Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Go and stop on HSR


Photo by jiadoldol on Flickr.
90 minutes to Richmond: Virginia got $45 million to begin engineering on a high-speed rail line from Richmond to Washington. A 100-mph train ride may soon unite the capitals of the Union and Confederacy in as little as 90 minutes. (Post, Eric Fidler)

No HSR for Palo Alto: Some of the most liberal towns can still be the most resistant to sustainable local projects. In Palo Alto, home to Stanford University, the city council voted against a plan to route the California high-speed rail line through their town. They don't necessarily get to decide, however. (Transportation Nation)

Columbia for transit: Columbia, MD wants better transit, but is Howard County just too sprawling right now to really make it work? (Baltimore Sun via T4MD)

Safe bike parking at school: At least one Fairfax school is supportive of students walking and biking to school. Kilmer Middle School is working to add more bike parking since current racks are constantly full. (FABB)

What is the "area" for affordable housing?: Area Median Income, the benchmark for affordable housing's eligibility, is very distorted in DC since it includes rich outer counties. In the face of HUD's inaction, DC is considering a bill to require lower income brackets for affordable housing. (Housing Complex)

Zoning marathon in PG: In a marathon legislative session, the Prince George's County Council rejected a Montgomery County-style stormwater regulation, rejected upzoning in Fort Washington, redefined "multifamily dwellings" to include townhouses, and refused to constrict the definition of accessory uses. (Post, Eric Fidler)

Potomac Yard neighbors protest taxes: Residents in a special tax district proposed to fund a new Potomac Yard Metro station are planning a protest next week. (WTOP)

Fight graffiti with art: Aspiring Michelangelos have taken to DC's walls. The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Department of Public Works have sponsored numerous murals to cover illegal graffiti canvases throughout the city. Even the BBC noticed. (DCist, Eric Fidler)

And...: A copper thief may have caused Monday's delays on the MARC Penn Line. (Post) ... The first ICC segment's opening may be delayed until early next year. (Post) ... Organizers of the Rally to Restore Sanity have no interest in a WABA bike valet. (TBD)

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Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 

Comments

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Regarding Potomac Yards, I think the whole city of Alexandria should be taxed rather than a special area. The redevelopment will affect the entire city revenue wise, so why not share the pain?

As for Palo Alto, they will regret not having an HSR station in their town. It reminds me of Georgetown rejecting a metro station, and wishing they hadn't ever since then.

by Thomas on Oct 27, 2010 8:45 am • linkreport

It's fascinating how the lore of Georgetown "rejecting" a Metro station has become an accepted historical fact.

by Fritz on Oct 27, 2010 9:08 am • linkreport

Lowering income brackets? That puts most federal workers in overpriced rental options for life.

DC needs to realize who butters their bread.

by Redline SOS on Oct 27, 2010 9:09 am • linkreport

@ Fritz: I concede. I found the 2007 post debunking the myth. Guess I should read Great Society Subway! I still think Palo Alto will miss out on a great opportunity.

by Thomas on Oct 27, 2010 9:25 am • linkreport

Some of these murals are fuglier than the graffiti they are covering.

by Snowpeas on Oct 27, 2010 9:41 am • linkreport

China can build 220mph HSR systems and we are settling for 100mph? Go USA!

by Snowpeas on Oct 27, 2010 9:50 am • linkreport

Also: 90 minutes? It's not much more to drive!

by andrew on Oct 27, 2010 9:58 am • linkreport

Richmond to DC will eventually be an extremely vital link, connecting the northeast corridor (Washington) with the southeast (Raleigh-Charlotte-Atlanta), and, consequently, Florida and the Texas Triangle. However, I don't see it as a first-tier project. It's similar to Florida's (IMO) idiotic decision to build Tampa-Orlando first, instead of Jacksonville-Orlando-Miami.

Even worse, a 100mph line will simply have to be ripped out and replace when we get Northeast and Southeast HSR networks built and we want to connect them. It's worthless.

