Peak Car is Real

Jul 12th, 2011 | Posted by

Streetsblog Capitol Hill recently had a good discussion about “peak car” and whether it is a real phenomenon or a product of the recession:

In an article titled “We Are Approaching Peak Car Use,” the magazine examines an Australian study [PDF] which found driving rates are falling in a number of cities in Europe, North America and Australia.

Explanations include rising fuel prices, the increasing appeal of urbanism, and another interesting theory: that many urban areas have reached the limit people are willing to drive as part of their daily commute (about one hour).

The study authors conclude that traffic engineers need to change their models and rethink the assumption that traffic will increase annually.

Meanwhile, new data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics adds to the body of research about the decline in driving — but whether that amounts to “peak car use” is worth further consideration. The report shows a leveling off in vehicle miles traveled, beginning at the end of 2007….

These numbers don’t point to a cause. But the decline in driving aligns pretty well with the greatest period of economic contraction in a generation. And driving declines have long been linked to recessions. Which leaves us wondering: Is the decline part of a lasting trend, or does it just reflect a cyclical pattern tied to the economy?

Angie Schmitt goes on to cite stats that show both a recession-fueled decline in driving as well as declines that began well before the crash. The Pacific Northwest saw a decline in vehicle miles traveled beginning around 2002 with gas consumption peaking at about the same time. Some regions, like St. Louis, have seen VMT increase, but the Pacific Northwest numbers do suggest that “peak car” has arrived in some regions of the country.

And the numbers from the study that kicked off Schmitt’s article shows that California saw declines too. Car use in Los Angeles declined by 2.0% and in San Francisco it fell by 4.8%.

There are deeper trends at work too. As we examined on the blog about a year ago, the great shift away from driving is well under way. Millennials – those of us about age 30 and under – are leading the way, with a long-term decline in driving habits under way since 1995. We’ve found that it’s far more important to be connected to our digital devices than waste time unproductively behind the wheel of a car.

And of course, there’s the constantly-rising price of gas. But it’s not just gas prices alone – the Pacific Northwest peak in VMT from 2002 came at a time when the average price of gas there was about $1.75 per gallon, and fell even as gas prices remained around $2 at most (only in 2005 did prices begin marching up toward $3).

While some claim that the advent of electric cars will reverse the trend and send VMT back up, it seems that the iPhone and the iPad are more important. It doesn’t matter what engine is in a car, it is still a slow, expensive, and inconvenient way to get around. While some older generations will never believe that truth, wedded as they are to decades-old ideological beliefs that cars are always superior, the truth is now quite clear: Pacific Coasters, at least, have reached “peak car” and are eagerly adopting alternatives when and where they can.

In California that includes nearly a decade of rising ridership on intercity trains operated by Amtrak California.

The evidence is clear: the demand for alternatives to driving is there. High speed rail is an important part of meeting that demand. If you build it, Californians will ride.

  1. Brandon from San Diego
    Jul 12th, 2011 at 20:59

    I think the cause is both a trend related to the economy and with greater societal changes. In fact, some already see that people are driving more often of late due to falling gas prices.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    I think the “societal changes” is a fine way to say the following:

    The biggest selling point for car-centric suburbia was the explosion of minorities in the inner cities and streetcar suburbs. Now, as the white population both overall and in the suburbs is collapsing, the utility of a car is falling, because its the costliest per capita method of travel. It’s not that car travel never makes sense, it’s that the number of people who it makes sense for is probably less than the current levels of car ownership.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Had nothing to do with people, in general irrespective of the color of their skin, breeding like rabbits after World War II…

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    I looked at car sale data from Wards for the years available between 1931 and 2010. However, I adjusted the sale numbers for population and came up with a percentage of the population buying a car year by year.

    Interestingly the rate dips during each economic downturn and then rises back up. However, over the last eighty years:

    The rate never exceeds 5% a year until 1963…except in 1955. After 1963, the rate never declines below 5% until 1981. The highest years as a percentage were in the 7 percent range: 1973 and 1978….

  2. joe
    Jul 12th, 2011 at 21:41

    Car are expensive to own and operate. As incomes stagnate and drop, cutting down on car usage frees up a lot in the family budget. We’re beyond cost savings by cutting back on vacations and Starbucks lattes.

    Interest in low cost, economical B segment cars is new for the US Market. Nissan Versa 10,999. This is more than gasoline and traffic. I think people are being squeezed.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    I personally sold by SUV 2 months ago and out 2 adult household only has 1 car.

    No big deal so far… Over the last 14 months of SUV ownership I only put 500 miles on it. The last 2.5 months… 85 miles. I costed out everything, and observed that I was basically paying about $3 per mile to drive it. $3 !!!! That is nuts.

