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High speed rail is great, but it's at best half the equation. What's really needed is the getting rid of local control of development and instead replacing it with national or statewide land use policies. Without this, HSR will only lead to more sprawl. Philadelphia is already a bedroom community for some who work in New York. Pushing down travel times to Maryland or Albany will likely result in the suburban development of any virgin land in the immediate area.
by Jace on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 08:51:57 AM EST
HSR lines would be crazy to service sprawl. Sprawl density doesn't justify the time you lose breaking from even 200 kph to zero and waiting for the self-loading freight to shuffle on and off. At 300 kph cruise speed you can completely fuggetaboutit.

Hell, even commuter heavy rail only really makes sense if you can convince people to live in two- or three-story houses. Any density below that is light rail, bus and personal electric vehicle territory.

I can see an HSR connection increasing sprawl around outlying cities, because it would reinvigorate those cities, permitting people to live in the suburbs and work in the city. But sprawl by people who want to commute first to the HSR station and then to another city? If you really have any amount of that, then, well, against stupidity even the gods fight in vain.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 10:45:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
HSR here will (and already does if you count Amtrak's Northeast Corridor as high speed) serve sprawl. It seems every HSR plan has both downtown stations and suburban stops. But the suburban stops are relatively close to the cities. The sprawl that will be created will be in places that are now well outside of the urban/suburban zone of a given city, places that are generally rural (i.e. cheap).

To me commuters have a time and not a distance limit. The limit seems to be two hours each way. On the New York to Albany line that means the current limit for commuters is about 160 km out (Rhinebeck). Increasing speeds to 300 kph could easily double that distance meaning places that are now rural like southern Vermont are suddenly within commuting range. Sprawl will undoubtly start there since there is nothing containing it unless we fundamentally change our land use policies. If not, HSR is just a tool for real estate development, something rail has done very well here for a very long time.

by Jace on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 04:53:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you're stopping in every podunk suburb, you won't get 300 kph top speed, nevermind cruise speed. You'd be lucky to have a station spacing justifying 200 kph cruise speed.

Rule of thumb for 300 kph cruise speed says to have at least 100 km between each stop. Less than that and you're throwing good resources into overengineering something that would be perfectly well served by 200 kph cruise speed. Anything below 10-15 km between the (major) stops does not justify going above 160 kph top speed, for a cruise speed somewhere between 100 and 150 kph. Go below that, and you should not be doing heavy rail at all, unless you're co-opting existing freight rail infrastructure (< 160 kph top speed is light or rapid rail turf).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 05:19:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... and if you're not stopping in every podunk suburb, those two hours one-way commute need to cover the time to get to the station as well as the time on the train.

Under a fully integrated rail solution, with park-and-ride space for electric vehicles (and as a back-of-the-envelope guesstimate), you'll have 100 km between each HSR stop, 10-15 km between each 100 kph cruise speed commuter rail stop, 1-3 km between each light rail/rapid rail stop and the rest covered by bikes, foot traffic, buses and/or electric cars.

That gives you a maximum distance for a two-hour commute of ~400 km, but that's if you live right on top of the HSR station. You want people to stack together on top of the HSR station - that's precisely the opposite of sprawl.

If you sprawl people out to a moderate distance of, say, 30 km from the HSR station (which really isn't that sprawling - that's roughly European density), you'll be looking at more like 250-300 km. And that's assuming you've got ship-shape infrastructure. In the real world, you'll be lucky to pull 200. Genuine sprawl? Fuggetaboutit, the economics are gonna kill a sprawl-catering HSR line stone cold dead before it even leaves the drawing board.

So HSR won't give you sprawl in the middle of the boonies because it connects NYC with the boonies - because it won't connect NYC with the boonies. It'll connect NYC with other major population centres. Now, this may cause those population centres to grow, and be able to sustain sprawl of their own... but that's a very different story, and one that would not be an unmitigated disaster.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 05:35:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I completely agree, ideally what you described is how a multiple service rail corridor should be designed. And maybe they'll actually get built that way. But even if they do, what's going to stop the area around major stations from sprawling beyond what you call a moderate distance? Rail absolutely needs density (and feeder services) but I can't see how what is now rural, open land won't be turned into low density housing without some sort of major change in how we manage the land. The two have to go hand in hand for the economics to be truly realized.
by Jace on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 08:10:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you have major economic development around the HSR stations, then - under the current US residential housing system - you will get sprawl.

But that has to do with the fact that you will get economic growth in places that are not New York, not with HSR per se. If, instead, you placed a shipyard in those communities, you'd also get sprawl.

