To Catch A Train

Mar 30th, 2009 | Posted by

Trains are wonderful, but they usually don’t stop at the origin nor at the destination of passengers’ journeys. This is especially true of medium-to-long-distance itineraries. Instead, a train trip generally consists of at least three parts: getting to the station, riding the train and connecting transportation from the station at the other end. In addition, riding a train almost invariably involves (short) walks between vehicles and also at either end of any given trip.

Transportation planners like to scope these literally pedestrian issues out of their projects because there’s a lot of work but relatively few construction dollars associated with them. Plus, addressing them would actually require co-ordination with other projects, a potential political minefield they prefer to avoid. However, allowing pedestrian access to fall through the cracks – e.g. between HSR stations and airport check-in counters or, between SF Transbay Terminal and Embarcadero BART/Muni – is a sure-fire strategy for failing to meet the ridership forecasts for the shiny new big-ticket services. Ideally, CHSRA should designate one member of its board to take on responsibility for adequate pedestrian facilities at transfer points. The state legislature should also insist that HSR feeder funds from prop 1A are used to optimize connections, rather than just local/regional transit capacity.

The general assumption on this blog appears to be that passengers could and would take local/regional transit to reach the nearest HSR station. Indeed, some $950 million of prop 1A are reserved for capital improvements to qualifying heavy rail “HSR feeder” services like Amtrak California, BART, LA Metro, Metrolink, Caltrain, ACE and NCTD. That’s not nearly as much money as it sounds. For example, there will be little or no money left over for local/regional connecting bus services. Expect nothing at all to be available for improving pedestrian connections, e.g. between the Transbay Terminal in SF and Embarcadero, the nearest BART station.

However, like it or not, the vast majority of Californians never uses transit at all or at least, very infrequently. For the most part, that’s because service tends to be infrequent and slow, except during rush hour. In addition, not everyone feels comfortable sitting or standing near strangers. Instead, decades of cheap gasoline/kerosene have enabled low-rise sprawl and got California residents used to either driving the whole way or else, driving to an airport, parking their car, flying and getting into another car at the other end. That other car might be an airport shuttle van, someone coming to pick them up or, a rental car. In short, travel within California is very oil-intensive and the hope is that HSR will make a dent in that.

However, a common objection to the California HSR project is that local transit should be put in place first, lest HSR cause massive traffic problems near downtown stations. The counter-argument is that politically, HSR serves as an anchor project big enough to prompt/accelerate the development/expansion of local/regional transit that’s long been talked about but never properly funded. There is some evidence of this in that voters LA, Santa Clara, Marin and Sonoma counties all voted to increase local sales taxes to pay for improved rail transit, in addition to approving prop 1A on the statewide ballot.

Still, counting on local transit funding to ride the coattails of HSR is risky in that it forces both types of services to receive massive infusions of cash at the same time. If the political appetite for passenger rail were to dry up for any lenght of time, there’s a good chance that funds intended for bread-and-butter local transit at the federal and state level would be raided to keep the politically sexier HSR project alive, with knock-on effects at the county and city levels. There is some evidence for this as well, in the shape of last-minute re-allocations of funds already within the transportation section of HR1, the stimulus bill. Indeed, the capital expenditure budgets of passenger rail and other transit services are liable to be raided at anytime by the politically entrenched highway-and-runway lobby.

These budget shenanigans will be going on all through the planning and construction phases of the California HSR project at both the federal and especially, at the state level. Urban traffic planners and station architects therefore need to anticipate a wider range of connecting transit options than just local transit. Moreover, the appropriate mix of options will be vastly different in the major HSR locations (SF, SJ, Fresno, LA, Anaheim, Sacramento, San Diego), at stations near airports (SFO, PMD, ONT, MER?) and at stations in smaller towns (Bakersfield, mid-peninsula, Gilroy, Modesto, Burbank, Riverside etc.)

Perhaps, then, we ought to take a closer look at connecting transportation from the customer’s point of view. They will base their choice of vehicle on multiple parameters: door-to-door travel time, risk of delays, flexibility to reschedule, convenience, safety/security, comfort, privacy and fare cost – plus old habits that may be hard to break. No single strategy will work for every passenger, so station designers and local traffic planners have to reserve adequate room for multiple modes of connecting transportation.

1. Walking: If you work in e.g. the financial district in SF and commute by BART, chances are you just hoof it for the last few blocks. There’s no reason to assume that someone coming up from LA on a high speed train won’t do exactly the same. Pedestrians average no more than 2.5 mph, less if they need to stop at traffic lights. That said, it is a little light exercise and you don’t have to wait around for a bus to show up – one that might not drop you off exactly where you need to be anyhow. The converse is also true: in a number of places around the state, people are increasingly choosing to live in condos close to a subway or light rail line rather than chase after a McMansion out in the boonies, where the car is the only possible option for commuting to work, often dozens of miles away. Transit villages are a welcome new phenomenon, but their long-term popularity will depend on the future price of oil.