It seems like Virginia found some money and just wants to feel special.

by Andrew L. on Oct 27, 2010 10:10 am • linkreport

andrew, and each improvement will make rail progressively more competitive.

by Gavin on Oct 27, 2010 10:12 am • linkreport

Isn't Columbia, Md. one of the original prototypes for suburban sprawl? Everything there seems difficult to get to, no matter what mode of transportation you're using.

by James on Oct 27, 2010 10:14 am • linkreport

Andrew L., the article isn't clear on this point, but I doubt this funding is toward a project to build an entirely new line. (The funding itself is for preliminary engineering and environmental impact assessment.) Rather, I presume the project is to incremental improvements to existing rail service: straightening out sharp turns, adding second or third track in congested places, improve signaling, etc. I think most of Amtrak's stock can go 100mph now, it just rarely has the conditions to do so (just like a car can go 120mph but rarely has safe conditions to drive that fast).

by Gavin on Oct 27, 2010 10:26 am • linkreport

The DC-Richmond HSR doesn't seem all that great, I can already get from MoCo to Richmond in 90 minutes in a car, and I don't have to go through the hassle of getting to Union Station with bags and boarding the train. Not only is the drive already easy and short, but it doesn't have the many tolls that you get with the DC-NYC trip (not to mention it's a much longer drive), which makes the high cost of a train between those destinations a little more palatable.

by IsoTopor on Oct 27, 2010 10:31 am • linkreport

The DC-Richmond HSR doesn't seem all that great, I can already get from MoCo to Richmond in 90 minutes in a car...

Strange, I remember the last time I drove from DC to Richmond, it took 90 minutes to go from Dale City to Triangle. When are you driving that you make such good time? Weekdays between midnight and 3am?

:)

by oboe on Oct 27, 2010 10:45 am • linkreport

Not to mention that you would have to be speeding massively to get there that quickly, since even if you're in the closest part of MoCo to Richmond it's still 115 miles.

by Nate on Oct 27, 2010 10:50 am • linkreport

If you can do MoCo to Richmond in 90 minutes you are severely breaking the law... (yes, everyone speeds on I-95) Google maps says ~2h5m from Bethesda.

by NikolasM on Oct 27, 2010 10:51 am • linkreport

Ok, is anybody in on the math of this fast train thing?

DC-Richmond is 108 miles. So, if the train would go 100 mph, that would take an hour and a few minutes, not 90 minutes.

BTW: Experience shows that getting from DC to Richmond is very hard by car within 90 minutes. You'd have to avoid rush hour in both places, and all road work.

by Jasper on Oct 27, 2010 10:51 am • linkreport

A train can't immediately get to 100 mph. Also, the track between here and there has some curvy stretches that need to be dealt with at some point where the train most likely can't get anywhere close to 100 mph.

by NikolasM on Oct 27, 2010 10:53 am • linkreport

@ oboe: Indeed, there are frequently backups on I-95, and would make the trip a lot longer, though for the HSR trip you should also be factoring in the time it takes you to get from your house to Union Station. Most people would be going by Metro, which also frequently has delays. I seem to remember holding at every stop on the red line on Monday evening due to a dud security threat. If you're going to make any out of town trip, whether by car or Metro-to-train, if you do it during rush hour you should not be surprised by delays.

FYI- If I'm driving between DC and Richmond I'm going 75mph. I've done the trip many many times, takes me about 90 min. w/o massive delays.

by IsoTopor on Oct 27, 2010 11:08 am • linkreport

My trips to Richmond by car have always involved traffic jams, on weekends, weekdays at noon, whenever. So glad to see a HSR, though it doesn't seem all that fast...

And then there was that time speeding bikers almost gave me a heart attack. They were definitely doing 110 mph, weaving in and out of traffic. I was about to change lanes when one came flying up, and then another. Fortunately didn't have an accident.

by lou on Oct 27, 2010 11:20 am • linkreport

While I enjoy the banter on the GGWash comment threads, I'd like to challenge the commenters here try their hand at a more difficult task. Has anyone tried explaining the benefits of urbanist ideas like Metro, special tax districts, etc. to the WTOP crowd?

http://www.wtop.com/public/comment/group/cms/2093181?nid=25

by Matt Malinowski on Oct 27, 2010 11:23 am • linkreport

Is downtown Richmond a nice place to go? at night?

Do they have good/reliably public transit?

Being able to get around Richmond without a car is the key to the success of this HSR corridor.

by mcs on Oct 27, 2010 11:26 am • linkreport

@lou:

And then there was that time speeding bikers almost gave me a heart attack. They were definitely doing 110 mph, weaving in and out of traffic. I was about to change lanes when one came flying up, and then another. Fortunately didn't have an accident.

