California’s High-Speed Rail Decision is Prudent Politics


Author  Sean Jeans-Gail

The United States is incapable of building big things.

That is an uncomfortable thing to say about the country you’re from, but in the year 2019 it is an undeniable truth.

In that light, California Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement that his administration would be narrowing the project’s scope—refocusing on the Central Valley spine between Merced and Bakersfield—may be vexing to advocates, but it’s just good politics.

[Read Rail Passengers’ statement on Gov. Newsom’s announcement.]

The project has been beset by outside difficulties and poor internal management: a series of lawsuits by NIMBYs and environmental groups (the latter of whom should know better); an indifferent federal partner in Congress, including an actively hostile contingent within the GOP segment of California’s congressional delegation; a poorly chosen corridor, selected to win political support from Central Valley cities afraid they would be left stranded in favor of the state’s twin economic behemoths, Los Angeles and the Bay Area (and let’s be honest, there’s plenty of historical precedent underpinning that fear). If you want a full rundown of everything that went wrong, Jeff Davis at Eno Transportation has a fair—albeit incomplete—summary of the avoidable mistakes.

Faced with these obstacles, none of which he created and most of which were beyond his ability to solve, Gov. Newsom made the politically sensible decision to adjust the California High Speed Rail Authority’s (CAHSRA) focus to the only segment currently under construction. It eases worries in the state legislature and among the public that the project is spiraling out of control and brings a finish line within touching distance.

And despite the headlines you may have read, the Governor demonstrated clear and unequivocal support for increasing passenger rail service in the state.

“We’re going to make high-speed rail a reality for [California],” Gov. Newsom wrote yesterday in a series of tweets. “We have the capacity to complete the rail between Merced and Bakersfield. We will continue our regional projects north and south. Finish Phase 1 [environmental] work. Connect the Central Valley to other parts of the state. For those who want to walk away: Abandoning high speed rail means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it. I’m not interested in sending $3.5B in federal funding—exclusively allocated for HSR—back to the White House. This is so much more than a train project. It’s a transformation project. Anchored by high-speed rail, we can align our economic, workforce, and transportation strategies to revitalize communities across our state.”

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SMART eyes new funding for Petaluma bike path extension

Buoyed by a potential $12.6 million in grant funding, SMART is planning construction of a bike path from Penngrove to downtown Petaluma, the next phase of its pathway project that critics say has lagged commuter rail development.

SMART is in line for the funding this month after the Metropolitan Transportation Commission recommended the North Bay’s rail agency for the grant. It would be used to construct 4.7 miles of pathway segments along the rail line in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and from Penngrove to McDowell Boulevard, where it would link up with a planned path from Southpoint Boulevard to Payran Street. Construction is lated for 2021.

“It’s great,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, a SMART board member. “We’re continuing to move forward. It’s all moving together.”

SMART was billed as a rail and trail system, providing a 70-mile bike path and commuter rail link from Cloverdale to Larkspur. So far, only 16.2 miles of trail have been completed between Santa Rosa and San Rafael. A separate grant SMART received two years ago will fund construction of a bike path from Southpoint to Payran. That’s due to be completed this summer, pending approval of permits, according to Jeanne Mariani-Belding, SMART’s communications and marketing manager.

What Is Sprawl Development?


Sprawl development is the outward expansion of low-density housing units on the outskirts of cities, far from commercial centers.

Within the Bay Area, sprawl development has threatened to destroy the greenbelt of natural and agricultural lands that surround cities and towns. Learn more about what a greenbelt is here.

What Are the Impacts of Sprawl Development?

Sprawl development impacts cities in many ways ranging from transportation to community development. When a city develops beyond its limits and onto the undeveloped land beyond it, it carries with it unforeseen consequences. Sprawling housing developments cause environmental, financial, social, and psychological effects for residents.

Infrastructure and Costs

Low-density sprawl costs local governments more in the long run than “infill” development, which is the growth within existing urban areas. Sprawling outward requires that new roads, water mains, sewer pipes, and other infrastructure be extended into greenfield areas—undeveloped land outside of cities and towns—while infill development usually requires simply upgrading existing city infrastructure.

Sprawl development is an expensive proposition.

Multiple studies show that sprawl is more expensive than infill growth within cities. A 2015 study found that sprawl costs America over $1 trillion, and can increase per-capita land consumption by up to 80% and car use by up to 60%. Providing water, sewer, roads, and other services to far-flung neighborhoods is very costly for local governments. Smart growth allows more affordable housing types at increased densities, reduces land requirements per household, has lower public service costs, and reduces transportation costs. The higher housing prices that residents may pay will be offset by lower transportation costs, energy costs, and better access to jobs, services, and amenities in more centralized locations.

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Global transport emissions could peak in the 2030s if railways are “aggressively” expanded, says the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Feb 16.2019

Rail Transport  is also the most energy-efficient means of motorised passenger transport, and is far more efficient than road freight and aviation, as the chart above shows.

Author Jocelyn Timperley

Rail is among the most efficient and lowest emitting modes of transport, according to the IEA’s new report focusing on the opportunities it offers for energy and the environment.

In particular, urban and high-speed rail hold “major promise to unlock substantial benefits”, the report says, which include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, congestion and air pollution.

In a foreword to the report, Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, argues rail transport is “often neglected” in public debates about future transport systems. “Despite the advent of cars and airplanes, rail of all types has continued to evolve and thrive,” he says.

Carbon Brief takes a look at eight key charts from the report showing the status of rail in the world today – and how it could reduce emissions in future.

Energy-efficient rail

Rail transport is the most electrified transport sector, the IEA says. Globally, three-quarters of rail passenger movements and half of rail freight relies on electricity.

This means it is “uniquely positioned” to take advantage of the rise of renewables in the electricity mix.