether it's the transmission lines needed to carry power to cities from a solar plant in the Mojave Desert or the Carrizo Plain or whether it's building a light rail line next to an LA high school or something else entirely, solutions to the economic, environmental, and energy crisis aren't being built on a blank slate. We have to implement them within the built and the natural environment we have, and that means when we want to build high speed rail, it may mean other plans have to be shifted to accommodate it.

The latest instance of this intersection of plans is along the Los Angeles River. If you've ever seen the movie "Grease" you've seen the LA River. Once a meandering seasonal stream which sometimes took an entirely different course to the Pacific Ocean than it does now (prior to 1835 it joined Ballona Creek and emptied into the Santa Monica Bay), it has become a largely concretized flood channel of the kind you see all over Southern California (including in the backyard of the house I grew up in).

Along with this "modernization" the LA River has also become a major transportation corridor. It was always thus, from Native American times to the late 1700s when Spanish padres marked the El Camino Real along its course. In the 1800s railroads were built along its banks, and in the 1950s several freeways, including the Golden State and the Long Beach freeways, were constructed alongside it.

Since the 1970s there have been a series of efforts to restore the "old" LA River by removing some of the concrete, which would both slow down the river (making it less dangerous during winter flash floods) and make it more hospitable to wildlife. There have also been plans to conduct urban renewal along some of the older industrial sections of the LA River, including those areas currently used by trains.

These plans will be impacted by the high speed rail project, and the intersection of those two projects is the topic of an in-depth article in the LA Times today. The article, by Ari Bloomekatz, is generally a good overview of the concerns some of the river revitalization activists have about high speed rail:

The plan to build a network of high-speed bullet trains across California is facing opposition from the heart of Los Angeles, where community leaders fear the line will hurt efforts for another grand project: revitalizing the L.A. River.

The rail plan, which has picked up considerable steam since voters approved the nearly $10-billion bond measure in 2008, would use Union Station as a major hub, and the line probably would run along the Los Angeles River.

But some elected officials and residents believe the proposed rail alignment would seriously clash with their vision for the area, which involves replacing the dilapidated industrial proprieties along the river with green space, recreation areas and community facilities.

The situation makes for delicate politics. Many L.A. officials strongly support the bullet train concept and believe that the Union Station hub would fit into the county's efforts to expand subway and light rail service. But they also believe that revitalizing the river is an important part of making the city core more livable for residents and attractive to visitors.

Part of the problem here is that some of the revitalization advocates do not appear to have considered trains as part of their vision for "making the city core more livable for residents and attractive to visitors." Others, still operating in a late 20th century mindset, see any major transportation project as producing the kind of "blight" they associate with the current situation along much of the LA River. Instead of railroads and industrial zones being a thriving hub of activity, by the 1980s they had fallen into disuse as state and federal policy and economic shifts rendered those sites undesirable. Unfortunately, many took the lesson that "railroads along the river produces blight," which doesn't predispose those types to support a train.

The specific area under discussion in the article is known as the Taylor Yard area of the "Glendale Narrows" - the area alongside the Golden State Freeway and the Metrolink ROW. This region has been an important transportation corridor going back to the Native American days, and as anyone who's been on Metrolink through here knows, it is already heavily used by trains. It is also one of the few places along the LA River that has not been fully concretized - it has what is officially described as a "soft bottom" and is therefore seen as a prime location for ecosystem restoration. But the closure of Taylor Yard suggested to many in the area that the day of the train was done, and that a post-railroad vision for that section of the Glendale Narrows was desirable:

The proposed rail routes would run near Taylor Yard, a 247-acre freight switching facility in Cypress Park that was closed by 1985. Part of Taylor yard, which is north of Union Station, is still used for rail maintenance and storage, but it also includes Rio de Los Angeles State Park and sites for a planned high school, green space and a mixed-use housing development. The Los Angeles River runs next to it.

"To take a step backward, to put in a train, it's not going to help the quality of life," said Greater Cypress Park Neighborhood Council chairman Gustavo Lizarde.

Lizarde grew up in Lincoln Heights, moved to Cypress Park in the early 1980s and 25 years ago took over his father's auto service shop on North Figueroa Street. He used to live near Taylor Yard.

Last week, Lizarde walked past a new soccer field at the park off San Fernando Road to the concrete bank of the river. A blue heron swooped by a path littered with foam plastic cups.

The soccer field is one part of the city's long-term effort to transform the area along the concrete-sided river that was once synonymous with crime and graffiti into a place residents can enjoy.

Lizarde is articulating exactly the vision I described above - one where railroads are bringers of blight. Because Taylor Yard was undesirable in the 1980s, and because that led to it becoming a haven of crime and decay, Lizarde believes that any railroad use of the site would inherently produce those conditions again. To someone like Lizard, the Taylor Yard region exists in a perpetual 1985, where any expanded use of the area by trains would inherently blow up the plans to revitalize the river and the surrounding neighborhood.

LA City Councilmember Ed Reyes, whose district includes the Taylor Yard area, thinks HSR should simply avoid the area entirely, even if it meant abandoning the Union Station terminus:

But if the high-speed rail goes through Union Station, some officials and environmental advocates say, it would be difficult to find a route that doesn't run near the river.

Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes said he would like to see other alternatives for routes from Anaheim to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles to Palmdale. He said he supports the high-speed rail but doesn't want to sacrifice the river or the progress of the communities the bullet train would pass through.

"The river right now is in a straitjacket. Lined with cement, constrained by railroad lines. . . . But the way they're approaching it, they're going to put the last strap on the straitjacket," Reyes said. "I support it, but let's not be hasty, let's be opportunistic."

So what's really going on here? Is there a huge anti-HSR backlash forming in LA that can give hope to the Peninsula NIMBYs? Will community organizers like Gustavo Lizarde and local electeds like Ed Reyes undermine one of HSR's most important, most vital aspects - using downtown LA's Union Station as a primary hub?

Not so fast. A look at the details suggests that not only was HSR taken into account in the LA River revitalization planning process, but that the plans envision HSR as a possible solution - instead of a barrier - to achieving some of the plans's key goals.

