The (Potential) Paradox of California High Speed Rail

At $45 billion dollars, the California High Speed Rail project will be the state’s biggest project in its history.  With a promise of connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours and forty minutes as well as up to 22 other stations in the state, the project promises to take a significant portion of the market from intrastate air travel between Southern California and the Bay Area.  The California High Speed Rail Authority boasts of 450,000 new permanent jobs, reduced congestion, and cleaner Californian air.

More importantly, however, the project makes the prospect of statewide commuting much more realistic.  The 142-mile trip from Bakersfield to Los Angeles becomes a trip of 54 minutes, several minutes less than the 48-mile Baby Bullet trip from San Jose to San Francisco on today’s Caltrain corridor.  From Fresno in the middle of the Central Valley, it will take a mere 51 minutes to get to Silicon Valley and only a few minutes more to reach Sacramento.

While the project’s potential substantially increases California’s connectivity, there is a danger of creating an even greater exurbia.  The Antelope Valley cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, sitting on the edge of Metrolink’s current network, will no longer demarcate the boundary of commuter sanity.  In other words, the High Speed Rail project will push the limits of how far away we are willing to commute.  While the train promises to be a cleaner commute, should it be a commute we should be making?

For every dollar spent on making intercity commuting more accessible, California should invest in making intra-city commuting easier.  Simply put, more trips, be it by train or by car, are still more trips.  Bakersfield should focus on adding jobs and transit-oriented development in Bakersfield rather than making it easier to get out of Bakersfield.  The authority promises to promote transit and pedestrian development at infill stations, but there still remains a risk of turning the entire Central Valley into heavy-commuting, Palmdale-esque suburban midlands.

By the way, this post was written by Sam Levy, a Civil Engineering colleague of mine from USC. Many thanks to him for the article. -Karl


About Sam Levy

Civil Engineering and Economics student at the University of Southern California

Posted on October 10, 2010, in Policy and Politics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. My main concern is the continuation of sprawl development, especially in the Central Valley, as more land becomes bedroom communities to LA and the Bay Area. As much as the state says it’s “green” and “pro-environment” it’s not. Every day land is being appropriated for cul de sac developments and strip malls, with little or no effort focused on density or public transit. I used to be a huge supporter of HSR, but not so much now considering in my area BART is pushing for more suburban stations while ignoring its inner city cores and MUNI is driving forward with a $1.7 BILLION subway to nowhere. So, according to plan, people in Fresno will get to the TTC in San Francisco faster than me in the outer sunset? Now really…

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