2. Cycling: In flat but crowded places like Holland and Denmark, China, Vietnam etc. bicycles are perceived first and foremost as modes of transportation. Sure, there are special bikes intended for strenuous exercise, but those are a separate category. In California, that category is almost all there is: road racers and mountain bikes. City bikes are often perceived as being strictly for kids too young to drive a car. This obsession with bikes as exercise machines may explain why pedelecs (bikes with electric assist motors) haven’t really caught on yet in the Golden State, even though they let you climb hills and brave headwinds without working up much of a sweat – deal if you’re about to board a train.

There are plenty of folding designs on the market and, they’re much easier to take along on any type of transit. Folding pedelecs are a new category that is only just emerging, thanks to recent advances in Li-ion battery technology, permanent magnet motors and control systems for the assist motors in these muscle-electric hybrids. China is arguably the world leader at the economy end of this emerging market.

Even in Europe and Japan, many railroads still think of all bicycles as equal and are only just beginning to wake up to the potential of folding bicycles and pedelecs to increase their catchment areas without having to sacrifice space for passengers who pay full fare. Just slide your under your seat (and perhaps the adjacent one, too) – done. At first, the notion of taking a folding pedelec along on a high-speed train may seem absurd, but if you travel light it’s actually a perfectly sensible option, especially if there is a courtesy outlet to let you recharge. Pedelecs are limited to 20mph by law in California and you have to be 16 to ride one. Range on a single charge is typically on the order of 15-30 miles, depending on conditions and on how hard you pedal.

The biggest drawback is that bicycles are vulnerable in traffic unless there are designated bike lanes or better yet, segregated bike paths. In California, cities are loath to close traffic lanes or entire streets to motor vehicles without a special permit – pedestrian zones are almost unheard of (except in purpose-built shopping malls). The second biggest is that biking in wet or extremely hot weather is no fun at all, so transit planners tend to discount it as an unreliable ridership source. That may be a mistake, since pedelecs are by far the most affordable personal electric vehicles and the weather in California’s population centers is reliably sunny for at least four months out of the year.

3. Local Transit: If you happen to live or work near a bus, light rail or subway stop with frequent and reliable service, then that may be the best option for either the first or the last leg of your trip. Unfortunately, it may not be on the other end – you may have to settle for one or more slow bus connections or else, shell out for more expensive direct service. Excellent connecting transit at one end a city pair only boosts HSR ridership if the same is true at the other end. In California, the volume and frequency of transit service varies greatly from county to county. The recent rapid run-up in gasoline prices prompted a renewed effort to spruce up transit services and, HSR stations provide a suitable anchor for multimodal hubs in major cities. Unfortunately, those same gasoline prices burst the housing bubble so it remains to be seen if these plans will come to fruition. Offering a single ticket valid on all transit services in a given region (e.g. the Bay Area) could boost off-peak ridership.

4. Taxi/Limo/Sharecab Service: For those who place a premium on their time and/or their privacy, catching a cab or arranging for a limo may be the preferred option, much as it is at airports. Sharecabs (cp. airport shuttles) are not private and usually less comfortable, but they do get you to exactly where you need to be at more moderate cost. HSR stations will be excellent anchor locations for sharecab services based on vans that can transport up to 8 passengers and their luggage, supplementing fixed-route local transit or replacing it where none exists today. There is a case for subsidizing sharecab services, as they ease congestion and the related air pollution in downtown areas.

5. Personal Car: Driving your own car to the station is often cited as the most convenient or even the only practical option. Sure, there’s traffic and you need to pay for parking but you can get there fairly quickly, without having to wait for local transit, in comfort and privacy. Plus, you can take stuff along – it’s especially hard to travel light with children or disabled persons in tow. Pets are another issue for anyone considering train travel. Fortunately, most railroads already operating high speed trains do permit them provided they don’t bother other passengers. A leash and muzzle are often required to at least be on hand and, a half-price ticket may be required for large dogs.

However, the biggest downside is at the far end of the trip: either someone has to pick you up, you have to use a taxi/shuttle or, you end up renting a car. Add it all up and simply driving yourself all the way starts to look like a way more attractive option for a family of four. And therein, perhaps, lies the biggest challenge of all: persuading Californians to travel more frequently within their state but with less stuff, to make going down to Disneyland or up to San Francisco a simple weekend trip with just one night’s stay rather than a major multi-day outing. For those living in the Central Valley, either destination could easily be an occasional day trip.

Conclusion: Getting the most out of HSR means adjusting the way way you work and play – it’s not a drop-in replacement for the lifestyle you lead today. In particular, more frequent outings within the state will inevitably mean less frequent leisure travel to other states or overseas. The upside is that more tourism dollars stay in California, doubly so if HSR + connecting transit attract larger numbers of out-of-state tourists.

  1. Spokker
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 14:38
    #1

    Some thoughts:

    -A link has been found between mass transit use and better health. Walking is a great mode of transportation and getting this country walking may do wonders for our obesity problem.