First, let's have a look at the area in question:

View Taylor Yard/HSR in a larger map

With a proposed high school and state park in the way, one might think "omg this is totally unworkable." But in fact the issue seems to be whether the San Fernando Road alignment or the existing Metrolink/UP alignment is used. As you can see, the location is already heavily used by rail, and Metrolink's primary maintenance hub is located just south of the Taylor Yard area.

Much of the non-railroad land is owned by the California State Parks. A lawsuit several years ago stopped the city of LA, UP, and Lennar (a real estate developer) from new industrial development on the site. Described as "the brass ring" for river activists, the Taylor Yard area is seen as a keystone in the "green" vision for the LA River.

But what does "green" mean? Does it include electric, non-polluting, sustainable high speed rail? Or does it mean essentially turning the area into a park?

The City of Los Angeles's River Revitalization Plan makes a clear statement that trains are an essential part of the River, and that HSR can actually serve as a method of reconnecting neighborhoods to the River:

High Speed And Light Rail Lines Could Be Opportunities To Connect To The River: While heavy rail poses the challenges noted previously, existing and proposed future light rail lines could be opportunities to connect a multi-modal system with the River....

The proposed California High-Speed Rail system would travel from San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento in the north to Los Angeles and San Diego in the south, and would connect California’s major metropolitan areas. The proposed corridor alignment has been loosely identified in the Los Angeles area, and it traverses a portion of the project area. The preferred alignment is along both sides of the Los Angeles River: one proposed track crosses the River from Mission Yard towards Union Station and continues south while the other passes through Union Station and splits to cross the River south of US-101 and south of 1st Street. Should the rail system be implemented as studied, it offers the potential to bring visitors from outside the region to the City. A revitalized River could provide an important regional recreational destination, as well as an amenity that could draw more visitors to the City. (pages 3-16 and 3-17)

It also presents an opportunity to reconstruct the tracks in the area - consolidating rail lines and putting them in either a viaduct or a trench, creating the possibility of at-grade connections to a riverfront park. And as that segment of the plan notes, both UPRR and BNSF (which operates further down the river, south of Union Station) are not only heavy freight users of rail corridors along the river, but are likely to explore options to expand the rails to accommodate future freight traffic.

Ultimately the plan makes it clear that rails are part of the River's future, instead of an impediment. Neither the freeways nor the rails are going away anytime soon. In fact, electrified passenger rail is a key element of improving the quality of life in Southern California, including for the residents of the Cypress Park and other nearby neighborhoods.

Few of the people quoted in the article are HSR opponents, and the article itself recognizes the environmental benefits of HSR. The ultimate question here is how to reconcile two efforts to produce environmentally friendly uses of urban land.

What this situation primarily demonstrates is that the issue really isn't about the environment. It's instead about perceptions of what urban life should be like. Some of the neighbors near the Taylor Yard have a fundamentally 20th century vision in mind - they're afraid any new rail projects will return the site to 1985, but their own vision is essentially the 1950s - a low-density community with green space and access to a quiet, meandering river.

In this way they're not so different from the Peninsula NIMBYs, who seem to prefer a permanent 1975, even at the expense of Caltrain's survival. They're all motivated by a belief that trains bring blight, that trains are not a part of a desirable community. That is a belief unique to the late 20th century, but that belief runs deep.

Nobody is yet articulating a truly 21st century vision: one where sustainable land use and transportation, including high speed rail, produces cleaner and quieter communities, bringing economic security for the many and protecting everyone from the looming catastrophes our dependence on oil is about to produce.

The LA River presents a particular problem here. But it's not an unfamiliar problem. Stanford history professor Richard White would have well understood it. In 1996 White, then a University of Washington professor, published a remarkable little book titled The Organic Machine. Ostensibly a history of dams and fish management along the Columbia River, it in fact was something more of a meditation on the impact of modern man on the natural environment.

White's argument was simple: in modern societies, there is no easy separation of the "natural" and the "man-made". A single key sentence explains White's thesis: "We might want to look for the natural in the dams and the unnatural in the salmon." The Columbia River dams became part of nature, and created new ecosystems. The dams brought changes, some of which were positive, some of which were negative. White's goal isn't to praise or damn the dams (heh) but to instead show that for humans to think about saving salmon or managing the Columbia River, they have to accept that there can be no such thing as "purely natural" - instead the river is an "organic machine" whose consequences have to be weighed before they are acted upon.

High speed rail will function as an "organic machine" in California. It will change the surrounding environment, whether that environment is a Peninsula city, a Central Valley grassland, or the banks of the Los Angeles River. And it won't have been the first - compared to the urbanization of California, the agriculturalization of the Central Valley, the building of the first railroads and freeways, high speed rail is really just an upgrade of the existing machine to make it more environmentally friendly and more effective.

And it can serve as an "organic machine" along the Los Angeles River. It can reconnect neighborhoods to the river depending on how the tracks are built. It can help produce a cleaner river, a cleaner sky, and a more sustainable use of the river's watershed. Lizare and Reyes want to see HSR as some kind of invader. It's not. It's instead a way to reconnect human uses of land, just as it is in Palo Alto.

Ultimately what all this shows is that in building HSR, we aren't battling "NIMBYs." We're battling an obsolete model of California. The key dividing line is whether people see a train as a valuable part of the future, or an unwanted relic of the past. Palo Alto residents who design tunnels for HSR are embracing the possibilities of HSR, whereas those who sue to kill the project just don't seem to want trains around at all - including Caltrain, which their HSR denial is putting in jeopardy.

There are ways to revitalize the LA River and build HSR at the same time - and in the same place. Let's hope that residents and lawmakers prefer to embrace a 21st century vision of high speed rail as an organic machine, instead of the 20th century vision of trains as an undesirable and somewhat embarrassing reminder of a past they have rejected, for a present that has totally failed the vast majority of Californians.

