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News & Notes

The New York Times: Commuters Pedal to Work on Their Very Own Superhighway

Picture 11 miles of smoothly paved bike path meandering through the countryside. Largely uninterrupted by roads or intersections, it passes fields, backyards, chirping birds, a lake, some ducks and, at every mile, an air pump.

For some Danes, this is the morning commute.


Pedestrian Observations: Northeast Corridor HSR, 90% Cheaper

Amtrak’s latest Next-Generation High-Speed Rail plan is now up to $151 billion, from a prior cost of $117 billion. This is partially a small cost escalation, but mostly including Master Plan upgrades to the legacy line. Per kilometer of route length, this means the project has now crossed the $200 million/km mark, a higher cost than 60%-underground Chuo Shinkansen maglev. The primary cause of the high cost of Amtrak’s project is the heavy amount of deep-cavern urban tunneling: nearly a tenth of the cost is the Gateway Tunnel, a rebranded bundling of ARC into the project, and a similar amount is a similar project in Philadelphia. At least this time they’re serving Rhode Island with a stop in or near Providence rather than Woonsocket.


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News & Notes

If you’re on Twitter or Facebook and live in Providence, then you’ve seen this story posted a thousand times already today, if you’re not, then here you go:

The New York Times: 36 Hours in Providence, R.I.

Providence’s grit and obscurity make it easy to underestimate. On the verge of bankruptcy, with a former mayor who served four years in federal prison for racketeering conspiracy, the capital of the country’s smallest state has something of an image problem. But like Portland, Ore., or Austin, Tex., it’s also a town many times more creative and cosmopolitan than its modest population and municipal troubles suggest. Home to an Ivy League college, one of the best design schools in the country and a major culinary institute, Providence, unsurprisingly, has exceptional food, compelling art and architecture, a thriving gay scene and an inordinate number of very smart people. Yet the city remains unpretentious and affordable, a place where even the best restaurants rarely demand reservations.


Boston Society of Architects: Why punish Rhode Island?

…the [Boston-Providence] corridor has remained overshadowed, particularly after a few recent academic and professional Boston–Washington (Bos-Wash) rail concepts that shift the primary rail corridor between Boston and Washington westward, away from Providence and southern Rhode Island. The shift would reward regions and states, such as Connecticut, that have pursued a suburban auto-centric approach well into the 21st century. In turn, the process punishes Rhode Island after 15 years of rail-oriented advancement and three major breakthroughs…

See also: Fast Lane: High speed rail: right here, right now


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News & Notes

United Nations

Is Smart Growth a United Nations plot to subvert local control and create a world government? Photo (cc) Ashitakka.

News & Notes Agenda 21 and other wacky theories [New Urban Network]

Anti-smart growth ideologues have never shied away from half-truths and dubious arguments, but recent references to Agenda 21, Portland, Detroit, and Denver are unusually strange.

This article co-authored by Wendell Cox and Ronald Utt focuses on the United Nation’s Agenda 21, adopted in 1992, and its supposed connection to the smart growth movement. I guess the point is that if the UN issues a proclamation – in this case in favor of sustainable development – then any related activity must be part of some kind of world-government plot. The UN is also in favor of economic growth, peace, diplomatic relations, and education, and for programs that fight hunger, disease, and tooth decay.

See also: How the Tea Party Is Upending Urban Planning [The Atlantic Cities]


Lawmaker’s high-speed rail plan: Will it fly? [CNN]

How fast can high-speed trains come to the Northeast corridor? Not fast enough for Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida.

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee recently came out with a proposal to create a high-speed rail line – trains that can travel more than 200 mph – between Boston and D.C. in 10 to 15 years. Can it be done in half the time Amtrak said it would take?


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News & Notes

In China’s High-Speed Successes, a Glimpse of American Difficulties [The TransportPolitic]

Some Americans may dismiss the Chinese achievement, suggesting that the system’s construction by a single-party government with authoritarian tendencies makes it in itself suspect. One of the great things about the American political system is that it attempts to respond to the demands of the citizenry. The defeat of several Democratic governors in last fall’s elections reflected on some degree of disenchantment with the Democratic Party in general, but in three cases – Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin – the GOP’s open opposition to intercity rail projects there clearly played a role in convincing voters, who evidently agreed with the anti-rail sentiment, to throw out Democrats. In some ways, it is a reflection on a successful democracy that the rail projects in those places were cancelled, whatever their technical merit.