    Anyway, this household only needs 1 car…. As I have been using the train exclusively for trips to and from work.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    The train trip, after factoring logistics of making the trip, is about 10-15 minutes longer by rail. But, I get to read on an iPad the whole way…versus the tail lights and traffic signal instead. It is quite a pleasure.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Brandon, your experience with the train reflects mine on occasional trips to Washington, DC via MARC service from Martinsburg, W.Va. It’s a relatively slow ride–2 hours for about 75 miles due to all the stops it makes–but it is much more enjoyable and much less stressful than driving, even when traffic is decent, and prettier, too–much of the route is in green countryside or along the banks of the Potomac River, particularly west of Point of Rocks, Md.

  3. D. P. Lubic
    Jul 12th, 2011 at 21:45

    One thing not mentioned is that with sprawl replacing former countryside (and the accompanying traffic), driving just isn’t fun anymore.

    Check out this quote from one of the commentators to the linked article:

    “I can’t speak for everyone, but among my friends (DC area, ages between 30 and 40) driving feels very much over. For several years the feeling that it’s cooler to live in a place where you don’t need a car has been growing. Sitting in traffic is a drag and we avoid it whenever possible. Real estate is more important to us than what kind of car we drive (cars are SO OVER). Nobody wants to be a slave to a lawn or to have to fire up two tons of steel for every errand.

    $4/gallon gas has put the final nail in the coffin. Driving feels like a dreary chore that we do only when we have to. Even those of us who are stuck with car commutes long to switch to walking or biking to work. In fact, one friend has done just that: took a 50% pay cut to switch from a high-end job with hideous commute in NoVa to working in a small college town that takes 10-15 minutes to drive across. Car use has definitely peaked for us. It’s hard to imagine ever getting excited about driving again.”

    This also ties in to the Advertising Age article that was here a while back.

    Final point–How many people today go for a Sunday drive, just to drive?

    Nathanael Reply:

    Driving is the opposite of fun.

    Though I do like going to the drive-in. :-) I’ve ended up picking a VERY rural route to get there, so that I’m never on a numbered road.

    I’m getting an electric car because my area is simply not going to be served by passenger rail in the next 10 years. Even though it should be.

  4. D. P. Lubic
    Jul 12th, 2011 at 21:48

    I do love how some–perhaps most–in the older generation don’t get it (this is from a Prius weblog):

    “Must be a generation thing. In the Dark Ages when I was a teen having a license and a car (even access to the family car) was an ABSOLUTE MUST. In Oklahoma they offered a license for small motorcycles at age 14. I had the motorcycle for a year before being legal age and learned to ride by circling our 2 acres over and over. The day of my birthday I was in line to get the license before they opened. When I turned 16, I already had the car and was first to take the drivers test on the day of my birthday. Waiting even a day was simply not an option! Kids who turned 16 on Sunday were impossible to live with until the DMV opened the next day.

    “I am mystified by the difference today. A friend of mine has a step-son who was 18 before he got his license, and then only reluctantly. And this kid had a brand new Mustang waiting in the garage from his father. It sat for 2 years before the kid was even interested enough to get the license. Granted, when he did get one he sold the new 6 cylinder automatic Mustang and bought a used 5-speed V8 GT, so that might explain some of it.”

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Another generational aspect–how many baby boomers are now retiring, and not being replaced in the workforce–and in turn, not being “replaced” on the road system?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    very few, the first boomers became eligible for Social Security old age retirement in 2008. The first ones became eligible for Medicare this year.

  5. D. P. Lubic
    Jul 12th, 2011 at 23:03

    Off topic–but Alon will be very interested in this one (linked from the Infrastructurist):

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Dude, I read that article in 2008. I forget who I got it from – either Rafael, or The Overhead Wire. But the issues were discussed on this blog long before the technicals (i.e. Clem, Richard, Drunk Engineer) took over.

  6. Dennis Lytton
    Jul 12th, 2011 at 23:03

    Which brings us back to carmaggedon in LA this weekend – the massive project to add one northbound lane through the Sepulveda Pass of the I-405. It will also reintroduce the shoulder to both sides of the freeway and increase the lane widths by up to a foot so it does have a public safety element to it.

    But the project as a whole has the feel of the late 20th century paradigm of transportation planning. There’s some kind of “transit first” movement going on in San Diego re: their long range plan. For the old school transit planners down there that’s something they don’t get. They keep harping “intermodalism” which is there code word for they can’t imagine that we won’t need road growth into the eternal future.

    On a personal note. My fiance and I do have two cars. However, the primary one is a SmartCar (which gets you some dirty looks driving through “red state” America), and the second one is a 1997 Chevy S-10 pickup with 150k miles on it that we only use about once per week. I’m waiting for it to finally die then I’ll switch to car sharing for our second backup car. I can take public transit to work (we live in Downtown LA) but she’s works in Burbank. If we both could take transit we could drop down to one lightly used car or be car free.

    This also leads to the macro issue of how many cars America needs. Detroit still thinks that once the recession is over car buying will go back to 10 years ago levels. They are confused that car buying still doesn’t seem to be even at the “replacement level” versus the natural attrition of the national car stock. My lifestyle of waiting for my old truck to just “die” and only operating it once a week is emblematic of that.