I had to read this three times before I realized you were talking about motorcyclists.

by oboe on Oct 27, 2010 11:31 am • linkreport

@Matt Malinowski-

The WTOP comment boards are a long-lost cause. I only read them when I feel like playing the "how long until this innocuous news topic can be blamed on immigrants" game.

by Bossi on Oct 27, 2010 11:32 am • linkreport

@ IsoTopor: FYI- If I'm driving between DC and Richmond I'm going 75mph. I've done the trip many many times, takes me about 90 min. w/o massive delays.

Thanks for admitting that you speed and endanger everybody around you.

Secondly, with all the roadwork on I-495 for the HOT lanes, and on I-95S around Lorton, I still wonder when you find that whole stretch traffic free.

@ NikolasM: A train can't immediately get to 100 mph. Also, the track between here and there has some curvy stretches that need to be dealt with at some point where the train most likely can't get anywhere close to 100 mph.

Then it's not a 100 mph train. 108 mile in 90 minutes = 72 mph. That's barely a high speed train. Regular Dutch trains get up to 85 mph (140 km/h). The Eurostar hit an average travel speed of ~100 mph between London and Paris in 1995.

by Jasper on Oct 27, 2010 11:36 am • linkreport

Okay, let's think about this, and perhaps we can understand why people get upset about terminology.

Stipulation: Every color that is not green or blue is called "red".

Everything that is remotely orange, yellow, or purple gets called "red" because everybody wants to seem cool and progressive.

But then people see things that are yellow and they say, "That's not red. I was in Europe last summer, and they had some really red stuff. Why can't we really do red here? We're just lame."

And then when the government tries to actually build something red, people say, "Look, I've seen red. They did red down in Atlanta, and it sucked. It might as well have been light orange. It's not worth the cost because it'll just end up being peach-colored."

Japan and Europe have been making improvements to passenger rail for over a half-century. They've been building high-speed rail for decades.

With respect to the Virginia improvements, they're not a "from-scratch" corridor. They're incremental improvements. Those are realistic and helpful changes. I mean, look at the Northwest. The Amtrak Cascades now has several daily roundtrips, nice cars, growing ridership, faster trips than before implementation, and it gets better every year thanks to incremental improvements.

Increasing speeds on the Washington-Richmond corridor to 110 mph (top speed, not average) is not really high-speed rail. But it's better rail. And it will make more trips viable. It will make more trips attractive. And it will make future investments easier.

So even if it isn't red, it's at least yellow. Perhaps even orange.

Would any of you advocate not making any improvements until we can make the absolute best improvement? Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

by Matt Johnson on Oct 27, 2010 11:51 am • linkreport

ost people would be going by Metro, which also frequently has delays. I seem to remember holding at every stop on the red line on Monday evening due to a dud security threat. If you're going to make any out of town trip, whether by car or Metro-to-train, if you do it during rush hour you should not be surprised by delays.

If the DC - NYC (and -Philly, -Boston, etc..) run is any indicator, many, many folks prefer taking the train to driving. If the train-time between Richmond and DC is anywhere within 25% of the auto-time, it seems like the train should be popular.

Now if it took 4-6 hours between DC and Richmond, probably not so much.

by oboe on Oct 27, 2010 12:00 pm • linkreport

Would any of you advocate not making any improvements until we can make the absolute best improvement? Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Sure, that's pretty non-controversial. The question would be, if the existing average speed were, say, 50 mph, and the new "High Speed Rail(tm)" speed where, say, 65 mph, would there really be any point in laying out a large bundle of cash?

I think incremental change for it's own sake is great--especially if it moves us in the right direction. But you don't want to poison the HSR "brand" by crying "Wolf!" too many times.

Why not call it "On-Time Rail" instead of "High Speed Rail"?

:)

by oboe on Oct 27, 2010 12:04 pm • linkreport

@oboe:
Well, I agree with that. If it wasn't clear, I think we need to call it something other than "high-speed" rail.

But with regard to the capital outlay, it's significantly less than it would be for a 220 mph corridor. And that's why we're just getting incremental improvements.

by Matt Johnson on Oct 27, 2010 12:09 pm • linkreport

We can argue all day about whether it is faster by car or by rail but the bottom line, IMHO, is that this project seems like a waste of money. Build it now only to replace it later? What a great idea!

BTW, speed limit going up to 70mph on certain stretches of I-95 in VA, 80mph is going to be the norm.

by Snowpeas on Oct 27, 2010 12:20 pm • linkreport

Not sure I understand the reasoning behind tearing down the Potomac Yard Shops. Those structures are less then 15 years old.

by NPRMBR on Oct 27, 2010 12:33 pm • linkreport

@Snowpeas:
There is no reason that this investment will have to be torn up, ever.