    What is the recommended amount of walking they say you should do each day? 30 minutes? Mass transit helps you achieve that.

    -Transit funds are already being raided. In my neck of the words the OCTA is planning to cut 25% of bus service in June (while continuing to fund the study and design freeway projects, of course), an action that was spurred by state transit funding cuts.

    In Los Angeles, if it weren’t for Measure R, cuts would be deep as well.

    -Speaking of future mass transit connections, it could only get better from here. Los Angeles has a menu of projects, some of which are under construction or in the design process. The OCTA is still planning their oft-delayed rapid bus service, so hopefully that will roll out if and when things do get better.

    -I think California’s high speed rail will be a boon for tourists, especially those from Europe or Asia that are used to getting around on trains. I wonder how foreigners who visit California get around now.

  2. Robert Cruickshank
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 14:45
    #2

    Spokker’s point is a very good one about the transit funds. I have written before on this blog about why state budget cuts to transit are a disaster for HSR supporters, and why we should take an active part in the effort to restore those cuts.

  3. Rafael
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 15:11
    #3

    @ Spokker, Robert -

    the real question is if the transit cuts are emergency measures to plug budget holes or, if the long-term commitment to local transit is waning.

    If the 2/3 rule on the budget is overturned via a ballot proposition, the smartest – but politically most difficult – tax hike to fix the state budget would be on gasoline (incl. any ethanol fraction based on corn or other foodstuffs).

    If businesses and consumers know that state gas taxes will be going up by e.g. $0.01 per month for 10 years ($1.20 at the end), transit and cycling will start to look a lot more attractive. Taxing fuel is normally regressive, so some relief for low income earners will be needed, e.g. in the form of subsidies for alternatives to owning a (or two, or three) car(s).

    Relying on future increases in oil prices alone is a risky bet, because those can gyrate substantially in space of just a few months. High fuel taxes means it’s always expensive to drive, so people are less likely to seek out McMansions in the boonies. Transit is cheaper to provide if residential development shifts to higher densities.

  4. Alon Levy
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 15:16
    #4

    I think a taxi would be the most popular option. Intercity travelers almost always stay at the destination city for a few days, which requires luggage. Business travelers sometimes stay only a day, but they often carry suitcases and are willing to spend extra money on a taxi.

    This issue works the same way for HSR and air travel, so we can look at what is happening with airport travel. Wikipedia writes the following about the airport extension of Singapore’s subway system:

    “Since the station’s opening, passenger traffic has been moderate, as most bus routes were maintained and continue to be a popular means of cheap, direct transport for local airport/airline employees, as well as travelers not living along the East West Line. Many air travellers also prefer to continue taking taxis or private transport as the MRT service does not provide for convenient luggage storage beyond Tanah Merah MRT Station, and they have to contend with the commuting crowd especially during peak hours. Thus primary users of the station are usually confined to airport/airline employees, leisure visitors, well-wishers, and budget air travellers, in particular backpackers. Most passengers on weekends used the station merely as a transfer point from the Expo to the bus terminal.”

    This, mind you, isn’t some cheap oil-loving country. Singapore is the second most anti-car developed country, after Hong Kong. (Its taxi service is very cheap though, relying on subsistence-wage tax drivers).

  5. Alon Levy
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 15:17
    #5

    Rafael: off-topic, I’d say the best way of offsetting the regressiveness of a gas tax is to cut income and sales taxes at the bottom. That is, add a deduction of a few thousand dollars per year to the income tax, or exempt staple items like groceries from the sales tax. New York State has done both, leading to very low tax burdens on the poor.

  6. Rafael
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 15:40
    #6

    @ Alon Levy -

    baggage is an issue for people who are staying for several days. Without security scanners, baggage depots or lockers are a risk that few station managers would want to take these days. That’s why I’d like to see station designers anticipate sharecab services as a complement to fixed-route transit.

    Note that if a large (subsidized) sharecab fleet is centrally dispatched, figuring out which vehicle is best placed to pick up any given new customer amounts to a traveling salesman problem with point-to-point travel times dependent on current traffic conditions.

    That’s an NP-hard problem but it can be solved approximately in short order using simple genetic algorithms such as simulated annealing. If the dispatcher purchases one processor core per vehicle in the fleet, the vehicle assignment can be made within a second or two.

    Anyone traveling light will have a good alternative in a folding pedelec. The principal issue is getting the weight down, as the base model usually weighs on the order of 20lbs. Batteries and the motor add another 10-15lbs. Not a big issue for healthy adults, especially with level boarding, but still a concern.

    Wrt to making rising gas taxes less regressive, there are many options. Cutting sales tax and/or exempting essentials like food are useful strategies. I was just thinking more narrowly in terms of keeping mobility affordable.

  7. ladyk
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 15:50
    #7

    #6 : Airplane. Nowadays no serious major airport is built without a train station
    beneath check-in. Most of those stations serve or connect to long-distance travel.