    Dennis Lytton Reply:

    Also, the carpool lane in both directions will improve the efficiency of bus routing from the San Fernando Valley to LA’s Westside. Right now transit buses have a southbound carpool lane but not a north one. Good express bus service is a decent interim until an transit tunnel is bored underneath the pass.

    So that with the improving of the lane widths and putting the shoulder (the breakdown lane) back in is probably good public policy.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    San Diego really is not Transit First. Sure, there are advocates, but, they aren’t making any headway. The roadblock is at SANDAG staff level….. Leadership there is Highways First.

    Steve S. Reply:

    Unfortunately, Highways First leadership will remain in force nationwide until Millennials start entering leadership roles en masse.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Actually Gen Yers will probably do the trick, and you’ll start seeing the shift when Gen Xers get into power — but the Gen Xers are only just *starting* to get leadership roles, so dominance of Gen Yers is still a few years off!

    Nathanael Reply:

    “This also leads to the macro issue of how many cars America needs. ”

    Important point. I expect the number will go down to no more than one for every two people — currently it’s more than one car per person. A lot of people are disposing of “extra” cars and not replacing them, whether because they don’t want them or because they can’t afford them.

    That’s going to be a LOT of attrition. And thanks to various economic trends — I expect almost *all* of the replacement cars to be electric within 20 years, so the gas-car business is going to be decimated startlingly fast. It’ll leave poor rural people in a very bad situation.

    On the plus side, it should help solve a lot of our other social problems.

  7. D. P. Lubic
    Jul 12th, 2011 at 23:31

    Off topic, but a trip into history can be a help to dispel the blues.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Some other vintage material that may be of interest:

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    A bit more:

    For rock music fans:

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Came across these while looking up the material above–what a hoot!

    Kenb Reply:

    Thats the kind of train we need to build. Upside down loops and jumps would increase ridership by 40%.

  8. MarkB
    Jul 12th, 2011 at 23:39

    Count me in. Grew up in the burbs, now I live in DTLA. One of the major reasons for my move was to get away from having to drive to go absolutely anywhere. I’d say I’ve cut my driving mileage by three quarters, since now I generally walk or take Metro for local stuff and have easy access to Union Station when I have to go back to the burbs for visits. I’m going to San Diego this weekend via Surfliner. I’m not car-free but am definitely car-lite. Life is better this way.

    Dennis Lytton Reply:

    Yeah, car free even in Downtown LA is tough for most people but car light is quite doable. I think that if you compared me to someone of my income level in Temecula, Lancaster, or Santa Clarita (a selection of varying levels of exurbia in SoCal), I probably buy about 2.5% to 5% of the gas that they do.

    wu ming Reply:

    that’s a good point, it’s important not to get sucked into the car v. no car binary. in reality, decreased car is what the future looks like for most of us, and as long as the movement is in that direction it’s a Good Thing.

  9. Andy M.
    Jul 13th, 2011 at 01:27

    Has anybody got some overall analysis?

    Is the magnitude of the drop in driving somehow equivalent to the boost in bus/rail ridership (plus cycling + walking?) that we are also seeing, in which case we are looking at a real modal shift.

    Or is there a large gap between the two, in which case it’s just the recession biting?

    Nathanael Reply:

    There’s a boom in car-sharing, which indicates that there’s a real “secular” trend to “less car”. The recession does seem to be having an effect on top of the bus/rail/cycling/walking/sharing trend, and that effect can best be measured by looking at usage in truly personal-car-dependent locations (rural poor).

  10. Tom Atkins
    Jul 13th, 2011 at 05:15

    I think its a number of things – primarily stagnation of wages, telecommuting, the aging of the boomers, and the price of gas going up.

    Teenage unemployment is at a high level. If you can’t work you can’t own a car. Same with lower class wages – haven’t gone up in a decade or more. You can get to work without a car – but you can’t not eat or not heat your house.

    Telecommuting has an impact for sure. Even if Boomers aren’t retired they too are feeling the financial pinch with medical costs sky rocketing. Even then they would generally drive less – no kids to haul around, etc.

    I certainly think that there is a generational switch away from the car being the all powerful symbol of coolness that it was in previous generations, but I think the reasons are more than kids just want to play on their iPhones (among others – the timing – the decline occurred before useful/affordable smart phones even existed.)

  11. Derek
    Jul 13th, 2011 at 07:41

    A congested freeway proves there’s an unmet demand for rush hour transportation. Being a type of shortage, a “demand curve” says this happens because the price is below the market equilibrium price. Econ 101 says the solution is even easier than building HSR: simply allow the market to choose the rush hour price.

    This is how we came to have cell phone plans with unlimited nights and weekends, restaurants with lunch and weekday specials, and bars with happy hours. Capitalism works great when it’s allowed to work, but ironically people relabel it as “socialist” when it comes to their precious roads.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    They say HSR should be built by the private sector, let us see how they love their roads being operated by the private sector before they make the notion that HSR or transit should be under the private sector bus. I think the Los Angeles Freeway system could be profitable if given to the private sector, but of course, drivers think they own the road and are taxed enough to where they should drive free without penalties. Roads come at a price and drivers should pay the externalities. I think once reliable rail transit is in place on some of these freeway routes, I think a toll should be permitted once that happens.