The incremental improvements which can be the source of continual upgrades over the next few years will benefit Amtrak and freight trains.

Even if a true high-speed line is built, it will likely need to be in its own corridor. And local-stop trains would likely continue to operate on the current line. And even if they didn't, fast-freight would still be a nice benefit.

And in the meantime, we get improvements for passengers sooner rather than later.

Anyway, if you don't believe me, take a look at some of the planning that is going on and some of the projects already built.

France: When the TGV lines were built, SNCF did not abandon or destroy its other lines, even though they don't operate as fast.

California: The 220 mph proposal for California's high speed rail system doesn't affect the current Amtrak routes. In fact, it uses entirely new track. That doesn't mean that CalTrans and Amtrak shouldn't work to improve non-HSR services.

Florida: The new Tampa-Orlando HSR line will not affect existing service on the Silver Star and will use a parallel route.

Northeast USA: Most relevant is the Amtrak plan I reported on here at GGW a few weeks ago. Despite the creation of a new "superexpress" type corridor, the existing NEC will continue to handle commuter and regional trains into the foreseeable future. And I certainly hope Amtrak and the states along the way continue to make improvements to the existing NEC. (I'm looking at you Chris Christie).

by Matt Johnson on Oct 27, 2010 12:34 pm • linkreport

@ Matt Johnson: Would any of you advocate not making any improvements until we can make the absolute best improvement? Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

The problem is the lack of ambition. The point of high-speed rail is that it is competitive with flying in price and speed, as well as way faster than driving. To get people to use high-speed rail you will need to convince them that they will save time and or money. It is not easy to get people in high speed rail. People are used to driving their car (as flying is not really an option between DC and Richmond).

Upgrading a rail service from abysmal to mediocre is just not going to cut it. In fact, it will give people an argument that investment in rail is useless. Commenters have rightfully pointed out that the train will barely be faster than driving (be it on a rather imaginary non-congested road), and quite a bit slower when you include the travel time to Union station and from Richmond station.

So, if you want your rail investment to be successful, you need to build something faster and cooler than whatever exists. Otherwise, there will be no support.

I've also seen the debate about high speed rail up and very close as my parents live in a little village along the "new" high speed track from Amsterdam to Paris, where hundreds of houses had to be taken down by eminent domain to create space for the track. I've seen how hard the government had to work to convince people that it really was worth it. And I am seeing the massive budget overruns, years of delay in building and giant technology snafus that had to be conquered.

In short: I find it better to build one true high speed track, than to upgrade 5 tracks from abysmal to mediocre.

DC-NY is about the same distance as London-Paris. I'd rather see the Acela being brought up to the speeds that the Eurostar gets than a useless upgrade to Richmond. Once people find out that the Acela really goes a lot faster than it used to, they will want a connection from Richmond. And Charlotteville.

by Jasper on Oct 27, 2010 12:35 pm • linkreport

"Also: 90 minutes? It's not much more to drive!

by andrew on Oct 27, 2010 9:58 am"

The last several times I have traveled south, it has taken me at least 90 minutes just to get from Alexandria to Fredericksburg.

by spookiness on Oct 27, 2010 12:36 pm • linkreport

As someone that travels to Richmond once a month to visit for a weekend, train is always faster than driving. I want to leave Friday night after work, and come back Sunday evening. Those times are near impossible under 3-4 hours driving. The train is usually 15-30 late, but not nearly as late as driving.

I hope this proposal means that all Richmond trains depart from downtown, instead of most of them departing from way out in the suburbs away from everything.

by ErikD on Oct 27, 2010 12:44 pm • linkreport

Transportation between DC and Richmond is a disaster.

What is a best solution?

Expanding I-95 from Springfield to Richmond to four lanes each way.

or

Adding a third rail to the between Alexandria and downtown Richmond.

by mcs on Oct 27, 2010 12:53 pm • linkreport

@Snowpeas: Well, if you get pulled over doing 80 mph in Virginia, enjoy your Class 1 misdemeanor charge for reckless driving. Because that is what the citation will be, even on a stretch of road signed at 70 mph.

by Nate on Oct 27, 2010 12:55 pm • linkreport

@Nate - Not sure I agree with your analysis of VA traffic laws but your point is duly noted.

@Matt So we don't tear up the tracks we just abandon them. Ok.