    Another way to ensure foot traffic is to “simply” build a skyscraper on top or next to the station (provided the station is situated in a major city or business district). Examples: Nagoya station (4.8m sq ft), London Bridge station with its 1,000 ft Shard tower beginning construction.

    Now combine those two concepts and you get projects like the “Airrail Center” currently being built on top of the long-distance station of Frankfurt airport.

  8. Alon Levy
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 16:13
    #8

    Singapore has some sharecab services. At most major shopping centers, the taxi line has a little display screen close to its front end with buttons for each major destination or neighborhood. The person can click one button, which will then flash on a screen. Then, people further back in the line can come forward and share a cab with that person to the destination.

    I don’t think the airport has this service, though. Families are too big and have luggage; business travelers can afford to take the taxi alone and may not want to share it with another person.

    Either way, it takes very little infrastructure to make this happen. All that’s necessary is a centralized taxi line. If that’s not enough, then we can look at what existing high-volume high-speed lines do, both in cities with ample transit like Tokyo and Paris, and in cities with little transit like Lyon.

  9. Rafael
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 17:05
    #9

    @ ladyk -

    well, the California HSR project is slated to run past SFO, SJC, Palmdale, Ontario and San Diego airports. The connection between Millbrae and SFO proper is provided by BART (or rather, it will again be once there’s enough demand).

    Lindbergh Field is being groomed for a remodel that would created a multimodal transit hub right next to the passenger terminals. There is some debate about whether the HSR station should be located there or at the Santa Fe Depot. The downside is that Lindbergh Field is a small airport with no room to grow.

    Palmdale just lost its last commercial service. LAWA is now looking at using part of the land there for a solar thermal power plant. I’m concerned the glare from the mirrors could prevent the airport from ever serving as a relief for LAX.

    Ontario might be hard for HSR to get close to. As in Palmdale, they’ll probably resort to an unmanned people mover for the last mile, but there’s no guarantee those projects will receive timely funding: BART has “planned” a people mover for Oakland airport for years and now there’s talk of another one for SJC. Meanwhile, shuttle buses are getting the job done for a fraction of the cost…go figure.

    LA Metro is planing an extension of the green line (light rail), possibly with a people mover out to the terminals. That would be idiotic, light rail should run out there. The new Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor project may well end up as light rail as well, perhaps leveraging part of the Gold Line to reach Union Station. Not exactly an HSR terminal at LAX, but better than nothing.

    Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield, Burbank and John Wayne airport in OC are all quite far from the HSR line and Stockton’s runway is too short.

    The only location in all of California where HSR could easily run right into a passenger terminal is Castle Airport near Merced – mostly because that former AFB doesn’t have a terminal yet.

    Currently, the plan is to run HSR trains next to UPRR between south Fresno and Sacramento, but I think CHSRA will be forced to switch to the BNSF ROW and bypass Merced to the east, with the county’s station at Castle. Trains running at 220mph through residential neighborhoods in Merced town isn’t going to fly there.

    Besides, there appears to be a growing consensus that Castle would be a useful place for a maintenance facility.

  10. Rafael
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 17:14
    #10

    @ Alon Levy -

    my point was more that station designers and traffic planners need to wrap their heads around this issue. SF in particular still plans as if everyone wants to spend a lot of time in that fair city, even if they’re just passing through.

    I haven’t read through the TJPA proposals in detail, but I can’t recall seeing taxis and sharecabs listed as services that would be permitted to use the bus ramps, for example. Similar story at LAUS, San Jose and Anaheim.

    Reaching the ridership forecasts for HSR depends on giving passengers enough choices without having to walk very far. Transit is great, but it’s not the only game in town.

    As for anyone actually planning any bike paths, storage or rental at any of these stations, fuggedaboudit. Caltrain has a bike shop right next to its SF terminus for a reason. I wouldn’t be surprised if they figured out how to promote folding pedelecs before TJPA and CHSRA knew how to spell that.

  11. Anonymous
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 17:29
    #11

    don’t forget car share…

    esp. in a market like LA.

  12. Alon Levy
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 17:32
    #12

    I’m still skeptical that you need a lot of local transportation infrastructure to support a successful HSR station. Airports generally make do with a taxi line, a bus station, and sometimes a nearby subway stop. HSR stations sometimes don’t even have a subway stop – Tokyo Station is ill-served by the Tokyo subway, with only one stop on one line nearby and none at the station itself.

  13. 無名 – wu ming
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 18:27
    #13

    sacramento has included an RT extension to the airport in the past several rounds of expansion planning. that would link HSR to the airport pretty well, if it actually gets built.