Check Out Minneapolis’ Bike Repair Vending Machines [Transportation Nation]

A small Minneapolis company is supporting cycling by making it easier to fix your bike while out on the road. Bike Fixtation has installed its first bike repair vending machine at Minneapolis’ Uptown Transit Station.

The self-service vending machine will be accessible, just like the transit station, from 6am-midnight every day of the year, ensuring an off-hours place to pick up an inner tube, patch kit, or even a headlight.


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News & Notes

Little. Yellow. Dangerous. “Children at Play” signs imperil our kids. [Slate]

There are several reasons engineers don’t like the signs. The first, and most simple, is that if you are driving in an area where children are actually playing, you will, it is hoped, notice them before you notice a sign warning you of them. Or, more to the point, that you will have noticed that you are driving in an area (say, a residential street) where there are likely to be children about. “I find it amazing that people think that a 30-in X 30-in square sign (that is only a little less than 6.25 square feet of sheeting material when you make the corners rounded) will make a difference in driver behavior,” one engineer complained on an Internet forum. “If the driver does not notice the characteristics of a neighborhood as they drive down the street, why would they notice a sign as they pass it, or remember it for more than a few seconds once they have passed it.”

The physical make-up of the street, more than anything, influences how motorists drive. A street built for slow traffic will result in slow traffic.


In Defense of the Corner Market [Next American City]

The argument about food deserts seems to be premised on the assumption that supermarkets – suburban-style, big-box, corporate chain stores with plenty o’ parking – are inherently superior to walkable, family owned food markets that serve low-income populations. The media portrays these corner markets as liquor stores or “discount” stores carrying little fresh produce and lots of Hostess cupcakes.

While there is certainly a class of convenience store that lacks healthy food options, many analyses have completely ignored the presence of small, family-owned food markets and their important role in feeding urban populations.


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News & Notes

Would $12,000 Convince You To Move Closer To Work? [Fast Company]

How much cash would it take to get you to move closer to your work? For the purposes of this exercise, imagine that your work is in one of the more, shall we say, unsavory parts of Washington, D.C. and you live in a nice, quaint suburb in Virginia. Would you accept $12,000? Washington, D.C.’s Office Of Planning thinks you might–so the organization is launching a pilot program that will match employer contributions of up to $6,000 to convince people to move closer to their work or public transit.


A mighty role in downtown Worcester [Boston.com]

WORCESTER – Stand on one side of tiny, wedge-shaped Federal Square, on the southern edge of this city’s downtown, and the perspective is gleaming. What once was a boarded-up multiplex is now the glassy facade of the restored Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, a venue for touring Broadway shows that draws audiences from all over fast-growing Worcester County.

Stand on another side of the square, and the pawnshop that doubles as a check-cashing emporium is difficult to miss, while empty storefronts are easy to see. Then again, the dive bar is gone now, replaced by an establishment that serves craft beers. Apartments a few doors down from the theater are being rehabbed. A couple of small restaurants have popped up.

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News & Notes

Riled about rail: Why all the anger over high speed trains? [CNN]

Much of the opposition to rail projects appears to stem not from economic arguments, but from fundamental cultural values on what “American” transportation should be.

A perusal of online commentaries about passenger rail stories reveals a curious linkage by writers between passenger rail and “European socialism.”

Never mind that the majority of European passenger rail operates on a commercial basis.

Many critics of passenger rail emotionally identify it as an enabler of cultural values they fear.

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News & Notes

EU could ground short-haul flights in favour of high-speed rail [Guardian]

Short-haul flights across Europe could be replaced by high-speed rail under ambitious European Union proposals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport by 60% over the next 40 years.


True urbanism must come with a big tent [Greater Greater Washington]

Many urbanists seek greater density by revitalizing the built environment. These urbanists advocate for multi-use, human scale developments and multimodal transportation options, taking for granted that the in-migration and density that follow are good.

