Alfred Twu’s US High Speed Rail Map Goes Viral
I worked with Twu back in 2008 when he approached me and a few other people with an interest in putting together postcards that could be handed out across the state touting the California high speed rail project and Prop 1A. I gave a few suggestions, but Twu ran with it, producing these beautiful images that the National Association of Railroad Passengers paid to have printed for activists to distribute around the state. He has talent and vision, two things that help an idea spread like wildfire.
And that’s what his North American HSR map has done. It’s been covered in news outlets across the country and around the world. The map’s popularity led the Guardian, one of Britain’s main newspapers and an increasingly dominant global news site, to publish an op-ed by Twu about his vision. Titled “A US High Speed Rail Network Shouldn’t Be Just A Dream, it’s a great description of why HSR is a good idea not just for America’s cities, but for everyone living here, including folks in rural areas:
Instead of detailing construction phases and service speeds, I took a little artistic license and chose colors and linked lines to celebrate America’s many distinct but interwoven regional cultures.
The response to my map this week went above and beyond my wildest expectations, sparking vigorous political discussion between thousands of Americans ranging from off-color jokes about rival cities to poignant reflections on how this kind of rail network could change long-distance relationships and the lives of faraway family members.
Commenters from New York and Nebraska talked about “wanting to ride the red line”. Journalists from Chattanooga, Tennessee (population 167,000) asked to reprint the map because they were excited to be on the map. Hundreds more shouted “this should have been built yesterday”.
It’s clear that high speed rail is more than just a way to save energy or extend economic development to smaller cities.
More than mere steel wheels on tracks, high speed rail shrinks space and brings farflung families back together. It keeps couples in touch when distant career or educational opportunities beckon. It calls to adventure and travel. It is duct tape and string to reconnect politically divided regions. Its colorful threads weave new American Dreams.
Twu goes on to bust some common myths about high speed rail, and that’s worth reading too. But what I really love is this brilliant vision laid out above. That, more than just lines on a map, is why this map has gone viral. It speaks to the global desire for better connections, for modern transportation technology, and for a humanistic vision that embraces opportunities rather than making excuses for failure.
Congratulations to Alfred for getting the global recognition his work so rightly deserves.