  14. Adirondacker
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 19:07
    #14

    The connection between Millbrae and SFO proper is provided by BART (or rather, it will again be once there’s enough demand)

    Oh Gawd no… transfer at Millbrae to the subway that takes you 3/4 of mile to the terminal for the people mover where you transfer again. When there’s acres and acres of land on the far side of 101 where they could put a rational transfer from HSR, BART, Caltrain and the people mover? Wedge in a place for all the airporte buses that are feeding in from places like Santa Rosa so the bus arrivals can transfer directly to HSR. Nah much better to have everyone take a two minuter ride on BART because everybody loves BART so much they want to add ten minutes to their trip and another round of wrestling with their luggage.

  15. pscl
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 19:07
    #15

    I am a big supporter of HSR and public transit but this talk of folding pedelecs almost makes me doubt if I’m on the right side. The issue of station access is probably the one factor that will make or break HSR, and such a critical issue deserves a more serious discussion.

    My view is that, in addition to good transit connections, HSR stations, particularly SJ and the proposed Silicon Valley station (MV/PA/MP etc.) must provide at least the same quality of private and semi-private station access as do the airports they are competing against.

    This means:

    * Staffed taxi and shared-van ranks with minimal wait times

    * Adaquate drop-off/pick up areas

    * On site rental car facilities

    * Staffed and gated short term and long term parking.

    Parking is generally anathema to contemporary city planning, however the reality is that the vast majority of HSR’s local customer base will be suburbites with no realistic transit options to their doorstep. The promise of a civilized one-seat ride to SoCal is HSR’s biggest drawcard, and secured parking is an essential comoponent of that promise.

    Parking is argubly the biggest bottleneck in the growth of BART ridership and the recent success of the Charlotte light rail (vs. the VTA) can largely be attributed to each station having from 300 to 1200 spaces. Beyond being a necesssity, HSR parking is a lucrative source of revenue which contribution not insignificantly to the operation and upkeep of the stations.

    As an olive branch to the transit oriented development school of thought, which I feel is a laudable one, may I suggest a reasonable compromise. The view is held that transit oriented development will shift the demand closer to the stations and render extensive parking structures obsolete. If and when this scenario were to transpire, spaces could be sold off to the transit village developers or rented out the apartment dwellers. But I think the garages will be full for a long long time.

  16. Andrew
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 19:14
    #16

    It would be foolish not to provide robust park-n-ride and car rental facilities at the rural and suburban stations, since driving is simply a reality there. However, any such services at urban downtown stations (LA Union, TBT, Diridon, San Diego, Sacramento) should come at a steep premium.

    And it would be ludicrous in my opinion if they built the TBT without an underground pedestrian passage to Embarcadero station with moving walkways. I don’t see it as optional at all.

  17. Brandon in San Diego
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 19:32
    #17

    You mentioned connectivity in your post… e.g. assuring there is good connectivity with other modes.

    While on the whole I do not disagree, I only quibble with the the tail being allowed to wag the dog. In this case, that would be the siting of stations to serve airports.

    Connectivity with airports at the expense of local connectivity would be wasteful and negatively affect performance of the system. If connectivity is convenient, certainly do it, but for the most part, Airport-HSR user demand is minor.

    For example, take BART.

    Granted, BART it is a regional rapid rail system and is ‘locally’ serving relatively speaking. SFO has approximately 130,000 passengers going through it every weekday. The SFO BART station has approximately 10,000 users going through the station every weekday. The ratio is about 0.08 or 8% assuming there is a relationship.

    The Airport-HSR user connection is weak, especially when considering a lot of the BART riders are 1) employees and 2) that once HSR is running that ridership is further reduced by locally originating riders shifting from JetBlue, Southwest, American Eagle, etc. for in-state trips on HSR.

    And, 3) as a regional rapid rail with a catchment area including much of the populous Bay Area, BART is better positioned to attract riders destined to SFO than an HSR system serving less populous and faraway valley cities.

    I’d estimate that of the 10,000 BART Station riders… fewer than 5,000 are related to flights. Of those that are… half of those could be short-hoppers that could end up on HSR instead. Theoritically, 2,500 cold be related to longer haul flights. Could HSR attract that many; I have strong doubts? Nevertheless, all the numbers cited here are likely too low to influence the citign of an HSR station.

    Sure, someone is going to use HSR to make a random trip from Fresno to get to SFO for a flight to Hawaii, but not a lot.

    And the same is true elsewhere. Simply… people may use HSR to get to an airport, but they will not be a major trip generator.

    And, some of the lesser used airports may not generate sufficient ridership to warrant any consideration for developing and/or siting an airport; whether convenient or not.

    If stations are consdiered at airports… I will have suspicions that influencing matters would be pay-for parking and taxicab intersts.

  18. Spokker
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 20:22
    #18

    “However, any such services at urban downtown stations (LA Union, TBT, Diridon, San Diego, Sacramento) should come at a steep premium.”

    Of course. Right now parking at Los Angeles Union Station is $14/day.

