SPUR Report: High-Speed Rail to Reshape California's Growth

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sac-valley-station.pngA new report by SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, focuses on high-speed rail's ability to encourage more compact land use in California around the 25 proposed stations. The authors emphasize that in order for high-speed rail to reach its maximum potential, the state and the 25 municipalities must support forward-thinking land-use planning and development programs that allow all of the benefits of HSR to be fully realized. The key is to catalyze private investment in areas surrounding the stations.

Download the full report.

In Sacramento, planning is well underway at Valley Station (above picture), an intermodal hub with connections to Amtrak, intercity buses, light rail, and eventually high-speed rail. The 240-acre station area is expected to become one of the largest transit-oriented developments in the country, featuring 12,000 housing units, office space for 19,000 jobs, a Railroad Museum and a thriving retail district, the report says.

"The alternative to high-speed rail isn't just the absence of a train," writes Egon Terplan, the Director of Regional Planning at SPUR. "It is more highways and new runways; congested roads and crowded skies. The cost of this piecemeal approach would likely be more than the high-speed rail system itself."
The cost of building high-speed rail is certainly high - an estimated annual $1.5 billion over the next ten years - however, Californians continue to show strong support for it. California, like many other states around the country pursuing high-speed rail, understands that the financial and environmental costs of not completing the project are likely higher than the project costs. 

The report cites the following seven opportunities of high-speed rail that are of particular importance to the 25 communities in California with proposed stations:

  1. HSR makes existing communities appear closer each other by shortening travel times between them. After completion, a high speed rail trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco will take 2.5 hours, bringing places like Fresno and Bakersfield much closer to major cities along the coast, which benefits people and businesses. This will likely encourage employment growth in industries seeking closer connections.
  2. HSR could revitalize existing downtowns. The proposed alignment will pass through existing downtowns rather than bypass them through cheaper land at the outskirts, which will reinforce city centers that, in some cases, have not experienced investment in decades.
  3. HSR should contribute to poverty alleviation and social equity. The increased access that high speed rail provides should help facilitate new economic activity and employment opportunities for low- and moderate-income households.
  4. HSR should contribute to the development of high-quality urban environments. Each station context is specific and unique, which can be strengthened by high-speed rail.  Well-designed stations and surrounding development helps creates great urban places.
  5. HSR provides the opportunity to better connect key destinations within an existing city or community. Convenient access to the HSR station and local destinations via transit, taxi, bike, and pedestrian networks is very important. Communities that recognize this can capitalize on HSR by designing efficient linkages and implementing them ahead of time. 
  6. HSR provides opportunity to reduce sprawl, but only if exurban development is limited. Absent prescriptive land use controls, a HSR station in a rural area could precipitate new low-density development that could harm air quality and climate. Proper development restraints should be in place before these harmful development patterns emerge.
  7. HSR can help meet state climate-change goals. The proposed HSR network with stations in existing downtowns and effective connections to local transit, will help reduce auto and air travel (major contributors to climate change) throughout the state, which will help meet state and regional greenhouse gas reduction targets.
SPUR envisions compact, walkable communities with significant employment, shops, and other destinations immediately surrounding each station. To accomplish all of this, municipalities must develop plans that are both written and implemented well, and the state must contribute financial support. "But this paper also argues that the land-use benefits of high-speed rail reach much farther than the immediate station area," the authors say. "In short, high-speed rail should result in a more centered development pattern and should not induce greater sprawl at the urban edges ... The goal should be to change the exurban growth pattern, for a more sustainable California."

3 Comments

Note the name (IE. ref Mark Hopkins, CPRR). Naturally, I'm for this system.

Excellent work, although I would remind the planners that we should work towards a free market solution towards high speed rail or we could wind up with a total disaster of a train coming from nowhere and ending up going nowhere. I have been pushing for High Speed Rail since the early 1990's (mostly word of mouth and letters to the President) and the obvious solution to "how can we have a fast train without it being blocked by freight traffic" is this: Build an entirely seperate line for the High Speed Rail. Connect the cities at the Air Terminals. Why? Because 99% of all intercity travelers go through the airports and there are exsisting transport options to the nearby city already in place. If a Chartered Railroad agreed to lay a high speed rail line between say, point A and point B, that company should be able to get a limited grant of money from the Federal Government, as well as grants from local and State Governments. (Pretty much like the way the Transcontinental Railroad was built, but without the "open purse" that led to massive fraud and corruption by Credit Mobilor. (The arm of the Central Pacific)) Transit authorites should be gradually sold off to corporate interests to become money-making ventures. The free market would ensure that major, growing hubs would be connected while shrinking hubs would be bypassed. (which is right and proper, people want to live in prosperous areas and not ghost-towns or slums) Anyway, that is my 2 cents aka a healthy dose of logic thanks to the Austrian School of Economics.

The link to the SPUR report is broken.

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