While density by itself naturally appeals to younger, more footloose residents, such architectural determinism casts a blind eye to those excluded from the benefits of city life when nothing changes but the built environment.

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Like: Chafee to pursue Florida’s rejected high speed rail funds

Amtrak Acela arriving in Providence

Photo (cc) Michael Dietsch

featured-likeProJo reports that Governor Chafee’s administration will pursue part of the $2.4 billion in high speed rail funding that Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected.

“The state is encouraged by this funding opportunity,” [Chafee spokesman Christian] Vareika said in a statement. “The state is currently examining potential projects and will be working closely with its New England partners to evaluate the potential benefits of a regional approach.”

Did he say “regional approach?” Yum.

The administration has until April 4th to submit a proposal for funding to the Federal Government.

So, what should we do with high speed rail money (locally or regionally) assuming we get some? I vote renovate and expand Providence Station with an eye toward increased usage and intermodal connections to the future Core Connector.

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News & Notes

The Future of the Strip: Downhill [CitiWire]

From 1960 to 2000 there was an almost 10-fold increase in U.S. retail space, from four to 38 square feet per person. For many years retail space was growing five to six times faster than retail sales. Most of this space came in the form of discount superstores on the suburban strip.

The recession proved that we have too much retail. Strip centers are now littered with vacant stores. By some estimates, there is currently over 1 billion square feet of vacant retail space, much of which has to be re-purposed or demolished.

V.P. Biden Announces $53 Billion Commitment to High-Speed Rail [America 2050]

Today, Vice President Joe Biden announced the Obama Administration’s plan to dedicate $53 billion over the next six years to help promote the construction of a national, high-speed, intercity passenger rail network. Biden, a long-time rail advocate and Amtrak rider, was joined by USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood on Tuesday morning at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station where he outlined the plan.

See also: The White House Stakes Its Political Capital on a Massive Intercity Rail Plan [The TransportPolitic]

Town centers are the new death panels [Grist]

Oh, those Teabaggers — always smacking you in the face with something unpleasant. This time it’s self-righteous outrage at the socialist erosion of our Freedom Sprawl. Because in the real America, you get in the car just to go to your kitchen.

CA Rep. Hunter: Roads Constitutionally Mandated, Transit Must Pay For Itself [DC.Streetsblog]

Streetsblog: I was just in an EPW Committee hearing and there was some talk about the fact that some small amount of money in the reauthorization historically gets used for things like bike trails. Some people think that’s waste; some people think biking is a mode of transportation. What do you think?

Duncan Hunter: I don’t think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the Transportation Committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because then you have us mandating bike paths, which you don’t want either.

SB: But you’re OK with mandating highways?

DH: Absolutely, yeah. Because that’s in the constitution. I don’t see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane.

The Congressman refers to Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution where it says that Congress shall have the power to “establish Post Offices and post Roads.” Further, he interprets the Interstate highway system as a form of military spending, which is also in the Constitution.

The Congressman presumably thinks that the mail cannot and is not transported by any manner other than road, and that the military cannot and will not use any mode of transportation other than the interstate highway system.

How Cars Won the Early Battle for the Streets Streetsblog

Judging by the recent media backlash against a few bike lanes in New York City, you would think that roads have been the exclusive domain of cars since time immemorial.

Not so, as Peter D. Norton recounts in his book, “Fighting Traffic — The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.” When cars first entered cities in a big way in the early 20th Century, a lot of people were not happy about it — like angry-mob not happy.

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News & Notes

Should high-speed rail focus on the northeast? [2nd Ave. Sagas]

During [New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's] testimony last week, the mayor criticized the government’s current investment plan. With projects in Florida, California and the Midwest garnering headlines, the Northeast Corridor has taken a backseat in Washington with only one percent of federal HSR funds coming our way. “That simply just doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “What we need is a new approach to spending transportation money — one that is not dictated by politics, but based on economics.”

This area is in fact the biggest economic hub in the country, and without a solution to the congestion and transportation crisis, the U.S. economy could begin to feel a strain. As Crain’s New York noted, “The northeast corridor is an ideal place to invest in high-speed rail because its 50 million residents produce 20% of the nation’s gross domestic product.”