    Steve S. Reply:

    “Free” roads funded through taxes and not user fees is an inherently socialist system. So we can call anyone who wants to maintain that kind of system socialist. And since “socialist” and “Communist” seem to be equivalent terms among conservative pundits…What are John Mica’s Communist aims?

  12. Paulus Magnus
    Jul 13th, 2011 at 08:47

    I wonder how much of it might tie into higher licensing requirements and restrictions for teenage drivers licenses, the labor market for teens, and the high cost of college compared to previously.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Oh, the enormous teenage unemployment rate and unaffordability of college, and the debt-slave status of most getting out of college, have had an effect.

    The car is the first to go, because it’s *not actually pleasurable* — the apartment is preferable to crashing with parents or others, food is unavoidable, cellphones and computers are fun, cars are just a big money suck except for the minority of people who really enjoy driving. So when money is tight the car is the first to go, even if it does cause some trips to be less convenient.

  13. Paulus Magnus
    Jul 13th, 2011 at 10:51

    DesertXpress gets OK to begin initial engineering work

    The U.S. Transportation Department has given the green light to developers of DesertXpress to begin preliminary engineering for the $6 billion, 186-mile high-speed rail project that would link Las Vegas with Victorville, Calif.

    jimsf Reply:

    I hope the timing works out that dx and the bfd slymar sections are completed at the same time so that the link from vrv to pmd will be glaringly obvious in its need to be filled. As much as I want mcd sjc sf to be completed, the bfd pmd combined with dx all tied nicely together would create the makings a real hsr network

    wu ming Reply:

    LOL, i saw all those incomprehensible station acronyms and thought “WTF that guy’s writing like jimsf.” we missed you, dude.

    jimsf Reply:

    lol they aren’t so incomprehensible if you know them. Ive been busy with other stuff but I missed following the blog. For a; while it seemed like not much was happening and progress was looking good so it was just a matter of waiting for construction. so I got bored. Then I start hearing in the media that the project is all but dead or starting over from scratch and I was like wtf!

  14. Useless
    Jul 13th, 2011 at 12:09

    Not directly related to this thread, but some breaking news.

    CAHSR authority has announced that they would consider two-track option for the peninsular corridor, where Caltrain and CAHSR trains would share same tracks.

    To make this work, you must introduce coupled train operation from SJ to SF to double capacity, where one Caltrain express train set is coupled with one CAHSR bullet train.

    Tony D. Reply:

    Should be a dedicated thread on this.

    Clem Reply:

    Not likely to work very well. FYI the Caltrain express has an average speed of 49 mph.

    J. Wong Reply:

    According to the SF Examiner article, HSR trains would take precedence on the corridor. That is, Caltrain may have to wait in the stations or at sidings to let a HSR train pass. Also, given that the proposal still includes grade separations, anyone who thinks this is a win for the Peninsula will be sadly mistaken.

    The reality is that the Peninsula NIMBY’s want no HSR at all. Even track sharing is a lose for them.

    Clem Reply:

    Stopping commuter trains in sidings? That’ll be news to Caltrain. Their track capacity study is predicated on their 6 tph electrification schedule, and they’re finding out if there is any spare capacity. (Hint: there isn’t, at least not without gutting commuter service)

    The press is also mistaken about the need for grade separations; the Simitian et al. proposal does not explicitly require those. Nor does overhead electrification require them.

    The press (and Eshoo) are also sloppy with the “two track” terminology. The Simitian et al. proposal never says anything about the number of tracks, only that the tracks would remain “substantially within” the corridor boundaries, which as you may recall are amply sufficient for four tracks along the majority of the corridor.

    If I had to bet, this track capacity study will eventually lead to a four-track mid-line overtake facility being proposed between Whipple in RWC and 9th Ave in San Mateo. That is a sufficiently long “siding” that the commuter train being overtaken does not need to wait (any more than it already waits by making regular station stops)

    jimsf Reply:

    Seems like there’s room for four tracks in most of the existing row minus a short stretch through PAMPA. So, if that’s proposed and can work with dispatch and signaling without reducing capacity that means that PAMPA cant complain anymore since no property would be taken. It would be part of the “done right” solution they harp on. Of course, they will still complain and still resist.

    Clem Reply:

    Overview of Peninsula Corridor Width

    jimsf Reply:

    so there’s gobs of room for four tracks nearly everywhere.

    jimsf Reply:

    Ultimately for the future, we should bite the building and build a four track interoperable row.. foru tracks, all the way, any train, any track, single signaling system, and a single dispatch to mangage the flow, just like Air traffic does in a given airspace. A set timetable when nothing goes wrong and a live dispatch when service disruptions require it. I think this is how bart works? ( ive always wondered if barts computer actually runs the entire system per a set program and humans only take over during serivce disruptions. ) ( and then there’s muni, with is run by hallucinating billygoats)

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s how railroads have been working since the first railroad connected it’s tracks to the second railroad….

    jimsf Reply:

    my favorite documentary on muni’s N Judah. It shows the complexities involved in getting the average commuter from the avenues to downtown.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Well, since track gauges were standardized!