It's hard to see how driving for more than 30 km to an HSR station (that's going to take somewhere on the order of 3/4 of an hour, more the further you go out) and then switching to the HSR line can cause sprawl to develop further than about 250 km outside the major city you're connecting (and that's if your roads are in good condition - if they're not, you can shave a couple of dozen km off that estimate).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 12:11:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And you have to look at net impact. Being 10km from a town center to catch an HSR to nearby major employment center is not versus not living anywhere. under the premise, its versus living in the immediate outer-suburban belt around that major employment center, since the assumption is that local development rules encourage sprawl.

Assuming that the HSR authority is trying, picking station locations that net promote clustering as opposed to sprawl is reasonably straightforward. And if they aren't trying, then over-riding local planning authority and handing it to them instead does no good anyway.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 01:00:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First, why would providing an Express HSR station ~ at a specific place, with land in its vicinity gaining additional value due to ease of getting to an Express HSR station ~ tend to increase sprawl relative to providing that same intercity transport capacity via roadworks? I do not follow the argument.

If the state or federal funding sources for an Express HSR corridor have the will and capacity to fight sprawl, all they need do is to not pick station locations that offer no infill development opportunities and do not integrate well with local transport networks.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 12:50:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right, adding any similar increase in door to door travel time, no matter the mode, will tend to increase sprawl in a similar manner. As HSR is currently that much faster than other surface modes, it offers at least the possibility for significantly greater development/sprawl along a longer route (going back to the two hour travel time 'limit').

If the state or federal funding sources for an Express HSR corridor have the will and capacity to fight sprawl, all they need do is to not pick station locations that offer no infill development opportunities and do not integrate well with local transport networks.

You're kind of shooting yourself in the foot then, no? Trains need volume. You either have high density very close to the stations or you have an extensive feeder network, be it car, bus, tram, regional rail, etc. We don't have density and as it stands now, we don't have much ability to create density through land use restrictions. Instead we have to rely on feeder networks to bring in traffic. Outside of a few major urban areas, the only feeders we have are cars. That's the rub.

by Jace on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 02:33:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
it offers at least the possibility for significantly greater development/sprawl along a longer route

No, not "along" a route. Unlike the alternative investment in Expressways, its only at distinct points along the route, with each point widely spaced.

Which by contrast to the status quo means of providing the same intercity transport capacity, is more clustered development, and therefore less sprawl development.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 03:17:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Looking at 19th century Sweden, building railroad clusters the population already living in an area closer to the train station. Villages that got a train station grew at the expense of their neighbours.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 03:51:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right, adding any similar increase in door to door travel time, no matter the mode, will tend to increase sprawl in a similar manner.
... no, of course not, not unless it actually increases sprawl.

It would be absurd to define sprawl simply in terms of commute travel time: that ignores where people go to get their groceries and other shopping, where kids go to school, where people go for their leisure. If the environs of the HSR work more like a town and less like sprawl suburbia, then development for people living in those environs will be less sprawling than development to cater to people living in sprawling outer suburbs.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 03:23:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the environs of the HSR work more like a town and less like sprawl suburbia, then development for people living in those environs will be less sprawling than development to cater to people living in sprawling outer suburbs.

How will happen without changes in how we regulate land development?

by Jace on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 04:47:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you have sprawl-level densities around the HSR station, there is a sporting chance that someone will get pissed off that the existing residents are hogging all the valuable space right on top of the station with their low-density development.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 04:49:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... it is a system of direct, cross and hidden subsidies for sprawl development. You are concluding that the HSR will have sprawl impact by first assuming away the fact that spending on intercity road transport is one of those cross subsidies, and second assuming that the land use planning landscape under local control is a single, uniform mass with no local variation.

Spending on Express HSR intercity transport capacity instead of road intercity capacity is a dramatic change in the landscape. With the investment in roadworks, roads in the outer suburban area form dendritic networks draining toward the exit in the direction of the dominant commute. With investment in HSR, transport is focused on a single point with a 50km to 100km radius, and unlike land in sprawl suburbia, where land value is primarily created by zoning fiat, land value rises as you get closer to the station, on the natural square power relationship that there is only a quarter as much land that is half the distance to the station.

Now, you may believe that US local political systems are immune to the interests of property developers, but I do not. I believe that with a strong commercial interest by property developers in being permitted to exploit the value of proximity by being permitted to engage in mixed use and infill residential development, they will by hood or by crook get the station sited where they can get permission to engage in infill development.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 10:58:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now, you may believe that US local political systems are immune to the interests of property developers,

This couldn't be further from the truth! I've seen the process at work too many times. Property developers exploit local level politicians because remember they're the only ones involved in development. There is no national level involvement, states at best set some policy as in pro-growth or anti-growth. All of the real decisions on development are made locally. Rural states and localities are almost universally pro-growth because of the potential growth in tax revenues and political influence. Property owners know this, the local politicians know this. The temptations are huge, despite known longer term impacts of sprawl. That states have to look at buying land to take it out of commission to limit development is an illustration of just how screwed up the process is.

by Jace on Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 07:54:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... rules will stay the same after changing the rewards so that infill development around the station is more lucrative?