  19. Daniel Jacobson
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 20:53
    #19

    I actually just wrote a big research paper on the potential impacts of a modest investment in bicycling. If we as a nation invested 9 billion in bicycle infrastructure every year, or 5% of the 175 billion per year we spend on roads and highways, we could likely achieve a 20-25% mode share by 2025. You can read about it at my new blog, 21st Century Urban Solutions

    http://21stcenturyurbansolutions.wordpress.com/

  20. Alon Levy
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 21:30
    #20

    Brandon, 8% is relatively high. On the New York City Subway, the two JFK stations have 0.5% of the total systemwide ridership, even though one of them is an important transfer point. On the New Jersey Transit, Newark Airport has 1% of the total ridership; most trains skip its station, it is so marginal.

  21. BruceMcF
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 21:50
    #21

    The Airport-HSR user connection is weak, especially when considering a lot of the BART riders are 1) employees and 2) that once HSR is running that ridership is further reduced by locally originating riders shifting from JetBlue, Southwest, American Eagle, etc. for in-state trips on HSR.

    And, 3) as a regional rapid rail with a catchment area including much of the populous Bay Area, BART is better positioned to attract riders destined to SFO than an HSR system serving less populous and faraway valley cities.

    And, four, BART is incapable is replacing the short haul transfers for long haul flights.

    That is, the argument is based on a combination of HSR taking over all direct short haul flight business, and taking over none of the short haul flight transfer business. Aren’t those two assumptions contradictory? That is, if HSR takes over a substantial share of direct short haul flight business, those travelers are more likely to use HSR as their short-haul connector to a long haul flight, so it will surely take some of the long haul transfer market.

    Indeed, taking over the direct short haul transfer business will reduce the number of short haul flights, cutting frequency, increasing the number of short-haul transfer destinations for which HSR offers a competitive transfer.

    That is provided, of course, that the transfer is not such an ordeal that only the most stubborn of HSR riders take the option … which is in line with the topic of the post.

    For me, the point where I am skeptical about the “connect to all airports” strategy is, rather, whether a particular airport is such an important long haul destination to be worth the trouble to get the best connection feasible or, alternatively, whether an airport is going to offer such a convenient transfer to the HSR that it can in fact be used by an airline as a long-haul / HSR hub airport.

    LAX, SFO, the HSR needs to offer the best available transfer for the big int’l arrival airports. So, for instance, an express rail line, of whatever technology is compatible with intervening services, between LAX and Union is about as good as that is likely to get, and the better the connection, the better for the HSR.

    But apart from those, for most effectively replacing California originating short-haul flights connecting to long-haul flights, the connection has to be as immediate as possible.

    The proposed Lindbergh field could be, Castle could be developed into one as a greenfield site … I’ve not been able to get a clear enough idea of the other proposals to tell on Ontario, Palmdale, etc … I’ve seen discussion on rail alignments, but not the ground level transfer experience that makes or breaks a hub.

    Focusing on a few such airports where it can be done right would seem to be a better use of resources than sketching in airport connections all over the place that turn out to be station transfer to outside security people mover transfer through security point to inside security people mover transfer to terminal.

  22. BruceMcF
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 22:49
    #22

    @ Daniel, on bikes and trains … Miami Transit Pic o’ the Day

  23. jim
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 22:59
    #23

    “Expect nothing at all to be available for improving pedestrian connections, e.g. between the Transbay Terminal in SF and Embarcadero, the nearest BART station.” Are you kidding me with this? Ever hear of a sidewalk? They were invented before the internet, don’t use electricity, never break down, and we have several to choose from between bart and the transbay terminal.

  24. jim
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 23:03
    #24

    @rafael “, so people are less likely to seek out McMansions in the boonies. Transit is cheaper to provide if residential development shifts to higher densities” this is true, but there is the drawback of higher density, for instance cramming more people in sf would be a nightmare we don’t want anymore. They should really think about building new planned cities from scratch to put all the new people in.

  25. Brandon in San Diego
    Mar 30th, 2009 at 23:51
    #25

    Alon,
    IMO, SFO provides the best scenario in this state for there to be anything close to what could be a possible whorthwhile connection between HSR and an airport. Yet, what I am saying is that even at SFO… demand would be weak.

    And because of this lack of relationship between the two functions… siting stations should at airports at the expense of HSR system performance and quality service for the greater rider markets should be avoided.

    That 10,000 figure is not really 10,000. What is pertinent would be users wanted to connect to or from long-haul flights… or airport workers choosing to commute by HSR. I’m thinking that that market on BART is a quarter that 10,000 figure. And, if HSR were there… the numbers on HSR would be much less. Why? B/c BART would be the local preference to access SFO vs. HSR. And, the longer rail trips that would make HSR more attractive to get to the airport… the applicable market is further away and not very large.

    Palmdale? Didn’t someone say it has zero flights now?

    Lindbergh… as I mentioned before… Lindbergh in San Diego is not a hub and is in a corner of the state and country. People fly into SD or out of SD. HSR and plane connectivity would be nearly non-existant.

    A runner-up to SFO for Airport-HSR functionality… possibly Ontario… and influenced by the location being a relatively good geogrphic location to have a station too. A station there could possible attract users to teh station that are unrelated to teh airport altogether.

