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Saturday, July 11th, 2009

High Speed Rail Roundup

Glaeser Disses the Midwest

Harvard economist Ed Glaeser had an op-ed in the Boston Globe where he suggests killing any funding for high speed rail in the heartland and directing the money instead to the east coast – and not surprisingly into Boston metro transit projects.

First, there is no doubt that the Northeast Corridor should be the number one priority for high speed rail. The Acela lines need further investment. I agree on that point.

However, Glaeser uses some dubious statistics to imply the superiority of Boston as a destination for transit investment. He notes that, for example, 70% of employment in Chicago is more than 10 miles from the city center, while in Boston that is 48%. This is an odd metric to be sure. IIRC a recent Brookings study on “job sprawl” used this measure, so that may be where he took it from. But that metric is irrelevant. For example, I’d speculate that over 90% of Anderson, Indiana’s employment is within 10 miles of the city center. (It is a one county MSA). That doesn’t make it a great fit for massive transit investments.

The best metric to look at for transit addressable market for jobs is central business district employment. I don’t have the numbers handy, nor the leisure to track down zip code data, so let’s use office space as a proxy. According to a Cushman-Wakefield report, Chicago’s CBD has 118 million square feet of office space vs. only 59 million in Boston. Chicago’s core is double the size of Boston. By Glaeser’s logic, we should be redirecting funds from Boston to Chicago where they will do more good.

The Northeast has its “Big Four” metros: NYC, Boston, DC, and Philly. But the Midwest has Chicago – America’s third largest metro area (and one that dwarf’s Boston in size, by the way) – Detroit (the same size as Boston), and eight other metro areas with over one million people. It’s the second largest and most dense region of the country. Its geography and city sizes compare well to France, which has an effective high speed network, and where, outside of historic cores, most cities are sprawlburgs. (France is the land of hypermarket giant Carrefour don’t forget).

As someone point out, Glaeser completely avoids criticizing investments on the West Coast, even though it has only a handful of large cities, and ones that sprawl ridiculously at that, along with vast nearly empty tracts between them. He appears to have all the attitude towards flyover country one would expect of the East Coast elite.

He also talks about high speed rail disparagingly as a commuter system. “For most workers in America’s sprawling metropolitan areas, no train is going to drop them within walking distance of their home or job.” Even less so an airplane, but I didn’t hear him suggest we stop investing in airports, or say that the percentage of jobs within 10 miles of the city center has anything to do with air travel.

If Massachusetts decided to spend $20 billion or so on the Big Dig instead of mass transit, that’s their choice. But I don’t know why Boston would expect the rest of the country to give up their share of the pie in order to bail out the MBTA.

I’m actually a Glaeser fan and totally with him that transportation spending is driven by politics, not rational investment policy. That’s clearly one of the biggest problems with all public-sector investments. And, with a nod to my commenter OINKER, there is definitely a case to be made against high speed rail on cost/benefit or other grounds. I just didn’t see Glaeser make it.

Chicago-St. Louis Real High Speed Rail Study

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association sponsored a feasibility study of what a real, European style high speed rail line between Chicago and St. Louis would look like and if it was possible to build. You can see coverage in the Chicago Tribune or read the full report.

What would the system look like? It would feature a largely separate ROW with European style trainsets operating at 220MPH, leading to a 2 hour journey between Chicago and St. Louis. The price tag is estimated at a whopping $11.5 billion, including significant contingency.

A couple of interesting things jumped out at me around the study. First is that it contrasted both today’s Amtrak and the proposed 110MPH system with actual commercial rail service as provided in the 1930’s. Even in the 110MPH scenario, travel times are not appreciably different from the 30’s, which should give you an idea of how non-transformational that idea is.

The second is that they studied the use of the IC/CN corridor along the lakefront that I had previously advocated as the preferred high speed rail corridor into Chicago. If you’ve ever seen that Illinois Central right of way, it is gigantic. The study confirmed that you could build two exclusive high speed mains in the ROW. That gives you a straight shot into downtown Chicago from the south that is already grade separated.

This study did envision Chicago Union Station as the terminus. I believe most HSR traffic will be O&D traffic to Chicago, not people transferring to another train. Thus a single high speed hub is not necessary. I would rather see a new high speed terminal built at Van Buren St. Station. In any case, this study provided further ammo for preserving the St. Charles Air Line that links the IC to Union Station.

This is the first time anyone has really taken a real look at real high speed rail for the Midwest. The price tag is steep, no doubt. But it interesting to see what the realistic options are.

Thanks to Alon Levy who sent me some of the information used in this post.