    Some of the early railroad connections between railroads with different gauges introduced horrific transloading problems. Heck, even after gauge standardization there was a period when everyone going from NY to Chicago had to change trains at Erie, PA — just ’cause they were different companies.

    This is best avoided, if possible.

    James Fujita Reply:

    Shinkansen, Ginza Line = 1435 mm. Yamanote, Hanzomon lines = 1067 mm. Shinjuku Line = 1372 mm. Nobody seems to mind.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    That’s for passengers, where transferring is easier than for freight, and still gauge differences do introduce problems for through-service. The Ginza and Marunouchi Line have no through-service with private suburban lines, and the Toei had to choose a gauge for the Shinjuku Line based on the need for through-service with Keio.

    J. Wong Reply:

    I’m just paraphrasing the SF Examiner article: “Under the new proposal, high-speed trains would have the right of way and Caltrain would have to slow down or stop to let the trains pass.”

    jimsf Reply:

    The Examiner is just right wing fiction though. Thats why they have to give it away for free.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Actually, it seemed to me that the tone of the article was more like: “What could they be thinking slowing down HSR on the Peninsula”, which was surprising given the Examiner’s usual right-wing slant.

    jimsf Reply:

    Still, while I didnt read it, im sure the point was to cast hsr in a bad light

    Useless Reply:

    I thought of another solution.

    The solution is having four bullet trains depart from SF per hour, and six from San Jose per hour.
    . This way, you can fill a traffic of 10 bullet trains each direction between SJ and LA corridor.

    Caltrain’s Baby Bullet express train service would be taken over by CAHSR’s SF service that stops at SJ.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    except for those pesky passengers who want to go all the way to San Francisco from places south of San Jose.

    Useless Reply:

    The reverse would work too. In other word, 10 bullet trains arrive at San Jose, then four of those would continue the travel toward SF.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The train will be filled with passengers who want to go from LA to SF. That makes it very difficult for people who want to go from San Jose to San Francisco to get on the train ( and find a seat ) And it really really sucks for people in Palot Alto who won’t be able to get on the train as it expresses through.

    Jon Reply:

    There’s an “Blended System” overview from Roelof van Ark posted to the CAHSR website as agenda item 8:

    Steve S. Reply:

    Huh? Why would you need to? In South Korea, China, and Europe, high-speed and commuter trains operate on the same track without need of this kind of technique all the time.

    Is it because of our asinine rail regulations? But doesn’t Caltrain have an FRA waiver in hand, one with language which would expressly allow CHRSA interoperation? Then what could it be? Organizational incompetence? People?

    Useless Reply:

    @ Steve S.

    > without need of this kind of technique all the time.

    Japan and Korea actually operate coupled train sets originating from/to different corridors. Both do this in order to increase capacity.

  15. David
    Jul 13th, 2011 at 12:13

    In other news, Van Ark is talking up a limited, introductory service in the CV.

    Tony D. Reply:

    Should ge a dedicated thread on this also ;).

    Peter Reply:

    Sorry, but hasn’t that been the plan all along? Connect the CV with either LA or SJ first, then complete the remaining sections of Phase 1?

    David Reply:

    I know, but the ‘talking up’ part is new, I think.

    David Reply:

    I guess it has to do with the IOS presentation tomorrow at the board meeting.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Looking at that presentation and the previous article, it’s hard to think of a single reason why they should stretch north instead of south for the next segment.

    Tony D. Reply:

    You must live in SoCal coming to that conclusion! No problem with that; I believe there’s not a single reason why they shouldn’t stretch north first to SJ over SoCal.

    jimsf Reply:

    I agree. North is just as good as south. Maybe better as northern californians are more likely to make some effort to use the service. Unless it picks them up in their front yard,
    angelinos will say, “never mind its too complicated lets just drive” Bay Areans are far more likely to give it a shot and stick with it till it gets good.

    wu ming Reply:

    a norcal service would also be important for stimulating inter-central valley demand and flow patterns, and working out the scheduling bugs of a redding-merced san joaquin connector line.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    You must live in SoCal coming to that conclusion

    Yeah, they should prioritise San José (The Tumbleweed Capital of Silicon Valley), population so nearly a million (except WE WUZ ROBBED BY TEH CENSUS!) over the piddling LA Basic, population 19 million.

    Tony D. Reply:

    What part of “No problem with that” didn’t you understand? Again, everyone is entitled to their opinion. FWIW, initial HSR line to San Jose would be serving entire Peninsula and East Bay via Caltrain and Amtrak CC. A lot more than the “nearly a million” you imply.

    jimsf Reply:

    At least get the facts right richard… City of Los Angeles 2010 pop is 3,79200 The population of the City of San Jose is estimated by the California Department of Finance (DOF) to have grown by 12,847 persons or 1.4% in the last nine months of calendar year 2010, from 945,942 persons on April 1, 2010 (Census Day) to 958,789 persons on January 1, 2011. This increase maintains San Jose’s position as the third largest city in California (behind Los Angeles and San Diego, respectively), and the nation’s 10th largest city.