UPDATE: Thanks to Rafael, have a look at the CHSRA's Taylor Yard simulation video, produced by NC3D. It shows that in both the Metrolink and San Fernando Road alignments the tracks would be trenched, and there would be two "lids" connecting the Cypress Park neighborhood to the Rio de Los Angeles State Park and riverfront. To see a good example of a "lid", look at the Mercer Island Lid, built over Interstate 90 on Mercer Island, Washington in 1993. The park is a very popular location in one of the Seattle metro's wealthiest communities and does an effective job of providing green space connectivity over a major transportation corridor.

Assuming CHSRA is able to construct the trench-and-lid model shown in the video, the complaints offered in the LA Times are much ado about nothing.


Anonymous said...

Frank Norris wrote a good book about railroads and development in California: The Octopus.

Rafael said...

A year ago, NC3D produced a video of the alignment alternatives for the Rio de Los Angeles park (Taylor Yard).

See also the DRAFT Alignment Alternatives Report for the section north of LAUS and the completed one for LAUS - Anaheim.

Note that no option for using the old Taylor Yard for stabling HSR trains appears to have been considered. CHSRA has yet to disclose where in California its hundreds of trainsets will while away the wee hours. Avast, ye world-class consultants!

Rafael said...

If YouTube isn't your thing, the Taylor Yard video is also available directly under the CAHSR web site's gallery tab.

Brandon in California said...

For a long time I have felt the LA River revitilization was a lost cause.... too much concrete, too many straps, and perhaps too polluted. Further, taking away the concrete and straps could create flooding issues... slower water piles up!

Fwiw, I open to the idea; however, it seems an up hill challenge. Some one enlighten me/us to river revitalization plans and the real liklihood.

Anonymous said...

in order to slow the river down and remove the concrete you have to give it a wider berth - its natural flood plane. this should have already been done on the sacramento river but instead they just build the levees higher. disaster waiting to happen

Anonymous said...

Haha. Everywhere you turn, there's a NIMBY.

Rafael said...

@ Brandon -

please see the LA River Revitalization Master Plan for details on where local leaders' heads are on the as-yet unfunded project.

For obvious reasons, the paramount objective remains flood control. However, to reduce the risk of damage to structures and other considerations, civil engineers would like to slow down the river to 12 feet/second in the aftermath of severe winter rains. For this purpose, they are suggesting a string of catchment basins at specific locations along the river (PDF p64 of LARRMP = p4-6 of chapter 4). Due to topography, these would vary from 15 to a whopping 4110 acres in size.

The existing all-concrete eyesore was constructed in response to the deadly flood of 1938 (video).

The HSR route runs parallel to the LA river from SR 134 (Glendale) to Redondo Junction (just south of I-10). The HSR project will fully grade separate not just high speed but also Metrolink, Amtrak and freight trains in this section. In other words, it will make the river much more accessible to vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.

Whether there's anything for them to enjoy at the water's edge is up to the city and county of LA. CHSRA's target speed for Sylmar-Anaheim is below 100mph, so noise isn't going to be a major factor at Rio de Los Angeles SP, especially if trains go into a trench.

However, if the trench is left open it will at least need to be covered by netting to keep soccer balls, baseballs etc. from reaching the train level. Sooner or later, stuff happens.

Considering the paucity of park acreage in that part of LA, I'd suggest putting a lid on the trench plus a thick layer of soil and vegetation on top of that. That will dampen any remaining noise and vibrations and increase the recreation value of the park. A reasonable compromise would be for CHSRA to pay for the trench and the city/county to pay for the lid etc.

The biggest problem posed by covered trenches is ventilation for the passengers on board legacy diesel trains, especially if the covered sections are fairly long. The switch to EPA Tier 3/4 locomotives and ULSD fuel will help enormously, but the new regs only apply to new diesel engines (locos go through several engines during their life span). It could take quite a while before Amtrak and Metrolink have enough capital investment dollars to jettison their old Tier 2 clunkers.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Rafael, I think the compromise you float (CHSRA pays for the tunnel, LA pays for the lid) is eminently sensible and quite workable. Let's hope it or something like it makes it into the final implementation.

As you show, HSR would provide the neighbors and the LA River activists everything they wanted. HSR is their friend, not their enemy.

MoneyMatter$ said...

" Palo Alto residents who design tunnels for HSR are embracing the possibilities of HSR, whereas those who sue to kill the project just don't seem to want trains around at all - including Caltrain, which their HSR denial is putting in jeopardy."

Wow - I thought all PA residents who want a tunnel were putting the project in jeopardy because it is too expensive? At least that is what you implied in the past...

So everyone asking for a tunnel (which is about 1/2 the cities on the Peninsula) are actually helping HSR?

The reality is who wouldn't want a tunnel? It puts the problem underground and frees up space to fix issues on top.

Only money IS a problem.

You seem to categorize all the people who question the project as NIMBYs - but the reality is many question whether it is fiscally responsible.

That's not NIMBYism and nowadays - it isn't even just "republicans" asking these questions. Even liberal democrats are concerned!

I know we're not supposed to mention the business plan - but really - doesn't the money matter?

I know many feel strongly that there are no good estimates of the true cost of subsidizing cars and roads. I completely agree.

But I'd love to understand what is your breaking point in terms of a price tag. At what point would you consider this project just too expensive? Have you ever thought - ya know, at some point - we just can't do this?

I really do see the value in HSR. I understand it is an investment for the future - I get it all. But at some point you have to draw the line - I'd like to know where this group feels that line is... is it $60 billion? $80 billion? $100 billion? $200 billion?

Clem said...

You seem to categorize all the people who question the project as NIMBYs - but the reality is many question whether it is fiscally responsible.

The people who question its fiscal responsibility are often the same people who demand multi-billion dollar tunnels to put HSR out of their sight.

It's an odd contradiction to carp about high cost while demanding scope increases, that's all.

Joey said...


In recent times, PA residents have actually started exploring options toward financing a tunnel, i.e. selling air rights in the newly vacated right-of-way. While it might not be enough in the end, at least it's progress toward working out a solution that works for everyone.

Caelestor said...

It's interesting how all the topics on this blog seem to eventually go down to Peninsula Tunnel or Not.