37 Comments
Topics: Transportation

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37 Responses to “High Speed Rail Roundup”

  1. the urban politician says:

    This level of elitism from Boston, no less, makes me fume.

    While I agree that the northeast deserves HSR funding more than any other region, the notion that they should get all the funding betrays the petty provincialism that permeates that region of the country.

    I say this having lived out east for 7 years.

  2. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org says:

    Great post. A few thoughts:

    1. I'm not sure I believe that any employment-based metric makes the case for HSR. Doesn't residential matter too?

    2. If you did have a fair aggregation of pop and employment density, I'm not clear why % of city within a fixed radius of the CBD (assuming HSR terminal is there) is such a bad metric, so long as we are controlling for overall city size. Perhaps you could unite both metrics by just asking total pop+jobs at each of several radii from the CBD (or proposed HSR terminal if not CBD)

    3. Are you really sure that French land use planning can be equated with that of Illinois? Such a counterintuitive claim would cry out for some data I think. A quick browse on Google Earth suggests that French cities have much harder urban edges, less random patchwork sprawl.

    4. I'm curious as to why you think Chicago-St Louis is a much better market than Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison-Minneapolis. How much of the preference for the former corridor is just that it's mostly in one state, and we're still relying on state-level energy to organize and promote these projects?

    Cheers, Jarrett

  3. The Urbanophile says:

    Jarrett,

    I'm not sure I do think St. Louis is the best route. That is just the one that was studied for real HSR. It is likely also the most politically viable route because it is almost entirely in the state of Illinois and will garner tons of downstate support.

    I also agree on the employment based metric. Glaeser mixed HSR and mass transit in his piece.

    One of my problems with the "ten mile radius" is that for most US cities, their beltway is 10 miles or so from downtown, meaning that the metric could capture a lot of edge city type suburban development. It wouldn't surprise me if this was even the case in Boston. Though in principal I think looking at concentric rings could be ok.

    As for Europe, I'll see if Alon shows up with his facts and figures on it. He can probably do better justice to it than me. My own experience has been that there are plenty of suburbs in Europe.

  4. Alon Levy says:

    I don't know much about Europe in general – I know more about France. French cities are very dense by Western standards, especially Paris and Lyon, but conversely have ample edge city development. Nowadays the largest business district in Europe is not downtown Paris, but La Defense, located immediately to the west of Paris proper, and built with modernist style. This is similar to DC, except that La Defense is amply served by Metro and commuter rail.

    I'm not sure how most Midwestern cities compare to Paris in job dispersal. The main study on this issue only considers the largest American cities; Chicago, it turns out, has extremely centralized employment patterns. Among the 13 largest US metro areas, Chicago is a close second to New York in the percentage of metro area office space located in the CBD.

    Jarrett, employment concentration tends to matter more than residential concentration, because it can be far larger. In both New York and Chicago, the majority of office space is in the primary downtown, a short distance from the train station. Residential density is nowhere near that. Only 3% of New York metro's population lives in the Manhattan CBD; the residential space share is even lower, since suburban houses are larger than city apartments.

    Finally, the main reason to start with Chicago-St. Louis is that it's a more established rail corridor than any other in the Midwest: it has the highest ridership and the best financial performance, and straighter existing ROWs than Chicago-Detroit and Chicago-Minneapolis.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I hear the pork train coming
    It's rounding round the bend
    Not hauling much of nothing
    Its draining all my cash

    OIN OINK OINK

    Do agree the NEC is the only area that might deserve HSR funding; for the rest…upgrade track for regular speed trains

  6. JG says:

    I appreciate using the term “dubious” to describe Dr. Glasear’s inappropriate use of data for local mass transit policy with HSR policy. Browsing the titles of his most recent publications as posted on his Harvard faculty page, it would seem evident he should know better than to include such an error and would be surprised if it was any bit an “honest” one. I am sure others are MORE familiar with his record than I, and will defer to their comments. (In fairness, no publication title contained the word “transit.” This may also suggest he was a not well qualified to publish such an editorial.)

    Dissenters of HSR are not all dubious – I have reservations myself – but this study makes a nice case for the Chicago-St. Louis HSR line and an honest one at that. No one can be ecstatic at the $11.5 billion cost, and I have to appreciate the Midwest Highspeed Rail Association being forthcoming.

    I found a roundtrip non-stop ticket for $264 on United Airlines on Monday at 9 am from St. Louis to O’hare with a total flight time of 1:05 (return service at 6pm.) The HSR trip has still double the terminal-to-terminal time, but I suspect at a fraction of the price. With a good price point, it argues for the possibility of this being a reasonable transportation option between these two metropolitans. (Door-to-door times have to be MUCH closer when considering CBD terminals and business commuters.)