  26. BruceMcF
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 00:52
    #26

    pscl said…
    I am a big supporter of HSR and public transit but this talk of folding pedelecs almost makes me doubt if I’m on the right side.” …

    … while obviously a fan of bikes and trains, folding bikes and trains, and electric bikes, folding or otherwise …

    … pedelecs are more about a marginal increase in the mode shore of local rail stations, extending the sticky “personal transport and rail” patronage base beyond walking, than they are about HSR.

    Take a 5 mile hinterland around a station on a one station every five or ten miles line, and you have a fairly continuous corridor along the rail line. Say, with heavy promotion and public policy support, you could crank that up to a 1% pedelec/rail mode share within that corridor … that would be a noticeable increase on current rail transport shares.

    Shift to the transport hinterland of a single HSR station, and a small percentage mode share within a small percentage of that much larger hinterland and it quickly fades to nothing.

  27. Aaron
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 02:05
    #27

    @Alon Levy: Tokyo-eki is sort of an exception, since it’s only one station away via Marunouchi to over a half dozen lines, at Ōtemachi, Ginza, and Yurakucho-Hibiya, as well as the JR Yamanote (don’t underestimate the importance of this line, it’s possibly Tokyo’s most important local service) to Shimbashi, Daimon, and north to the huge transit centers at the Ueno stations. Most immediate destinations in Tokyo are probably near the JR Yamanote circuit.

  28. Rafael
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 02:52
    #28

    @ Adirondecker -

    of course it would have been smart to terminate BART near the Caltrain station in San Bruno and extend the Air Train beyond long term parking to meet both of them. But that sort of thing requires integrated planning and BART accepting that Caltrain isn’t going away, ever. See here for a discussion on the mess at Millbrae.

    @ pscl -

    parking will be offered “at market rates”, i.e. it will not be free like it is at BART stations. The $14/day Spokker mentions for LAUS is probably too low.

    One significant problem for suburban stations is that any free parking offered by nearby shopping malls will be abused (e.g. Palo Alto, Redwood City).

    There really isn’t room in many cases for a large rental car facility next to the station, unless there’s a big multi-story car park of which a couple o stories can be dedicated to those. Downtown train stations are not airports.

    @ BruceMcF -

    a quick look at Google satellite view will tell you that HSR will not be running directly into the terminals at Palmdale or Ontario. That would be entirely too useful. Figure people movers for both of those. Ideally, those would be set up such that there’s no need to go through security multiple times. Again, planning integration is key.

    @ jim -

    "[…] every hear of a sidewalk?"

    Sure I have. And I'm sure there will be oodles of people from the East Bay that will gladly struggle through overcrowded Embarcadero BART their baggage to reach the surface on a rainy/windy/cold winter day and then brave SF traffic while hoofing it to the Transbay Terminal. Walk > 1/4mi = hassle = low ridership.

    Granted, there may be a better HSR connection at Millbrae, but we have yet to see how well CHSRA implements the pedestrian facilities there. Having to spend an extra 15 minutes on BART is bad enough, hauling bags up and down two flights of stairs isn't appealing. Also, HSR platforms are 1/4 mile long and there's a curve south of Millbrae. Ergo, expect the HSR platform to extend mostly north of the station. Probably not covered, either.

    As for new cities springing up around HSR stations, this isn't the Soviet Union. You can't force people to live in the beet fields. That said, there may be some value in siting HSR stations at the edge of some towns in the Central Valley, partly because of that's how BNSF rolls and partly because it reduces the noise issue – 220mph express trains are seriously loud. I'm primarily thinking of Merced (Castle Airport) and Modesto (E Briggsmore), but the notion also applies to e.g. Gilroy.

    However, a couple of beet field stations might also make sense for Fresno if CHSRA/BNSF decide to implement a western bypass, e.g. between Gregg and Bowles. The former would serve north Fresno plus Madera and anyone headed north. The latter would serve south Fresno, smaller towns south and east of Fresno and anyone headed south.

    The existing BNSF alignment through town could then be used for Amtrak San Joaquin + a new DMU service linking the beet field stations to downtown as well as other existing and new districts. No HSR train would stop in both Gregg and Bowles.

  29. TomW
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 06:12
    #29

    A quote you may want use, Robert and Rafael:
    The station, indeed, is the introduction or prologue to the train, its relation to the train is that of the first course in an attractive and well-chosen meal. The relation may also be described as that of the frame of the picture; and many a picture has been spoilt by indifferent framing.
    – Christian Barman, Next Station, 1947.

    A huge part of getting people use non-car modes is getting station design right. The designers have to consider how peopel without cars will actually get into the station. For example, transit connections should not be on the far side of a parking lot – they should be next to the station entrance. Similarly, pedestrians should not have to dodge people trying to park, nor should they have to do a long detour round the edge.
    Getting it right is difficult, but perfectly possible.