    Its not 1 million versus 19 million its 1million versus 3.7m

    The 19 million figure includes the southbay/long beach areas and the entire inland empire. Thats the equivalent of the nine bay area counties plus the sacamento metropolitan area.

    liar liar pants on fire.

    Nathanael Reply:

    LA’s still a better direction to build first. Connections from LA lead all the way to San Diego and even Tijuana. Connections from SF and Sacramento… well. You get less for building BOTH northern branches than you get from getting to LA.

    StevieB Reply:

    The choice presented is building to San Jose or Palmdale. Palmdale is not exactly the 19 million of southern California. It does provide a connection from the central valley to a possible line to Las Vegas.

    Tony D. Reply:

    I thought it was south to Sylmar/SF?

    Nathanael Reply:

    The big question is how to get from Bakersfield to the San Fernando Valley.

    jimsf Reply:

    I wonder who really uses the train more anyway… I guess we could take the 3 existing corridors and the counties each of them serves…. the surfliner ( san diegoCO/orangeCO/LACO/VenturaCO/SBACO total 17 million people /2.6 million annual ridership

    san joquins (alameda/CCC/SJQco/stanislausco/mercedco/maderaco/fresnoco/kinksco/kernco)
    total pop 6million people/ 779000 annual ridership

    and CCJPA (santaclaraco/alameda/CCC/solano/yolo/sac/placer/ total 3.5 million people 1.2 million annual ridership.

    clearly per capita, northern californians are more rail friendly than socalians.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    clearly per capita, northern californians are more rail friendly than socalians.

    You have twice as many daily trains in that mix and don’t have commuter rail operating alongside for major portions of the line which will suck off a lot of passengers.

    jimsf Reply:

    no, lets face it, the attitudes are different. northern california is more open to it. and also more environmentally aware. Cars, are still about prestige in souther california for the most part. Still part of the individuals identity. Its the culture. Its like how in sf, the right place to eat is where the food is the best and in la the right place to eat is wherever the best people go.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    It is two billion dollars cheaper to connect with a far larger market and eliminate the one major gap in California passenger rail service. San Jose can, quite frankly, get fucked. Extending to San Jose does nothing to improve connectivity. Merced-San Fernando Valley means we can start initial trips of 4 hours between LA-SAC and 5 hours LA-OAK (toss another hour onto it if only Merced-Palmdale) by coupling on diesel locomotives for the non-HSR parts. It actually gives something useful for all the money instead of a glorified commuter line which is what any operational segment to San Jose would turn into. For crying out loud, just think of the PR utility of that connection where anyone can take it and see what we can do and just what is left to do.

    Less money, more people, more connectivity. There is not one good reason to build to San Jose in preference to building south.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Excellent advice to San Jose. Succinct and wholly indicated.

    The budget debate is getting serious. In order to avoid the dilemma of orphaned track the CHSRA should adopt a strict policy of building the essential first.

    The PIIG’s have demonstrated printing money can only go on so long. Austerity is an inevitability no matter what the Pelosi machine does. A currency collapse used to be unthinkable but now is a long-shot possibility.

    Brian Stanke Reply:

    Greece, Portugal, etc. are in trouble precisely BECAUSE they voluntarily decided to GIVE UP the ability to print money when they joined the Euro.

    If the US can not sell its debt, the Fed Reserve can simply “print money” and both pay off all existing bonds as they come due and buy all new US bonds. As long as the economy has extra capacity (recession) and the Federal government does not increase deficit to the point that the we reach full employment (fat chance) there will be no inflation. See MMT:

    Your analogy is factually false.

    synonymouse Reply:

    It is true that if the PIIG’s had retained their traditional currencies the drachmas, liras, etc. would have declined so precipitously long ago the spending binge would have been curbed much earlier.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There’s the alternative of returning the to tax rates Saint Ronnie had.

    Tony D. Reply:

    [This comment was removed to due to ad hominem attacks against other commenters. If you want to attack other commenters positions go for it, but ad hominem personal attacks are out of line.]

    tony d. Reply:

    Completely understand the deletion Robert. But why is it OK for PM (and by extension
    Synonomouse) to use profanity and attack SJ yet can’t respond in kind? Just curious.

    Brian Stanke Reply:

    Please point out the posts and Robert or I will review them and delete if necessary.

    Nathanael Reply:

    (1) LA is bigger
    (2) LA has fewer problems with NIMBYs
    (3) LA has more and better transit connections (yes, really)
    (4) Bakersfield-LA is an enormous unserved market, larger than the unserved CV-to-Bay market

    J. Wong Reply:

    From any information we have now, there is no reason to prefer building north over building south. However, once more information is available as to the difficulty (engineering) of building north or south, then that might change.