    Though before supporting such a proposal, I think most reasonable and scrupulous dissenters would want to see third-party public polling data of residents in St. Louis and Chicago to see with whom the interest for using such a service is and to what degree it exists. I would suspect the MHSRA is planning such survey. Combined with this cooridor study, such information could support (or sink) this project.

  7. The Urbanophile says:

    JG, I think we should separate people's academic roles from their roles as pundits or opinion shapers. For example, Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize winning economist whose academic work is widely respected even by those who think his leftist politics are off base. It's similar for Glaeser here.

  8. Alon Levy says:

    JG, at a door-to-door time difference of less than an hour, air service on the route stops. Due to expansion of TGV service, there are no longer flights from Paris to Brussels, and hardly any from Paris to Lyon. Overall, HSR tends to be competitive with air at a time difference of 2:30 or less. At less than 1:45-2:00, HSR is dominant, for instance, on the Paris-Marseille route.

  9. OINKER says:

    JG,

    An Acela roundtrip from DC to Philly for Monday is $200. Hardly a fraction of airfare.

    OINK OINK OINK

    Pork train

  10. OINKER says:

    JG – and it is 2x as slow as air?

    HUGE OINK

    PS the $11.5B does not include the bridge over the Mississippi.

    Have a nice trip on the Pork train to East St. Louis. The time savings…ooops there isn't any…and the convenience…ooops not that either…but what we do have is a big fat pork train subsidized by the government so you can have a slower means of travel between STL and ORD

    OINK OINK OINK

  11. pete from baltimore says:

    I apoligise if this seems slightly off topic.But I have been following this blog for a few monthes and have enjoyed reading it despite never having gone west of Pittsburgh..

    Since it has made me realise that i know little about the midwest . And since i have a few weeks off work , I decided to go to Chicago and stay at a hostel for a week.And then go on to Wisconsin and posibilly Minnesota [ maybe Iowa as well] . I was looking forward to the train ride through the areas that are discussed in this blog [ Ohio Indianna, ect].

    The bus cost $77 one way from Baltimore to Chicago and takes 16 to 19 hours depending on what route you took.

    The train cost $161 one way from Baltimore to Chicago and takes 18 and a half hours to reach Chicago.

    I would just like to know how a train can take just as long to get to Chicago as a bus.And cost over twice as much.

    I am genuinly curious and I am not just complaining.Does anybody know the answer?

    Needles to say ,I am taking the bus.

    I would like to thank you MR Renn for writing your great blog. I have always wanted to visit the midwest. But reading your blog made me actually go and finally do it.[ the lack of construction work in Baltimore at the moment played a part as well].

    Hopefully I will have time to visit some of the midwest .Work is short right now so the trip is very open ended.

    I would just like to end by saying that although I am an East Coaster, I would say that the Midwest needs High Speed Rail more than we do.And real High Speed Rail. Not just 80 or 90 miles per hour.

    Thank you again MR Renn for your work on this blog

  12. Alon Levy says:

    Pete, outside the Northeast, trains run at 1930s speeds. Sometimes they're even slower, because in the 1940s the ICC instituted a strict speed limit on all lines without advanced signaling systems. Thus in flat terrain rail is barely faster than buses, and on mountainous terrain, where are lots of curves, rail is actually slower.

    In countries that didn't stop investing in their railway systems in 1949, NEC speeds are what's considered normal speed. High speed would be getting people from New York to Washington in 1:30.

  13. Anonymous says:

    "in the 1940s the ICC instituted a strict speed limit on all lines without advanced signaling systems."

    Please tell me that this was not done at the behest of auto/highway interests.

  14. Robert Munson says:

    I have been reading your blog for only a week. But I have read some past postings and am impressed by both your work and the quality of many of the comments. Congratulations.

    I'm glad to ask this question among such a qualified digital community.

    Why has High Speed Rail totally captivated the public consciousness when its economics seems so unsubstantiated… particularly when compared to mass transit?

    I write primarily so we can discover how to make a similar political dynamic for metropolitan (that is, mass) transit.

    First, let's look at the captivation and then the economics.

    This HSR concept surfaced to me in November 2008 when I attended a session related to transit in the Burnham Plan that was sponsored by the Chicago Humanities Festival. While HSR has a secondary impact on urban planning, the head of the Midwest HSR association stole the show.

    Why? To me (and I'd appreciate a few comments), HSR taps into a nagging inferiority complex that Americans feel for having lost our lead in rail technology to Europe and a third world country, China.