I'd expect that the rules will bend to allow developers to take advantage of those opportunities.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 02:05:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
< 160 kph top speed is light or rapid rail turf

Well there is still a lot between < 100 km/h non-heavy-rail and 160 km/h (and why do you write kilopond-hours?). 120 km/h is pretty widespread for secondary mainlines (as well as regional trains running on them) in Europe; with an EMU of good acceleration, you can reach that top speed with stops 3 km away. Then again, one should consider running trains with different stopping patterns over the same track.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 01:10:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well there is still a lot between < 100 km/h non-heavy-rail and 160 km/h (and why do you write kilopond-hours?). 120 km/h is pretty widespread for secondary mainlines

For track design or rolling stock? I was under the impression that 160 km/h was standard for new heavy rail rolling stock these days.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 04:43:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Track. I add that while 160 km/h top speed is pretty much standard for new vehicles, if put into all-stopper service, these same trains rarely go above 120 km/h, and can use top speed on suitable lines in limited-stop service (or thinly populated areas) only.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 04:22:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Commuting doesn't make sprawl, and urbanization doesn't equal sprawl. Commuting started with railways and tramways, not cars, but sprawl definitely started with cars and zoning laws. The difference is stations: the concentration of traffic flows to/from stations provides for a concentration of settlements (and rising property prices near stations). HSR stations placed into existing sprawl suburbia could in time concentrate them into proper villages/cities. Though the effect would be stronger if there is local mass transit linking up with the HSR station.

To me commuters have a time and not a distance limit.

There are travel costs, too. In an earlier discussion, someone quoted numbers that there are commuters on the Paris-Lyon line (that would be in your two hours radius), but not many.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 12:59:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Quite: these kind of HSR commuters may be important relative to the local economy of the town near the HSR station, but they are a drop in the bucket as far as the total Paris commute goes.

And since they promote clustering, by preferentially using local facilities convenient to the HSR, that is intrinsically anti-sprawl.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 01:04:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
2-hour commutes are a drop in the bucket even relative to total HSR traffic.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 01:12:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... I said anything about a two hour commute as typical, though 1.5 hr commutes are far too common in many larger sprawl dominated metro areas. More likely to attract a commute portion of trips are one hr and less, and since they will be priced primarily to fill up seats left empty by debarking before the major job center, they are naturally limited.

More important in terms of spatial organization are when satellite facilities can be placed outside the core of a headquarters agglomeration ~ eg, location of back office and production facilities in support of Silicon Valley firms in California in the Central Valley of California, accessed via HSR, rather than in the Pacific Northwest, accessed by air.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 02:25:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Two hours were in Jace's original comment as the limit for commuting, and I replied with the Paris-Lyon example to argue that no, the two-hour travel times by HSR aren't commuter territory.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 04:13:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree, commuting doesn't create sprawl. Speaking strictly from a US perspective, cheap, undeveloped land, unrestricted development, cars as feeder vehicles and a transportation trunk of some sort are all factors. I don't think I'm going out on much of a limb when I say that role of this trunk corridor is key in initiating sprawl. In the US, that corridor generally has been the Interstate Highway system:

Among the projects that spurred the most development in Fairfax County was the Capital
Beltway (I-495 and I-95), the 64-mile-long Interstate freeway that circles Washington, D.C.
Planned during the 1950's as part of the Interstate Highway System, the first section of the
Capital Beltway opened in 1961 and the entire highway was completed in 1964. (from Happy to Grow: Development and Planning in Fairfax County, Virginia)

Turning to the Northeast Corridor in New Jersey, the older cities that first developed with the railroad (and therefore before the car) are anything but affluent. Newark, Elizabeth, Rahway and on down to New Brunswick don't have rising property values, quite the opposite in fact. Then there are the more distant stops (80-100 km to NY) like Princeton Junction, Hamilton and Trenton that now have significant commuter ridership into New York.

Hamilton is a case in point. The station was built in 1999 on the site of an old factory. There is no town there, just a parking lot with 2,800 spaces. It is however right next to an interchange with Interstate 295. There were 1.5 million passengers trips to/from Hamilton in 2007 (tied for third most on the line). Just looking at weekday traffic, you can generate 1.4 million trips with 2,800 cars each day - in other words, pretty much all the feeder traffic comes in and goes out by car. This station has been a success because the railroad provided reduced travel time relative to commuting on the highway alone which in turn led to the car-based development of what very recently was farmland. That to me is the creation of sprawl. I can see this exact same process repeating with HSR unless there are restictions in land development.