Adirondacker12800 said...

I'd suggest putting a lid on the trench plus a thick layer of soil and vegetation on top of that. .

A trench with a lid over it is called a tunnel. Tunnels are expensive.

Clem said...

A trench with a lid over it is called a tunnel.

Yup. As soon as you put a lid on it, you buy yourself all sorts of trouble with train aerodynamics, air quality, ventilation, fire safety and evacuation.

Technically you can't even slap a lid on it, since a tunnel needs to be wider than a trench to begin with (mostly due to the fire safety thing)

Anonymous said...

So, we're going to help you by being a much friendly version of urban concrete jungle that can bring vast numbers of people in to your natural resources, and waste them in a kinder gentler way.

These is the bidding of the lap dogs of the bid developers who want nothing more than for LA to NOT restore its natural resources, or to bring its major rivers back to a natural state - because of course - if the natural resource is restored and then protected, then they can't build high rent water front condos. This is textbook CHSRA propaganda - HSR masquerading as pro-environment, green green green high density build build build. Garbage. How about if the environmentalists are funded and allowed to restore the river to its natural state, and the whole state will be better off for it. If HSR can't find an appropriate route then HSR should not happend (By the way, its not that they Can't find an appropriat route, its just that the appropriate routes are not through desirable enough real estate corridors for big developers.)

watcher said...

yep, the CHSRA didn't really properly consider how resource sucking the Peninsula would be - from the cost of caving in to tunnels (no pun intended), to the cost of lawsuits, to the cost of having hundreds (or more) watchers now breathing down their necks, watching and publicizing their every move - they grossly miscalculated the cost of doing business in that corridor.

Joey said...


Who said anything about a concrete jungle? At the area in question (adjacent to the current Taylor Yard, HSR will be in a trench (simulations and CHRSA documents suggest that the Metrolink tracks will follow this alignment as well. This does nothing to prevent the development of a state park there, and your assertions about HSR being a political tool of developers is nothing more than conspiracy theory.

Joey said...


Nothing has been decided yet; CHSRA has NOT caved in to tunnels (and some residents are realizing that a tunnel would require more eminent domain takes than any other option). The residents will whine about the (low) elevated structure, but they'll probably accept it in the end, and once it's built, they'll realize that it isn't nearly as bad as they had imagined. The lawsuits have been largely unsuccessful thus far, and any more down the road will only solidify this trend. BTW, the peninsula corridor is nothing unique; NIMBYs are everywhere, the peninsula is probably just the furthest along of any controversial corridor.

Anonymous said...

One of the issues with a trench is that it cuts off all the streams that they are trying to recreate in restoring the river.

Joey said...

And a whole lot of streams there are in the short segment in which HSR runs next to the LA river...

Actually there is one - it runs along SR110 and it too has been reduced to a concrete flood control channel. Don't worry though - HSR will be either at grade or elevated for its approach to LAUS at that point.

Don't get me wrong, the Los Angeles River is a great example of what humanity can do to nature. It's abused, hideous, and polluted. And given how close the city has been built to it, only so much can be done to reverse these conditions. Any effort to restore the river is more than welcome IMO, though I don't see why HSR causes any problems for this, especially given the environmental benefits it will bring in its own right.

Anonymous said...

I know someone here a few posts back commented that the HSR discussion should refrain from using the word "idiot" and be kept civil.

But with posts like Watchers, MoneyMatter$, and anon 6:08, they're basically asking commenters to be uncivil in response to their garbage.

Oh well, back to the river topic...

Unknown said...

" because of course - if the natural resource is restored and then protected, then they can't build high rent water front condos."

Oh. My. F-ing. God. Of all the ridiculous anti-HSR screeds that have been put forth on this board, this has to be my favorite.

Are you honestly suggesting that the LA-River, the LA-Fing-River, the slough, the concrete flash-food spillover container, is somehow more valuable as condo-front property in it's current state than in some utopic future in which it has, you know, grass?

High rent waterfront condos? ON THE LA RIVER?

Holy crap man. I mean. Holy crap. Your new anti-HSR argument is that the LA-River somehow is better real estate now than if it got cleaned up? Holy crap, man.

Anonymous said...

First of all hasn't california had enough of the job/economy sucking faux environmentalist nazis using their phony science and crocodile concerns to further their own personal causes.
They need to be removed from the process.

Second. I just read the most disgusting heap of garbage Ive heard all month.

There is this rail newspaper - supposedly a pro rail group here in cali - and Ive read crap in that paper before but this issue was several pages dedicated to undermining the high speed rail project by being in cahoots with the peninsual nimby lawyers.

From what I gather, there are some railfans who simply can't get over the fact that they didn't get their way and rather than work with the plan we have as best they can like adults, they have taken it upon themselves to undermine the project if not kill it ( and some the text alluded to the idea that the high speed train will be to blame the elimination of standard choo choos.)

More than just expressing a concern or a viewpoint these articles where chocked full of half truths, omission and hyperbole.

I couldn't believe that a group of people who are suppose to be a pro rail group are stooping to such a degenerate level as to jeopardize a valuable, job creating transportation project designed to benefit the largest number of communities possible, all because they didn't get their way. And to add insult to injury, they team up with the nimby's to further disparage and undermine.

What I read tonight was bullshit. pure bullshit. and the people in charge of that two bit rag ought to be ashamed of themselves.

No I understand why Ive heard from previous managers that that rag isn't even suppose to be in the stations because they are a group of troublemakers.

Shame on you people. you didn't get your way. grow up.

Anonymous said...

It wouldn't surprize me at all if Altamont were to oome back from the dead, if and when the Peninsula becomes a no-go.

My further guess is $100 billion is about right for this project all told. Accordingly I expect a serious effort to defund the hsr in the near future. In particular if the water bond issue is defeated.

Anonymous said...

While chsra is making the effort to get the thing done, this group is engaging in exactly the type of sleazy propagandizing of which they accuse the authority.