    Seizing on this and seeking to give Americans a "feel-good" again, we now have a President (and our native son) who intends to make this his Administration's equivalent of putting a man on the moon.

    Good, but perhaps only OK; given that most governments are hopelessly broke and treacherously corrupted by special interests and cannot balance their books anytime even in the midterm.

    Thus brings up the economics of HSR.

    With government broken by higher priorities to medical insurance and bank bailouts and sinking because of its cement boots of many other unproductive subsidies, how can HSR rail succeed in getting sufficient funds ?

    Clearly the federal contribution should be sustained, but it must draw in more private capital. To bring in more capital, there are a host of changes that need to take place.

    We can start with Public Private Partnerships. Yet this requires focus because the bill to create PPPs in Illinois never made it out of committee.

    Another historic change… We also need transform the economics of transportation by taking subsidies away from gasoline so its price floats to a true market price. Hard as this may be with corrupt legislatures, it gives us a better strategy to make auto alternatives more viable. (While we can pursue increases in the gas tax, taxing is not the best strategy with Americans; whereas "making the market work better" is the best foundation for a longterm political consensus.)

    To end this Comment, I move to setting our own economic priorities correctly.

    If metropolitan transit (again, my name for "mass transit") creates $4 of public asset value for every $1 invested (as New York transit advocates recently claimed), then why are we focused on this dream of HSR?

    We can stress the multiple benefits of transportation alternatives (and key among them is reduced household expenses and lower carbon emissions.) But we only can win this political struggle by stressing how investing in transit vastly improves our daily lives.

    John McCarron made a similar point in a "Tribune" OpEd back in December when questioning this emphasis on HSR. I have seen little evidence of a change in this captivation since then.

    So while we do need to pursue HSR, we more desperately need to understand how it captured the public imagination and try to apply those lessons to the fight for metropolitan transit.

    Any suggestions?

  15. The Urbanophile says:

    Robert, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I'll try to respond to a couple points.

    First, in terms of how to generate public enthusiasm for mass transit, stay tuned to this blog since I have a posting coming up on that very topic. Hopefully within a month.

    There is something to what you say about an inferiority complex. I think that drives a lot of major public investment, frankly. People fear that their city is "falling behind".

    Have you read The Mythical Conception of Rail Transit in Los Angeles by Jonathan E. D. Richmond? Even if you doing agree with its position on rail, it's worth a read. Richmond illustrates the mental and cultural processes at work in thinking about rail transit. He particularly identifies trains as a phallic symbol, and to be "left behind" in the rail transit realm is to be in a way sexually humiliated.

    On the other hand, high speed rail is used extensively not just in Europe, but throughout the world except the Western Hemisphere. So it has obviously made the grade their.

    The economics are unsubstantiated. That's why I've said we should investigate them. I do not endorse building a hyper-expensive rail system without a basis of what benefits we hope to derive from it.

    You may not have seen them, but I wrote an extensive series on this about reconnecting Chicago with its traditional Midwestern hinterland. The entry on Metropolitan Linkages talks about how tighter integration of cities might have benefits. The second part talks specifically about High Speed Rail.

    These represent the conceptual case. Obviously substantiation would be required.

  16. Alon Levy says:

    Please tell me that this was not done at the behest of auto/highway interests.

    I don't think it was. It was mainly a result of the switch from steam to diesel power. On the contrary, the ICC forced many railroads to maintain passenger routes they wished to abandon as they had become unprofitable.

    The weakness of US passenger rail is mostly not because of the highway industry. It's because freight rail's main competitive advantage in the US is hauling heavy freight, such as bulk goods and containers. Trains do it at a fraction of the cost of trucks. This led to a situation where freight railroads prefer low-cost, low-maintenance solutions. That's why you get regulations like crash safety, forcing all locomotives to be extra-heavy – when you're hauling 10,000 tons' worth of freight, you don't care whether the locomotive has to weigh 50 tons or 200. The alternative to that is positive train control, which will become mandatory in 2012, and which the railroads had been fighting against since the 1920s.

  17. JG says:

    When one uses academic credentials as leverage to make comments regarding public policy, the publication record becomes relevant. Someone who is well published in "urban affairs" such as Glasear (as evident from his faculty page) should have been more cautious than to mix such data. But do not mix words, academics should be involved in public commentary greatly, just always examined with consideration of their publication record.