*Sigh* I wish we could think big(er) by focusing on creating a more robust (national) transportation system that address our long-term future needs instead of focusing on how to fit a few more people on an inter-city train.

by Snowpeas on Oct 27, 2010 1:25 pm • linkreport

@Snowpeas:
I think you may not have understood what I was saying. In each of the examples I cited, trains continue to (or are planned to continue to) operate on the original tracks in addition to the newer, faster trains on parallel lines.

Even if a new high-speed line were constructed (let's say 20 years in the future), we would still use the improved line between Washington and Richmond.

by Matt Johnson on Oct 27, 2010 1:30 pm • linkreport

In regards to Alexandria:

The taxes would not kick in immediately, in fact they would begin upon completion of the project. But why should the entire city be taxed? The people who own homes in that area will of course have higher taxes but their houses will be worth more due to the Metro stop, possible streetcar and a viable walkable urban community. It would seem to me that the tradeoff is a beneficial one to homeowners. I know taxes are an evil word but if you are standing to benefit more than you will sacrifice, then you are spiting yourself.

by Matt on Oct 27, 2010 1:39 pm • linkreport

@ mcs: Transportation between DC and Richmond is a disaster. What is a best solution?

Extend I-97 over MD-3, US-301 and VA-207 to Ruther Glen, so that all long haul traffic from Baltimore to Richmond can avoid I-495.

by Jasper on Oct 27, 2010 1:59 pm • linkreport

@Matt - Indeed, I misread your post. I still think it is a waste of money.

by Snowpeas on Oct 27, 2010 3:16 pm • linkreport

@NPRMBR

Because it was intended to be temporary. That will be right next to Potomac Yard Metro Station and the owners would be stupid to keep it at strip mall density.

by NikolasM on Oct 27, 2010 3:26 pm • linkreport

NPRMBR and NikolasM,
Retail development only has a lifespan of about 15-20 years anyway.

IIRC, the strip development was an "interim use" because Alexandria couldn't get it's act together. Something tells me that nothings changed.

by spookiness on Oct 27, 2010 4:08 pm • linkreport

The Palo Alto decision was more about inflexibility on the CHSRA side, than Palo Alto. I believe that a reasonably sized and integrated HSR "stop", would generate a different response. As the system gets built in the Central Valley, and proves its viability, there is still time to decide.

by Martin on Oct 27, 2010 4:19 pm • linkreport

A mid-Peninsula HSR station in Palo Alto is not a "sustainable local project". All it would do is attract lots of cars to a place there is no easy way for them to get to (the proposed location is in a thriving local community, not close to the freeway, and in an area already with too much traffic). Palo Alto locals can just ride Caltrain to San Jose and board HSR there, so the benefit to them in terms of a trip to LA is minimal at best.

It's just like not wanting big box stores in your pleasant local neighborhood, that will attract traffic from everywhere else.

The whole HSR project on the Peninsula is ill-conceived, but that's another story. Even if it's built as envisioned, it's very logical for Palo Alto not to want a stop.

by David desJardins on Oct 28, 2010 3:31 am • linkreport

spookiness: the existing retail at Potomac Yards was an "interim use" because the city was still in the process of formulating the area development plan (something that's been completed recently), and wanted to get something in that would generate tax revenue in the interim. In the meantime, any meaningful urban-style development in that area outright needs a Metro station, and the city hasn't been able to fully secure the funding for such yet.

by Froggie on Oct 28, 2010 7:50 am • linkreport

I'm sorry but 100 MPH does not a high-speed rail line make. At all.

by Eric on Oct 28, 2010 9:29 am • linkreport

In the EU, by law a rail line may NOT be called high speed unless it is 200 KPH (~120 MPH) for a line being refurbished for high speed, and 250 KPH (~160 MPH) for new track. And those numbers would be the average speed. NOT the top speed. We need to adopt these definitions so that we know that what we're paying for is what we're actually getting.

http://www.uic.org/spip.php?article971

by Eric on Oct 28, 2010 9:34 am • linkreport

@ Eric: In Europe that directive would be called: common sense. In the US: evil government interference.

On the other hand, in the US, there would be exceptions for donors to the 3rd district in state A, the 7th in state B and senatorial campaign of state C ;-P

by Jasper on Oct 28, 2010 10:16 am • linkreport

Froggie,
Wasn't there a meaningful urban-style development initially proposed, with a Metro station funded by the developer? IIRC, the city balked at the density, and thus without appropriate density it was not feasible for the developer to provide it.

by spookiness on Oct 28, 2010 10:25 pm • linkreport

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