The difference being that one is trying to get the job done, and the other is trying to delay ( in hopes of killing) the project for personal and political reasons by offering so called their so called solutions which are nothing more than ways to try to kill the project.

rail advocates my ass. really shame on you people.

Anonymous said...

Let's be clear. the dreamtrain express that some would advocate as seen here will
a) never generate the ridership to justify the cost
b) never get built since it will lose the political support of all but 3 counties.
c) is a waste of time as it ads nothing new to the existing transportation choices ( fast nonstop service between sf sj and la is already handled by airlines)

its not going to happen. of course that's the real goal of the nimbys and apparently some so called rail advocates as well.

Frozen said...

A little off-point, but this topic has brought something that I have found lacking up to this point. Clem has provided a wonderful blog on the technical aspects of the caltrain corridor; and by providing this kind of service, one can make an educated guess.

But, then, I myself grew up in Orange County; I lived down the road from the Metrolink tracks in Orange, CA. I m not an California resident anymore, but there is nothing like Clem offers for the Los Angeles area. If I had the resources and expertise, I would have done it myself. I m asking, would someone possibly step up and provide us with something as close to what Clem has to offer?

Lest I forget, Thanks for the service, Robert!

Rafael said...

@ jim -

could I please ask you - once again - to ratchet down the hyperbole. It's not appropriate to call someone a "Nazi" just because their point of view differs from yours.

In case you're reading this, Toys: same goes for "socialist".

Rafael said...

@ Clem -

just to clarify: I'm not suggesting a covered trench for the entire LAUS-S.R.134 section, just for the Rio de Los Angeles State Park as such.

That's the only location in that section where CHSRA has proposed trenching at all. Everywhere else, the alignment is supposed to run at grade or on aerials.

Joey said...
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Joey said...
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Joey said...

Third time's a i know that the preview button is for.

It wouldn't surprize me at all if Altamont were to oome back from the dead, if and when the Peninsula becomes a no-go.

Why on earth would the peninsula become a no-go? Aside from rampant paranoia, the alignment seems pretty straightforward to me. And don't get me started on Altamont. It goes through at least as many residential areas as the peninsula (probably more), and you can bet those areas are filled with at least as many NIMBYs as the peninsula. And let's not forget that all the railroad corridors it would run along are owned by ... you guessed it: UPRR. Unless they had a serious change of attitude, that would mean a new ROW would have to be constructed, which would mean eminent domain takes on an EPIC scale. If you looked over the Bay Area Program EIR/IRS, you would see that plenty of Tri-Valley and east bay cities are ready to oppose the Altamont alignment, and some have suggested terminating HSR in Livermore with a BART connection, a move even stupider than terminating in San José. So no, Altamont is in no way easier to build than the peninsula, NIMBYs or no NIMBYs.

My further guess is $100 billion is about right for this project all told. Accordingly I expect a serious effort to defund the hsr in the near future. In particular if the water bond issue is defeated.

Cost escalation is only likely to occur if the project is delayed significantly, and if stupid choices are made like tunnels where they are not needed. If we focus on getting HSR built NOW, and in a technically competent way, the project shouldn't require significantly more money than they say it will.

flowmotion said...

I wouldn't hang my hat on CHSRA's estimates. The real world is a lot more complicated than dollars-per-mile, or whatever high-level calculations they used. Plus they don't at all account for inflation.

TomW said...

Brandon in San Diego said: ... Further, taking away the concrete and straps could create flooding issues... slower water piles up
If you have a wider channel, then there is more capacity, and that chnnael is soft-wided, a lot of that water will go back into the ground.

Anonymous said...

Altamont to LIvermore BART along with I-5 and Grapevine to LA area sounds good to me.

That's probably close to what a private entrepreneur would build.

Rafael said...

@ TomW -

"If you have a wider channel, then there is more capacity, and that chnnael is soft-wided, a lot of that water will go back into the ground."

The LARRMP calls for catchment basins in a number of locations to reduce maximum flow speed to 12 feet/second in the aftermath of heavy rains. The hard part is acquiring that land, because much of it is built up and/or in use for transportation at the present time.

For example, they are looking for 590 acres just north of the 110 bridge and 1700 acres just south of 101/I-10 bridge (cp. PDF p64 of the master plan). Both of these goals are ambitious.

A channel with an open bottom will permit some replenishing of the ground water, but the absorption rate will be far too low to make much of a dent in flood control.

Anonymous said...

Rafael said...
@ jim -

could I please ask you - once again - to ratchet down the hyperbole. It's not appropriate to call someone a "Nazi" just because their point of view differs from yours

rafael it has nothing to do with having a difference of opinion, I use the term to differentiate between real environmentalists, basically, real scientists who use real science, which make up only a small handful of the mix and the phony "so called" environmentalists who are driven to hysterics by faux science, emotional response, and deliberate deception and ulterior motives, of which there are far too many in california including the sierra club and the california air resources board etc.

Anonymous said...

No Andy, you have the argument completely back-asswards. The river has more value to the world if it is restored to nature and then protected. The HSR proponents however, would only be able to reap the real estate value from that improved property if they are allowed to insert themselves directly into that restoration plan. Thus you have Rafael waxing on at length about how environmentally beneficial HSR would be to a river restoration - which is of course utter BS.

The HSR proponents continue to use the politically correct 'save the environemnt' calling as if HSR is pro-environment. This is exactly like child molesters who say they 'love children'. Yes, they sure do - in the most twisted, expoitative, profane way possible. HSR is "good" to the environment to the extent it can remodel it and take it over for the benefit of the developers and politicians who have designs on the land use.

I hope the LA environemtalists SAVE the LA river, allow them to restore it and protect it. HSR is NOT beneficial to that cause in any way shape or form.

And to the maroon who said 'who said anything about concrete, we're talking about trenches'. DUH. Trenches are made of concrete - HUGE solid concret underground dams that stop and constrain the flows (of everything) deep underground. In Concrete. And how do they make trenches? By digging the whole thing up. And doing what with the dirt? Yes, HSR is such a great friend to the environemnt - PULEEZE

Unknown said...