Could Bess Eaton doughnuts be coming back? [The Day of New London]

The Canadian-based [Tim] Hortons closed the former Bess Eatons around here in November, and most of them remain shuttered, fanning rumors that a revival is brewing.

[Bess Eaton found Paul] Gencarelli [of Westerly] said he understands that a group of investors in town has purchased the rights to the Bess Eaton name, and all the proprietary formulas, etc., and is planning to re-open sometime soon.

Planetizen DVD, “The Story of Sprawl” [Planetizen]

This 2-disc set is an unprecedented visual document of how sprawl happened, told through a series of historic films ranging from 1939’s The City, created by famed planner Lewis Mumford, to No Time For Ugliness from 1965, produced by the American Institute of Architects.

How Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper Interventions Can Catalyze City-Wide Renewal [Project for Public Spaces]

Place-by-place interventions are emerging as a powerful way to create new life for an entire district, especially in cities where great economic hardship encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.

Yes, we do need to build more…. [Cap'n Transit Rides Again]

Last week, the Urbanophile posted an article called “Yes, we Do Need to Build More Roads.” He expected that a lot of people wouldn’t like it, and that he would come under a hail of criticism. I didn’t really see this hail materialize, but hey, I didn’t like the piece, and I’m ready to add my criticism.

In sprawling suburb, car drive you [Greater Greater Washington]

While last Wednesday’s hyped “thundersnow” underdelivered on the snow, it certainly didn’t in the chaos department. Storms like these highlight the benefits of compact urban development while underscoring the weaknesses of sprawling suburbia.

Residents of Washington’s outer suburbs struggled Wednesday night with horrendous traffic on the city’s commuter routes. At the same time, many DC residents were enjoying happy hours, snowball fights and otherwise carrying on with their lives. By the time people in the central city were fast asleep, many suburbanites were still fighting to get home.

Shameless Plug: Please feel free to nominate us as Best Blog in the Phoenix’s Best of 2011. You could also ask your friends, your mom, and your cat to nominate us if you like.

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Amtrak’s Next-Gen High Speed Rail vision by-passes Providence

Update 07/11/2012: Amtrak has released an updated vision for the Northeast Corridor which happily does not by-pass Providence. Read the report. (.pdf)

Amtrak released A Vision for High-Speed Rail in the Northeast Corridor [.pdf] today. The Vision is as of yet unfunded, would not be complete until 2040, and the alignment analyzed for this report would by-pass Providence (there’d be a station in Woonsocket though).

A number of possible alignments were initially analyzed for their potential to meet these goals.

New York City to Boston

In the New York City-to-Boston segment, the study team examined a variety of potential alignments, including a “Shore Alignment” paralleling the existing NEC; a “Long Island Alignment” heading east of out New York and traversing Long Island Sound; and “Highway” alignments paralleling all or portions of major interstate highways, including I-84, I-90 and I-91, through Connecticut and Massachusetts. It is important to note that virtually all of the alignments considered pose a variety of construction and environmental challenges. It was beyond the scope of this study to analyze all potential alignments in significant detail. However, a representative alignment was chosen for analytical and costing purposes. This “Analyzed Alignment,” as shown in the figure, parallels the existing NEC from New York to just north of New Rochelle, then follows a combination of highway, rail and overland routes through Connecticut and Massachusetts, before rejoining the existing NEC south of Rt. 128 in Massachusetts and paralleling it into Boston. A route substantially paralleling the existing NEC between Boston and New York was not chosen for initial analytical purposes because of a combination of capacity constraints on MetroNorth’s New Haven Line between New Haven and New Rochelle. Curvature restrictions and design requirements to meet environmental concerns on the Amtrak-owned “Shore Line” from the Massachusetts state line to New Haven would make it extremely difficult to meet the travel time targets of approximately one hour and 30 minute service.

Now, this is a preliminary report, and nothing has been engineered or officially picked yet, so it is not exactly time to panic about being bypassed. Also, this is a plan for a 240mph corridor between Boston, (Woonsocket??), New York, and Washington, plus other cities; highspeed rail of somesort, just not as fast, would still run between Boston, Providence, New Haven, and New York City.