  30. Anonymous
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 07:12
    #30


    Transportation planners like to scope these literally pedestrian issues out of their projects because there’s a lot of work but relatively few construction dollars associated with them. Plus, addressing them would actually require co-ordination with other projects

    The Bay area isn’t the center of the world, you know, and there are some places where this sort of thing is actually considered a key part of train station design, and indeed system design.

  31. small green cars
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 09:25
    #31

    slated to run past SFO, SJC.. As in, miles from, as in not even close.

    Which means no connectivity to airports whatsoever -without automobiles on freeways! How inconvenient and auto dependent can you hope to make this?

    HELLO. Your major customer base is supposed to be air travelers – those are business travelers and tourists with families – those are not people who are going to walk miles to get to a hotel or who are going to whip out folding bikes! or share cabs! Talk about DENIAL thinking. You people are in utter denial about the layout of these California cities.

    Busses that adequately serve are never going to happen – because just how many ‘city centers’ does an average city need to serve. Even a relatively small town like Palo Alto has at least 8 different ‘centers’, each of which encompasses sq miles of business or residential customer base. So how exactly to plan and fund a bus route that even makes sense across a vast network of coverage in such a dispersed landscape?

    The only truly viable green transportation alternative for the long run in California is going to be converting the whole population and about 60% of all roadways to small/commuter size green energy vehicles. That can actually take people where they need to go, on roadways completely separated from any remaining large size traffic (ie” trucking). Some day when we get there, people may begin to be willing to take a train for their long distance trips, and link up with a compact green vehicle on the other end.

  32. jim
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:04
    #32

    I don’t know how those people downtown get through the day walking around on sidewalks all exposed to the elements. Its amazing. I guess if hsr wants to build and underground walkway with a moving sidewalk the one block from mission and fremont to market and fremont. If they have that kind of money to spend. You know I was under the impression that this hsr plan was ready to go and now it seems they haven’t got anything nailed down except a vague idea about trains between the bay and LA. Do they, or do they not, know what they are doing?

  33. JP
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:14
    #33

    While in Rome recently, I was impressed with how well-connected the Metro, intercity rail, and airport were. You can get off a plane, then walk down a corridor to the Metro (subway) and take that to your destination. Or you could take a train to the train station, which connects you to all the other cities. The whole thing was laid out so it was pedestrian friendly, and easy enough for a foreigner to figure out.

  34. pscl
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 14:30
    #34

    Rafael: I understand that parking at HSR stations will be offered at market rates (or even _above_ market). It needs to be, and should be this way, as we are catering primarily to absence in the days to weeks range. $2/hr and $12-$15/day is reasonable. In fact I mentioned that parking revenue will play a large role in the upkeep of the station, and to offset the cost of the parking structure.

    However I disagree with your characterization of the HSR facility as a ‘downtown train station’. Counting out the downtown SF (TBTC) terminal, where parking restrictions are reasonable and parkers can be catered to by the numerous private lots in the area, at their own expens), the bay area will be served by only 2 HSR stations. The catchment area for these stations extend far beyound the immediate downtown area.

    Transit connections notwithstanding, most suburban passengers will access HSR by private vehicle (whether their own, a rented one, or friend’s), and they will avoid TBTC (sensibly so).

    This means the catchment area of Diridon station will effectively be from Santa Cruz to Mountain View to Livermore and beyond (until the Sacramento branch is built)

    The catchment area of the mid-peninsula station will effectively be Santa Rosa to Fairfield to Fremont and Menlo Park, including a significant number of drivers from the outer districts of SF proper.

    In a sense, yes we are building an airport of sorts. Adaquate park-and-ride and rental facilities must accompany the developmennt. If room does not exist then it needs to be found. Modern elevated parking can tastefully coexist with high density housing and a pedestrian friendly downtown environment. And if Palo Alto doesn’t want it, then RWC or San Mateo (Hillsdale) can take it.

    The biggest mistake that can be made is to allow momentum be lost in the project’s initial stages of deployment due to inadaquate access and unrealistic expectations of how people will get to the train.

  35. pscl
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 14:39
    #35

    I should add that HSR cannot afford to win a battle to lose the war. In attempting to force ‘drivers off the roads’ of the bay area by penalizing private vehicle access to HSR, you may win the battle. People will take their cars off the roads around the HSR station alright – they’ll take their cars off your roads and to the airport which welcomes them with open ams, or straight onto I-5.

  36. Alon Levy
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 17:23
    #36

    If anyone’s interested, here are some statistics for AirTrain ridership in the New York area. The headline figure is 4.75 million in 2008 for JFK and 1.93 for Newark. Make of that what you will re: airport stations.

  37. Ormand
    Apr 1st, 2009 at 06:28
    #37

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  38. Spokker
    Apr 1st, 2009 at 12:10
    #38

    Thank you for your thoughts, spambot.

    Here’s a post I thought was interesting. A guy moves to Los Angeles from Japan and has a few observations about mass transit. To most of his observations, “Duh.”

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