"I wouldn't hang my hat on CHSRA's estimates. The real world is a lot more complicated than dollars-per-mile, or whatever high-level calculations they used."

If you take an estimate you think is garbage and double it, your new estimate is still based on the estimate you just said is garbage, and therefore by your own definition, it's just 2x garbage.

Unless you're going to come up with some sort of rationale as to why your $100b number is valid, you're just adding multipliers to someone else's work.

And saying things like "or whatever high-level calculations they used" just prove that you haven't even read the cost estimates, so how can you claim to know that they're garbage?

Anonymous said...

if you return the LA river to its natural state its banks will become nothing more than a crime infested homeless encampment where its easier to hide the bodies.

Unknown said...

"The HSR proponents however, would only be able to reap the real estate value from that improved property if they are allowed to insert themselves directly into that restoration plan."

That makes no sense whatsoever. Either the LA river is restored and includes HSR, in which case I can, as a developer, build fancy new things next to it, or the LA river is restored and doesn't include HSR, in which case I can, as a developer, build fancy new things next to it.

Even if they return the entirety of downtown LA to a state of nature, there will still be a developer who wants to build something next to it.

Perhaps you can explain how the developers behind the HSR conspiracy would be unable to profit from a LA river revitalization plan that does not include HSR.

Anonymous said...

The river has more value to the world if it is restored to nature and then protected

thats just funny. more value to the world? The LA river? really. I can see the tourists flocking to the "compton shores" already.

Anonymous said...

No. Or the LA river is restored, and protected, as in protected wetlands around SF Bay. In which case the river is restord, and you as a developer keep your grubby mits out of the area.

Anonymous said...

Jim, the value is not in tourism, the value is in natural resource, for the sake of the natural resources. See the 'Save the Bay' documentary on PBS about how and why the environmental movement saved san Francisco Bay in the 60s and 70s.

john said...

I'm frankly suprised that none of these anonymouses are demanding to see the river's business plan.

Isn't that your meme...Fiscal responsibility? Won't you need those evil developers you deplore to sell the "air rights" above the river.

Progress: Taking the California right back to 1940. Someone better tell those blue herons to start looking for jobs.

john said...

Watch out Robert, et al.

I think it sounds like newest chapter of the "Save the LA River Club" is about to open its doors in Palo Alto.

The mid-peninsula, "opposition by any means necessary" strategy does make for strange bedfellows indeed.

Anonymous said...

Now the NIMBYS and denier's have jumped on the "SAVE THE LA RIVER!" bandwagon to attack HSR. Please people! This isn't the Truckee River we're talking about!
Which brings up an interesting point: why do we get all riled up over all the constant BS they put out? HSR will destroy the LA will cost a trillion dollars...the peninsula will be a no go...bla bla bla.
The truth of the matter is this: like the Sun rising every morning, HSR will be built! So let the delusionals be with their insane commentary (I actually find it quite entertaining).
The rest of us who dwell in reality can focus on getting HSR built and getting it built right!

Anonymous said...

anon- again- we're talking about los angeles. any access to that river will result in it becoming a homeless encampment/body dump. just look at the neighborhoods through which it runs.

and who is gonna pay for it? the taxpayers? with what? a bond issue? I assume the people of LA County will get to vote on this?

Anonymous said...

What should be done is to cover it with a lid and put the whole rail corridor on top of it for a clear right of way.

Peter said...

Right Jim, because covering the river will of course solve the flooding problem...

Anonymous said...

"A River Runs Through It"

a shipping port
oil refineries
under a freeway interchange
under another freeway interchange
under another freeway interchange
aging industrial park
under another freeway interchange
industrial / trucking
rail yard

so nest we'll have to start removing the freeways and getting rid of all the commerce too as they are bad for the environment.

Unknown said...

"No. Or the LA river is restored, and protected, as in protected wetlands around SF Bay. In which case the river is restord, and you as a developer keep your grubby mits out of the area."

Out of the area? It's downtown LA, for Pete's sake. You think you're going to stop them from building in downtown LA?

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 9:56am -

your strictly local environmental priorities are related to land use. Equating anyone who has a different - i.e. state-wide, national and global - set of environmental priorities to a child molester is extremely offensive and totally inappropriate.

How dare you!

Anonymous said...

Andy - the surrounding cities will be improved, so in that sense the quality of life AND the property values in the surrounding areas would be improved, so developers would benefit (yay for you). But with restoration would also HAVE to come protections for that ecosystem, so no, I wouldn't expect building diretly on the river, just as in the SF Bay Area there are protected bands around the shores of the bay, and the movements in the bay area are to create more and more protected baylands areas - for the sake of the health not only of the bay, and not only for the health and beauty of the surruounding communities, but the sake of the whole water system (and prosperity) of the state. So, yes, I'd expect more and more protections, and less and less ability to build directly abutting the river. The areas would have to be returned to green.

And besides, the discussion is specifically related to Rafael's contention that HSR is in some way shape or form BENEFICIAL to the restoration of the river - which is utter nonsense. the building of HSR lines along the river areas that need restoration is BS and would do nothing but to entrench harm to that ecosystem. The river needs to be restored and HSR doesn't help that cause and it's ridiculous nonsense for HSR proponents to try to defend HSR on any such basis. OR to claim that the efforts to restore the river should take a back seat to HSR big business development in the name of environmental progress.

Travis ND said...

Saying the train would get in the way of plans to restore the land along the river to a natural wetland is just wrong because no one is planning to restore it to a natural wetland. The plans I've seen all show it being a well manicured park with soccer fields and lots of water intensive lawns.

Of course, even if there were plans to turn the land into a "wetland" that still wouldn't mean you couldn't build a HSR line through it because it is possible to construct such a thing through it without harming the environment. Germany has much experience in such things.

By the way, it takes a special mind to claim that transit oriented development is "bad" for the environment because it entails high density residential structures.

Anonymous said...

This is where people take leave of their senses and become incapable of compromising and finding solutions.
It happens all the time now.
In order to get things done and keep us from being economically stuck in the mud people have to be albe to compromise.