Pink and green lines, new Next-Gen Highspeed rail, service Bos-DC in under 4 hours. Blue line, existing regional and Acela routing. Yellow line, Next-Gen route, Acela-like speeds Boston to NYC (stopping in Providence) and Next-Gen speed south of NYC.

However, it is never too soon for our Governor, Mayor, Congressional Delegation, and everyone else to start working to ensure that we’re on that line.

If the highspeed line were routed south to Providence then west to Hartford it would finally establish the mythical Providence-Hartford connection that was canceled out of the Interstate Highway plan.

Thinking about how a line to Hartford would branch off our current section of the Northeast Corridor (presuming that the existing Providence Station would be our highspeed rail station), a branch along Route 6 out of Olneyville makes sense as the starting point for the Providence-Hartford line. This Next-Gen Highspeed route is still 30 years from reality, but we should not do anything now to preclude it. As we look toward re-engineering the 6/10 interchange for example.

Nothing against Woonsocket, but if we’re going to lay new track (which is what this plan calls for) between Boston and Hartford, it would be ridiculous for it to serve Woonsocket, but not Providence.

View the entire report here. [.pdf]

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News & Notes

Georgetown’s ‘Social Safeway’ is a monument to changing supermarket architecture [The Washington Post]
New grocery store is built on the second floor, with street level retail screening a parking garage.

Foreclosures point to waning of the suburban era, study says [New Urban News]
Development is shifting to cities more strongly than most Americans realize, a new book asserts.

Ellen Dunham-Jones: Retrofitting suburbia [TED Talk]

DOT, HUD team up on joint funding for coordinated housing and transportation planning [FastLane USDOT Blog]

PennDesign Studio’s $100,000,000,000 NEC High Speed Rail Plan [PennDesign]

(Connecticut) State shifting focus to mass transit [The Connecticut Mirror]

Think gas is too pricey? Think again. [The Washington Post]

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News & Notes

Mass. buys more South Coast rail tracks [PBN]
Gov. Patrick pledges to have rail service running between New Bedford/Fall River and Boston by 2016.

The UnCaucus schedules a series of one-on-one coffees with the mayoral candidates

Northeast Corridor High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Planning
Eleven Northeast states from Maine to Maryland, with close support from Amtrak and the Coalition of Northeastern Governors (CONEG), submitted a multi-state proposal requesting that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) lead a planning effort to further define the role that intercity and high-speed passenger rail can play in helping improve the region’s transportation network, expand capacity, relieve highway and aviation congestion, and stimulate sustainable economic growth along the Northeast Corridor (NEC).

Spotlight on the World Cup: Transit in Durban and Pretoria [The City Fix]

New report shows biking and walking gains [The Fast Lane Blog]

What Would It Take to Fully Invest in the Northeast Corridor? [The Transport Politic]

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220mph Washington to Boston

Acela Power Car 2020

Photo (cc) John H Gray

The Transport Politic reports on Amtrak’s renewed push to bring true high speed rail to the Northeast Corridor.

Acela’s current top speed is 150mph over a short portion of the Northeast Corridor (through parts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts). Amtrak’s goal is to raise the top speed in the corridor to 220mph.

Amtrak’s renewed dedication to high speed rail coincides with interest by foreign rail companies to run new lines in the U.S.

This new effort represents a serious upgrade in Amtrak’s thinking about the potential for the 457-mile Northeast Corridor. As recently as October 2009, the company laid out a $10 billion plan that would do little more than decrease travel times between Washington and Boston to 5h30, down from about 6h30 today. Chinese trains travel the 601 miles between Wuhan and Guangzhou in just three hours.

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Video

John attends a White Sox game

America 2050:

Sometime in the not too distant future, John wakes up in suburban Chicago on a Saturday morning and heads to a White Sox game…in Detroit. Join him on a 300 mile journey to Detroit’s Comerica Park as he experiences the transportation options of the future: a neighborhood electric car share program, smart phone ticketing, high-speed rail, and connecting light rail. This clip is brought to you by America 2050 as part of its “A Better Tomorrow” project to visualize America’s future communities and transportation systems.

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