    Of course, I live in SF, so I prefer building north (Yosemite here I come), but I might also add that with Caltrain the San Jose terminus will have a more direct connection to an international airport than Palmdale. I could easily see tourists flying to SFO, and having HSR experience in their home countries, opting to take HSR to Yosemite.

    Bret Reply:

    While I may not agree that there’s “no reasons” to stretch north, I think you’re right that south is the way to go. We have got to connect the valley to Southern California at some point, and I don’t believe it’s going to get any cheaper the longer we wait. This system isn’t going to work, short-term w/ Amtrack, or long-term with HSR until we can connect the CV to LA. The Authority has to seriously look at going south first before any more track is laid north of Fresno or the Wye.

    joe Reply:

    The N/S option helps HSR negotiate with local interests.

    The Gov’s veto of Caltrain and BART’s uncoordinated use of HSR funds gives HSR added leverage and incentive for collaborating.

    My hope is Gilroy to San Jose has local support and encourages HSR to build Northward. The ROW into San Jose is fairly open. Coyote Valley is part of the city and is wide open space. This geographic advantage could get the HSR to a major city fairly quickly.

    Clem Reply:

    Are you trying to insinuate that Caltrain hasn’t collaborated with the CHSRA?

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Oh there’s a reason all right.

    Namely, for very little cost, you can keep everyone happy.

    1. You create a new service, and thus, help bring revenue into the project. IOS would be San Jose to Bakersfield via Altamont. Would greatly reduce the time and pressure on the San Joaquins, but also connect Silicon Valley with the CV directly which is currently not happening. You have to connect in Oakland or Sacramento before you can head south.

    2. Amtrak gets something, and it comes mainly out of existing State dollars. You reduce service on the Oakland to Bakersfield San Joaquins and use the money instead to offer a San Joaquin Express….

    3. You keep Rod Diridon happy. (Need we say more.)

    4. You keep BART happy. (Need we say more.)

    5. You keep Cal Train happy. Connections to SF or SFO would likely boost ridership on Baby Bullets to San Jose.

    6. You get Amtrak to show off its fancy Talgo cars which don’t require electrification (there I said it!) and Talgo gets free advertising. (Talgo also is kept happy.)

    7. You get some sort of achievement, service, presence, etc. that provide critical mass to expand the project…..

    Nathanael Reply:

    But you make more political groups happy if you connect to LA.
    1. New service.
    2. Amtrak gets something — better Sacramento-LA service than via the current buses.
    3. You keep the City of LA happy.
    4. You keep LA Metro happy.
    5. You keep Metrolink happy.
    6. You keep Disney happy.
    7. You get some sort of achievement, service, presence, etc. which provide critical mass to expand the project….

    James Fujita Reply:

    I would agree with all points except #6. If the Mouse Which Owns Anaheim cared, they’d be making more of a fuss.

    Caelestor Reply:

    LA to Sacramento, using legacy track, is a perfectly reasonable Phase 0 service. A 4 hour trip still beats 7 hours of driving.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It takes a bit over 5 hours for the train to get between Sacramento and Bakersfield now, how are you going to get from Sacramento to Los Angeles in 4 hours on legacy track?

    wu ming Reply:

    presumably, because of faster dedicated track with no fright traffic slowing trains down between merced and the LA basin.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    That’s not legacy track then is it?

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    He was obviously referring to using legacy track in areas where HSR track was not built in order to complete the journey.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    New tracks, by definition, are not legacy tracks.

    Nathanael Reply:

    He meant legacy from Merced to Sacramento, I assume. Still doesn’t meet a 4 hour timetable, but it’s good.

    jim Reply:

    You can’t do LA-Sac in four hours. but you can do San Fernando Valley-Sac in four and a quarter. HSR San Fernando Valley-Merced: 2:05; across the platform, guaranteed connection to San Joaquin Merced-Sacramento: 2:10. Similarly, San Fernando Valley-Oakland is 5:03.

    If the San Joaquins just run between Merced and Oakland/Sacramento, twice as many round trips can be made using the same equipment as now run between Bakersfield-Oakland/Sacramento (assuming UP and BNSF cooperate). Hourly service between SoCal and NorCal.

    Caelestor Reply:

    I assumed the connection between Bakersfield and LA, plus the high-speed line to Fresno would be built, sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

  16. Clem
    Jul 13th, 2011 at 13:50

    In yet other news, the Pacheco “wye” junction will no longer be part of the initial construction segment.

    Formal decisions about where to build the wye will now be transferred to the San Jose – Merced section, whose EIR is considerably behind the CV sections and still under litigation at the program level.

    This throws a slight wrench into that whole business of creating Pacheco “facts on the ground”

    Peter Reply:

    Agreed. But the reasoning behind making the decision to postpone the decision on where to place the wye to the San Jose-Merced EIR does in fact make sense. There’s no reason to make the decision where to place the wye yet, as construction on the section north of the wye wouldn’t have to start until 2013 at the earliest.