I would love it if we could cap the population, send all the illegals home, lock up all the criminals, build a giant fan to blow all the smog away, and generate electricity using politicians' hot air.

but none of that is gonna happen.

So, altamont versus pacheco, some one was gonna lose and be unhapppy while others like it, still you don't kill the whole project cuz you don't get your way.
same for the rest of the route.
and environmental concerns have to be weighed against other benefits.
Look what happened up called environmentalists put thousand of hard working men and women out of jobs and killed an entire industry to save forests which they then turn around and let burn to the ground, killing millions of animals in the process.
If you want to restore parts of the river and create parks and open space fine you have to do it in a way that also creates economic stimulus as well, you can provide housing, park space and transportation all in the same place when you team up and cooperate. that way as many people win as possible.
Even here in SF, where i'd prefer to build a wall and keep all of you [non californians] out [angelinos are always welcome] I realize that certain parts of the city will have to be sacrificed for new development- mainly in and adjacent to my own neighborhood.
I can accept it and still defend the preservation of say pacific heights or telegraph hill... where I will never in my life be able to afford to live.

The only progress comes through cooperation and compromise and its very possible, even on the peninsula , to work to come up with the best most beneficial result for the greatest number of people.

Peter said...

Has anyone come up with any other options for running HSR into LA? A lot of people are bitching, and no one is coming up with options.

@ Rafael

While state/national/global environmental issues are in fact EXTREMELY important, they do need to be balanced against the local environmental issues and other needs.
Will the locals likely get their park? Most likely. Will HSR be built along that corridor? Most likely. Will it be built exactly the way one side or the other wants it? Probably not.

I'm vaguely concerned about the technical issues involved with trenching HSR through that area right next to (or within) what should in fact be a flood plain. If they're worried about the river overflowing, then they'd better have some damn powerful pumps built into the trench.

Anonymous said...

and no doubt some of the restoration money could come from the hsr mitigation budget if poeple are willing to work together.
and we have trains running though wetlands in both the san francisco and suisun bays already. they don't damage anything. The big crazy looking birds just stand there and watch the train go by and go about their business of being big and crazy looking.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 11:06am -

you need to get a grip. The river revitalization project is never going to get funding as long as cyclist and pedestrians can't even access the river. That's the value the HSR project is going to add, no more, no less. Any land use issues beyond that are strictly for the locals to sort out, they're beyond the scope of the HSR project.

The LARRMP is an unfunded plan for a ped/bike promenade linking a number of parks next to a river with remodeled embankments. Any notion of turning back the clock to restore the original meandering, flood-prone riverbed is point blank utopian. It's a managed river, what's open to debate is how it is managed. Turning it into a giant storm drain was effective enough in terms of flood control, but it has created a very ugly eyesore.

Rafael said...

@ Peter -

the HSR project is going through project-level EIS/EIR right now. RdLA state park isn't a flood plain, the trenches aren't going to be underwater when the rains come.

The LARRMP does not call for widening the river in that particular location, since maximum flow velocities are already below the 12 ft/sec threshold there.

The HSR project is still very much in the EIS/EIR stage, the locals need not accept the alignment alternatives CHSRA has presented so far. For example, it would be possible to move the Metrolink tracks laterally to San Fernando road, with grade crossings (possibly with an FRA quiet zone). The HSR tracks would then run on a viaduct above them.

This would create the maximum possible contiguous park space, with unimpeded access to the LA river. The elevated HSR tracks would not get sound walls, precisely to avoid gentrification a.k.a. developers pricing low-income families out of their homes. The socio-economic and ethnic situation in the area is very different from e.g. Palo Alto. One size does not fit all.

There are plenty of other options, including e.g. cut-and-fill for four tracks side-by-side in the existing Metrolink alignment. As long as it doesn't stretch the timeline for the HSR project, there's scope for integrated planning with the hitherto separate LA river revitalization project.

What's definitely not on the menu is eliminating train tracks from the banks of the LA river altogether. There is no "somewhere else" to put the freight-cum-Metrolink tracks, so it makes sense to co-locate the new HSR tracks. That's why the call these things transportation corridors.

John said...

This is part of an article published by "Energy and Capital" a friend emailed it too me.

"'Boondoggle‘, 'Loss-making whim‘, ‘Monument to bad territorial planning'. . .

Such are the arguments of high speed rail critics, as the United States finally gets on board the passenger rail revolution that is sweeping the world.

But that quote wasn't about the U.S., and it wasn't about today's debate.

It came from an essay by José Blanco López, Spain's minister of transport and public works, which was published in a new pamphlet from SERA, a sustainability activist organization within the government Labour party. He was talking about the two decades of opposition that conservatives had mounted against the country's progress in building a high speed rail system.

Starting with a line from Madrid to Seville in 1989, Spain pursued an aggressive and determined commitment to high speed rail that, by 2012, will produce the longest system in Europe. This year alone, most of the country's €19 billion development budget will be invested in high speed rail. By 2020, López says, more than 90% of the country's total population will be within 31 miles of a high speed train station.

Here he put his country's achievement in perspective:

Shielded behind overly simple, short sighted cost-benefit analysis, critics complained with those arguments against high speed projects over years, until the success of each one of the new corridors proved them wrong and showed that in troubled economic times, the best investments for a society are the ones which improve equality.

History has proved rail's critics wrong in Spain, as economic development and rider enthusiasm followed it everywhere it went.

Even so, ever unwilling to learn from the successes of the rest of the world, the U.S. is now starting the same effort at about the same place as Spain was 20 years ago.

The president of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, Andy Kunz, appeared on Fox Business last Friday to make his pitch. And what argument did the show's overcoiffed co-host raise? "Amtrak has been in the red for years and years and years, and nobody in charge over there seems to be able to turn a profit, despite the fact that everybody I know takes the train from New York to Washington D.C., the Acela. It's just not working though financially," she whined.