Will this area one day fill in and become more urbanized? Perhaps. But look at what's happened to cities like those I already mentioned when it does fill in as well as age: growth stagnates, property values decline. The growth and money instead flow to the outer suburbs. This is once again an example of what has happened in the US and not Europe. The absolute key point here is that we've always had more open land available as well as reasonable travel times to continue to drive this process along.

Cost as you note is also an issue. I think one of the reasons there hasn't been more long distance commuting on the NEC on Amtrak are the absurdly high fares. A monthly ticket between NY and Philadelphia is $1242 and $972 from Trenton on Amtrak. It's $440 between NY and Trenton on New Jersey Transit. If nothing else, Amtrak's pricing is good for battling sprawl if not improving ridership.

by Jace on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 04:42:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Will this area one day fill in and become more urbanized? Perhaps. But look at what's happened to cities like those I already mentioned when it does fill in as well as age: growth stagnates, property values decline. The growth and money instead flow to the outer suburbs.
So the argument is that we should subsidize this process because of the malign effects of this process?

There is nothing absurd about the cost of Philadelphia / NYC Amtrak monthly tickets: these ticket holders are taking up seats that could be sold to people taking individual trips, and an intercity rail service with no operating subsidies are just not going to offer cheap commuter tickets. Why would they? What is the appeal of serving fewer people at lower operating ratios or even operating losses?

You seem to be treating an Express HSR as eqivalent to a local commuter rail system in order to argue that instead of spending less money on providing intercity Express HSR capacity, we should spend more money on providing intercity road capacity. I don't follow the argument.

which part of the historical cases that you are referring to are pre-1920's and which are post-1920's? Just saying 'some kind of trunk transport corridor' when in fact the cross subsidies being drained from these places are for roadworks from the 1930's to the present is begging the question ~ you are assuming there would be no difference what kind of transport that might be, even though all of your evidence is drawn from only the one type, to argue that there is no difference.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 11:28:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not arguing for roadworks. If you go back to my original comment, I said that unless we change the way we regulate land use, then HSR will contribute to sprawl. Hamilton, NJ is a prime example of how this works. The state's desire for growth in that region was likely the sole reason for building this station in the first place. The growth they got was sprawl because there is nothing but local level laws governing development. It's still far too easy for a developer to scoop up farmland, go to the local zoning board and get them to approve a huge subdivision. The appeal is too great to ignore, the local politicians see real benefits (at least short term) with new jobs and increases in tax revenues. Until this formula changes, then this process will continue.

I'm assuming that in terms of development when you have autos as feeders, the mode or type of trunk makes no difference because, as evidenced by Hamilton, it doesn't make a difference. If somehow the state improved the highways to allow a similar door to door travel time improvement, then yes, you'd get the same result. That's typically why these projects are done in the first place.

Obviously the best thing for a railroad is to have every seat filled end to end each and every time. On certain corridors like NY-Washington you have enough demand to get that, but what about NY-Buffalo or pretty much any of the Chicago corridors? If the railroad has the ability to tap significant traffic along the way, it should and it will. In the US, one of the justifications given for HSR is that it expands the catchment area of a city. That is commuter traffic, not bridge or overhead traffic.

As for Amtrak, yes they're trying to maximize yield, but if they were to do this, every seat would be filled every time. From my own experiences on this line, this is definitely not the case. Their prices are causing commuters to drive from the Philadelphia area to Trenton or Hamilton to catch NJT while their own trains are running at less than capacity. That to me is less then optimal.

by Jace on Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 07:34:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hamilton NJ is an example of adding a commuter rail system to respond to the subsidized roadworks.

If you go back to my original comment, I said that unless we change the way we regulate land use, then HSR will contribute to sprawl.
Yes, you said it. The discussion is not whether you said it, but on whether its a warranted conclusion.

by contribute to sprawl, in this context, where we are talking about a choice between either express hsr and spending on roadworks and air transport, you are saying that there is more sprawl as a result of hsr than as a result of the alternative road and air infrastructure to provide the same transport capacity.

and your evidence is based on a park and ride station on a commuter rail line, which is to say, like looking at the impact of putting in an urban street to judge the impact of a new Interstate expressway.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 02:15:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If stations are park & ride facilities and the feeder is not normal roads but a highway, and you can get over a million rides a year for such a station (the stupid in-the-empty-landscape HSR stations in Europe tend to get much less), then yes, I can see your sprawl scenario. However, HSR is typically too long-distance and expensive for commuting.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 04:07:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If sprawl is defined as a system of development with distinct types of uses segregated into low-density single-use zones, then, no, HSR does not encourage that.

It may encourage some longer commutes by some higher income commuters 30min to 60min away from a main job center by HSR, but so long as the HSR stations are sited to promote infill development and anchor local transport systems, the net impact is anti-sprawl.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 12:41:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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