Tuesday, March 03, 2009

More high speed rail brouhaha

Rod Diridon got a taste of his own medicine when the Palo Alto City Council got scared about the prospect of full high speed rail in the city.

However, despite the poor alignment decision made by the High Speed Rail Authority, the NIMBYs in Palo Alto and elsewhere are not our friend. NIMBYs generally act out because of their lack of knowledge. NIMBYs' value only go as far as their acronym states: Not in my backyard. They cannot be counted on to fight for a better HSR system, and they cannot be trusted to counter the other NIMBYs that live along the other alignments.

Even so, Robert Cruickshank's comments about Palo Alto isn't level-headed either. Think about it, the council members in Palo Alto and elsewhere are accountable to their constituents. How could they react other than to amplify the NIMBYs concerns, whether these concerns legitimate or not? Remember, that agrument about "Little Saigon" has resulted in a recall election of a councilmember in San Jose.

Here's some reality check:

- High speed rail won't end in San Jose. High speed trains are technically compatible with Caltrain. They may not go as fast along the Peninsula without all the fancy upgrades and track additions, but the system doesn't have to force people to transfer, unlike BART and light rail.

- The upgrades should be more incremental. That has to be given the shortage of funds. It is more productive to built first in the Central Valley where it is the easiest to construct. The Peninsula section is the most difficult because of existing Caltrain service and the communities built around the corridor. It is better to give residents on the Peninsula a taste of the benefits of high speed rail (even if it is slower and less frequent), rather than to scare them with all these impacts upfront.

- Undergrounding the tracks is nonsense. What is more elitist than wealthy folks asking a higher share of public subsidy for their own benefit? These NIMBYs don't care if the train were to run above ground in Redwood City or in the Bayview. Also, putting trains in tunnels aren't necessarily out of sight and out of mind. The folks in Millbrae aren't complaining about high speed rail (and are actually appreciating the effort to reach out early in the process) after experiencing years of underground BART construction.

What's more problematic is the ongoing drama between the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, Caltrain, and the HSRA. HSRA and Caltrain are opposed to TJPA's effort to obtain stimulus funds for the train box project because they contend the proposed train box wouldn't be sufficient for both high speed rail and Caltrain. Inter-agency conflicts are typically addressed in the staff level, but for some reason it grown out of proportion. This would have far more serious impacts for Caltrain and high speed rail than whatever it is going on with the NIMBYs down in Palo Alto.

1 comment:

arcady said...

Inter-agency conflicts are typically addressed in the staff level, but for some reason it grown out of proportion.

I'm going to guess that maybe this is because HSRA has a staff of six, and a board of nine politicians including Quentin Kopp and Rod Diridon.

As for myself, I think that the highest priority of HSR should be building a Los Angeles-Bakersfield link. It's the only place where there's absolutely no viable passenger rail alternative, and where no incremental upgrades are possible. Unfortunately, all sides in this debate (HSRA, the NIMBYs, and most of the pro-HSR folks too) seem to think that the Peninsula is the center of the universe.