    Tony D. Reply:

    “This throws a slight wrench into that whole business of creating Pacheco ‘facts on the ground.'”
    No it doesn’t, but it’s your world Clem; believe what you must. Postponing the decision on where exactly the wye is placed is completely irrelevant (i.e. no story) in the grand scheme of things. Also, not sure what is being litigated re: program level EIR SJ-Merc. UP won’t be an issue due to possible use of Monterey Hwy and 101 ROW east from SJ to Gilroy. What else is there?

    Clem Reply:

    Also, not sure what is being litigated

    Next hearing and likely decision on the Altamont / Pacheco EIR will be in August. We shall see.

    tony d. Reply:

    You mean EIR for Pacheco main line and EIR for eventual Altamont HSR overlay; get it straight!
    Results of “litigation” might mean slight tweaking of EIR’s at the most and nothing more.

    joe Reply:

    There are no issues I am aware of with HSR approaching Gilroy or north to San Jose.

    July 19th PM, Gilroy will release their study providing information/impacts on the station location. Downtown (at grade station) or East of City (elevated station).

    Jon Reply:


    1) Authority decides to build south to the LA basin first
    2) SJ – Merced section put on hold while Bakersfield – Palmdale and Palmdale – LA are completed
    3) Authority looks at connecting transit options in the Bay Area and figures a BART connection in East Bay would beat a Caltrain connection in San Jose
    4) Authority decides to restudy Altamont
    5) Internet explodes due to EPIC DRAMA

    Tony D. Reply:

    For the record, the next segment to either San Jose or Sylmar/San Fernando would be built and in operation well before 2020 (2015-18?). The Authority still plans on full build out between SF, SJ and LA by 2020. So this isn’t really a case of SJ or LA; it’s more of a case of who gets early dibs on HSR service.

    jimsf Reply:

    while im hoping for 2020 i dont see now how its even physically possible to do that much construction in 8 years.

    wu ming Reply:

    there’s a fair amount of idle capacity lying around.

  17. Paulus Magnus
    Jul 13th, 2011 at 14:48

    Incidentally, was there ever any word on the Spanish HSR conference?

    Gianny Reply:

    I asked that same thing the whole week that followed, nothing came out of it I guess. I thought some members made it there.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Robert said someone was going to write a guest post…..[sound of phone off the hook]

  18. trentbridge
    Jul 13th, 2011 at 14:51

    In my long, undistinguished career, I noticed then – when the office moved – it moved in a direction that required upper management to suffer a shorter commute. Never once did I see an office move further away. Where we live in relation to where we work is one conscious decision we all make. After “x” amount of hours commuting, people decide to either find a comparable job closer to home, or find a home closer to a job. As the average real wage has declined in the last twenty years, I assume the average worker has decided to move closer to his/her crummy job. So “peak car” may reflect lack of middle-class job prospects as much as anything else. In other words, we’d consider a longer commute, if the most distant job paid much better than the present one.

  19. jimsf
    Jul 13th, 2011 at 18:29

    you can’t practically see it! woo hoo here it comes! bring the train north first!

  20. StevieB
    Jul 13th, 2011 at 19:40

    L.A. Metro has a report on “Life at the speed of rail,” a panel discussion hosted by the Van Alen Institute. The author came away with a sense of how transportation choices will transform California and that the alternative to high speed rail is not doing nothing.

    We need to do something to improve travel for Californians today, while also planning for the several million residents the state is expected to add in the coming decades.There are a suite of options at our disposal that will meet this specific challenge. Continuing with the transportation status quo of the last half-century would require adding hundreds, if not thousands, of new lane-miles of highway and the expansion of several major airports

    The authors conclusion is that HSR best fits California.

    Ultimately, the question is not, “can we afford HSR?” We’ll need to spend tens of billions of dollars on something, or face an increasingly bleak state-wide transportation system. The important question is: “What do we citizens value, and what type of transportation system helps us realize those values?” If we value additional transportation choices, a high-quality travel experience and environmental sustainability, then HSR wins every time for medium-range trips like Los Angeles to San Francisco.

  21. political_incorrectness
    Jul 13th, 2011 at 20:41

    OT: In relation to supposed Carmaggedon, You know that there isn’t enough rail transit in the area when jetBlue is offering $4 flights from LGB-BUR

    swing hanger Reply:

    I know it’s a one-off marketing stunt, but it’s a sad commentary on society that such heavily polluting forms of transport are even considered for such a short haul.

    Matt Reply:

    LA Metro has come a long way. This last month up to 325k riders (vs. about 360k or so for BART). However, this part of LA is way behind the times and won’t get rail until towards the end of the current 30 year plan (faster if Congress approves bond financing). The Measure R plan even has a line planned for the Sepulveda pass where this is taking place of which many people are pushing for a long rail tunnel.

  22. John Burrows
    Jul 14th, 2011 at 12:47

    Speaking of rising ridership on Amtrak intercity trains in California:

    For June—Capitol corridor ridership up 3% to 145,495—Pacific Surf Liner ridership up 14% to 239984—San Joaquin ridership up 14% to 100,947. Over 100,000 rode the San Joaquins last month—Very impressive for “Nowhere”.

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