SPUR on Prop 1A
San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association – SPUR – is one of the leading and most respected urban planning organizations in the state. And now they have offered an excellent overview of the case for Prop 1A and some excellent rebuttals of the HSR deniers:
The high-speed train system is well planned and long overdue. Criticisms of the proposal, for the most part, amount to the charge that “it’s not good enough,” and its associated presumption that we should reject this proposal until a better one comes along. This point of view fails to recognize that every delay in building the system increases its costs due to the severe escalation in construction costs hitting all construction projects.
An excellent point. Those who claim that we can and or should wait are actually suggesting we should take the financially reckless path. If HSR is “not affordable” now, when exactly WILL it be? What could possibly be a better and more valuable time to build this than now, when the economic stimulus will be at its most potent, before the costs have risen?
Further, while connecting downtown San Francisco to the downtowns of other California cities with fast and efficient train service would have a positive benefit to San Francisco’s economy, it could transform the economies of struggling downtowns in the Central Valley, as well as help expand jobs and increase the number of residents in and around downtown San Jose. Suburban office sprawl is as dangerous a contributor to global warming as residential sprawl. High-speed trains give us the opportunity to vitalize downtowns that need it.
We haven’t heard much from the “HSR will cause sprawl!” crowd but even if they’ve changed their tune, SPUR has identified an extremely important aspect of the project. It will help concentrate jobs away from suburban office parks and in city centers. HSR will have the same impact on urban residential patterns:
Finally, the system is planned to minimize the effects of sprawl and maximize the potential for transit-oriented development throughout the system. In response to urging from SPUR and others, the California High Speed Rail Authority chose to place the route along the populated U.S. Highway 99 corridor instead of along the Interstate Highway 5 corridor. It also agreed to place the train stations in the city centers instead of at the edges, and it has developed principles and guidelines that must be followed before cities will receive a station. These decisions slightly increased the cost of the project but dramatically increased the benefit, as city-center stations would lead to transit-oriented development and limit the sprawl inducing effects that might otherwise be the result of a high-speed train system that makes it easier to commute long distances.
This bond is necessary to improve mobility throughout California, shift the growth in intra-state travel from cars and planes to trains, and reshape our low-density, sprawling land use patterns of the past half century.
Which is the entire point. California’s dependence on sprawl has wound up bankrupting the state, wrecking its economy, and destroying its climate and environment. Most Californians understand the need to move beyond sprawl and HSR is a necessary move in that direction.
And our opponents – the HSR deniers – are all fundamentally animated by a desire to maintain the 20th century sprawl regime even despite its epic fail. Whether you’re Morris Brown, the Reason Foundation, or the Howard Jarvis Association, sprawl is at the core of your policy agenda, the animating force behind your opposition to Prop 1A. It’s good that real urban planning experts, as opposed to fake experts like Joseph Vranich, understand the importance of HSR and of ending sprawl.