After Kunz explained that that the Acela leg (with a maximum speed of only about 100 mph) was in fact profitable, and that the rest of the system needed to be upgraded so that it was equally attractive and profitable and capable of speeds over 200 mph, the host pressed on: "How do you get people to ride it?" Kunz patiently explained his point again, and pointed out that when Europe opened its new high speed lines, they filled up with riders immediately. The hosts then tossed off a quick wisecrack about the Chunnel and muttered about the need for profitability, but assured the audience that "Nobody more than Fox Business wants to see new ventures succeed."
Be that as it may, one wonders why Europe's success would not convince them that high speed rail would be a good thing for this country. A projection from rail proponents indicates that building the 9,000 miles of high speed corridors identified by the U.S. Department of Transportation would create 4.5 million permanent jobs and 1.6 million construction jobs, save 125 million barrels of oil, eliminate 20 million pounds of CO2 per mile per year, reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing, and generate $23 billion in economic benefits in the Midwest alone — all alongside a long list of intangible side benefits.

Putting aside the cretinous shortsightedness and obstinacy of conservative media, let's take a look at what the rest of the world is doing.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Frozen: I grew up in Tustin, good to see a fellow OC native here. I'd love to see a blog that does for SoCal what Clem does for the Peninsula.

As to the anons, the blog is going to be moving to a WordPress platform and a unique URL soon. All anons will have to pick an actual name. I am still going to have a light touch when it comes to moderation, but some of these claims about HSR being somehow environmentally unfriendly are ridiculous on their face. We don't need to respond to every idiotic claim an anon makes.

Anonymous said...

I went to the Berkeley Symposium. The answer to whether or not HSR is environmentally friendly turns out to be ambiguous. If it runs totally full trains, yes. If not, no. The impact of construction is a massive environmental cost which may or may not be paid back.

Anonymous said...

The trains won't be full because the route has been made too slow and circuitous due to the Tehachapis detour along with too many stops. I hope LA pays for the Palmdale boondoggle via an electoral defeat of Schwarzie's peripheral canal

Anonymous said...

good lord these same arguments go round and round and round.

anon are you being disingenuous, dense, or just unable to come up with something new?

You aren't really concerned about the environment in the least. why don't you come out tell us your real reason for your opposition?

Just come out and tell us the truth.

Anonymous said...

Ironically, not far from Taylor Yard is Travel Town, a section of Griffth Park devoted to trains large and small.

I can think of nothing better for a new park than shiny passenger trains. Indeed, I have gone places just because a train stops there. You can walk to the San Juan Capistrano Mission from the Amtrak station.

Has the Monorail brought blight to Disneyland?


Peter said...

Not unless you consider screaming, sticky (from eating sweets), children a blight.

Tony D. said...

I find it amazing that the Peninsula NIMBY's/HSR Deniers now want to save the "LA Amazon" from HSR in the name of environmentalism, yet had no problem with an Altamont HSR alignment being built through the Don Edwards/SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Seriously, protecting an urban waterway that's already surrounded by development vs building a train line through protected wetlands...UNBELIEVABLE!

By the way, a revitilized Guadalupe River has no problem co-existing with a freeway and downtown development in San Jose; it can be done!

Peter said...

The climate for NIMBYs these days essentially requires them to cling to any straw they can.

flowmotion said...

@AndyDuncan -

And saying things like "or whatever high-level calculations they used" just prove that you haven't even read the cost estimates, so how can you claim to know that they're garbage?

Actually that proves YOU haven't read them, because cost per mile per type of structure is basically how they are calculated.

It's a very high-level estimate. If you want to make a fool of yourself and hang your hat on something you don't know the first thing about, be my guest. You will be proven wrong shortly.

Unknown said...

"It's a very high-level estimate. If you want to make a fool of yourself and hang your hat on something you don't know the first thing about, be my guest. You will be proven wrong shortly."

Are you going to provide rationale for your $100b number or are you just going to throw it out there and say "we'll see in a couple years" ?

Again, just saying 2.5x CHSRA's numbers is basing your own argument on that which you want to discredit.

Travis ND said...

"The trains won't be full because the route has been made too slow and circuitous due to the Tehachapis detour along with too many stops."

That statement is wrong in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

What an ugly part of LA river at that..if they care so much about parks .start buying homes and rebuild parks were people live.Its already railroad ROW and an industry area..woory about Griffif park and its trees dying not an cement lined channel that will never look anything like it did 120years ago.

Joey said...

The trains won't be full because the route has been made too slow and circuitous due to the Tehachapis detour along with too many stops.

It's called an express train. You may have heard of it. It works by not stopping at all stations. And let's not get started on Tehachapi again...

Anonymous said...

oh but why not have another round of tehachapi and then we'll do altamont again, and throw in a transbay terminal for fun, and back to the peninsula.

okay how bout this. lets pretend that the nimby's dont exist ( ignore them) and then lets say the system is getting build exactly as currently planned, tehachapi transbay and all,

and then let speculate on stuff based on that.

specific station locations and station designs, various forms of tod that fits each city's style.

what types of on board amenities we should have.

you know fun stuff like that. I know I can't possibly explain again why the train needs to go where the people who ride are. I just can't.

Anonymous said...

Wake up, Jim! Time to face the bitter reality of bad HSR planning.

Anonymous said...

okay Ive been trying to figure out how to make this work all week. think I got it
the new (future) simple state rail map. yes I left out a couple of stops here and there due to space constraints but you get the idea.

Anonymous said...

anon, the plan is very good. what bad planning are you talking about?

flowmotion said...

@AndyDuncan -

Are you going to provide rationale for your $100b number or are you just going to throw it out there and say "we'll see in a couple years" ?

The $100B figure was from an Anonymous who's obviously trolling about water bonds and stuff. I'm sure he's having a nice chuckle at our expense, so thanks pal.

We will get real estimates when CHSRA develops with proposals that aren't just lines on a map. So yes, there isn't much of an alternative but to wait.

Spokker said...

I see the LA River a lot on my way to Los Angeles on Metrolink and I wonder how the hell birds live in that thing. They are always in there drinking and washing. Some have tentacles, though, so I guess that answers my question.

Anonymous said...

Using the Bay Bridge as a yardstick $100 billion might be a lo-ball.