    Would this plan have any effect – positive or negative – on freight moving through Chicago? Improving freight rail has potential to reduce carbon emissions and ease road congestion. This is an interesting report off NPR I remembered from last year and dug up about Chicago’s plight with freight rail congestion. It’s a big problem with 40% of America’s freight passing through and an even larger percentage of the East-West interstate hauling. The industry group the Association of American Railroads has interesting reports on the energy and environmental advantages of using rail over trucks to transport freight. The trucking industry has their own counter claims, some good, but appearing insufficient to argue against increased usage of rail for freight in the U.S. Not to digress to far, but the MWHSRA plan appears to improve the ability to move freight along the corridor.

  18. Alon Levy says:

    JG, HSR would be no negative effect on freight, since the trains use new track. If the ROW is shared with freight, then the effect may be positive, due to grade separations and curve easements.

  19. pete from baltimore says:

    regarding Alon Levy's comment at 4:49 AM 7/12
    MR Levy Thank you for your reply.

    I also talked about this with a friend today.She told me it was mainly because of the Amtrk trains having to give freight trains the right of way.

    I have no idea if this is true or not and would be curious to know whether it is true or not.

    I 'm catching a bus to Chicago in 5 hours so if anyone answers my question I would just like to offer my gratitude in advance.I'll have to read it when I get back.

  20. pete from baltimore says:

    This may be a stupid question but I am curious enough to look like an idiot .

    When people talk about high speed rail [HSR ] they always talk about passenger rail.Obviously HSR could not move coal or other heavy freight.

    But I am curious as to whether HSR might be able to move lighter frieght and what effect that would have on the economy.Could HSR move light freight more cheaply than regular freight trains? And what kind of freight could HSR move?How practicle would it be?And if it was practicle to use HSR to move light freight, how would it affect America if we did build HSR? Do they move light freight by HSR in other countries?

    If anyone knows about this I would appreciate their answers.

    I do realise that it may be a silly question.But if moving light freight by HDR was possible i would think that it would make America more competitive economicaly . Not to mention making the midwest more economicaly productive and competitive.

    As I am going on vacation in 4 hours I will have to read any answer when i come back.So I would like to thank anyone for their answer in advance.

    And once again ,I do apoligise if it seems like a stupid question.

  21. Alon Levy says:

    Your friend is right: part of Amtrak's slowness comes from its having to share ROW with freight trains. Union Pacific in particular is notorious for forcing Amtrak to sit on sidings while its late freight trains cruise in the opposite directions. However, even when there are multiple tracks, Amtrak crawls in mountainous areas (check the time performance of the Pennsylvanian, a train that runs on a line that's at worst triple-tracked).

    You're also right that HSR can carry light freight. The TGV has special trains carrying mail. The reason this is feasible is that mail is a time-sensitive item with a high value to weight ratio. Fresh flowers, jewelry, designer clothes, and anything you'd use FedEx for are in the same category. Bear in mind that an American freight train can carry 30 times as much cargo weight as a high-speed train, so unless speed is important, you might as well put it on legacy rail.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I really am getting annoyed at the completely childish and immature posts of OINKER. This person offers nothing of value to the discussion of high speed rail and should be ignored.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I wonder how much it would cost to build Interstate 55 from DT Chicago to DT St. Louis in today's dollars? I would expect around $10 billion at the minimum.

    SO the cost of the proposed HSR line is no more expensive than a modern grade-separated freeway.

  24. Alon Levy says:

    Anon, the entire Interstate system cost $425 billion in today's terms.

  25. OINKER says:

    Alon & Anon 7:07:

    Actual Cost to build the Interstate Highway System was $114 Billion over 35 years ago, and $500 billion in 2008 dollars.

    Anon 7:05 "I really am getting annoyed at the completely childish and immature posts of OINKER. This person offers nothing of value to the discussion of high speed rail and should be ignored."

    - gentle reader, far more annoying are comments like yours that impart no further understanding of an issue…especially an issue like the BIG FAT PORK TRAIN. Please click the link and educate yourself:

    http://www.illinoispolicyinstitute.org/news/article.asp?ArticleSource=1151

    OINK OINK OINK OINK

  26. Anonymous says:

    Roads roads roads! Airports airports airports! OINK OINK OINK OINK OINK!

    Have you *looked* at the road widenings being funded in the stimulus package, to the tune of billions? Many are stoutly opposed by the places they're going to be located, and some have even failed environmental assessments. Essentially none of them will improve mobility at all!

    Of course, far more money goes to bank bailouts — OINK OINK — or everyone's favorite pork, MILITARY pork — OINK OINK OINK OINK OINK OINK OINK OINK (I really can't oink enough to cover the size of this — just assume another three thousand oinks or so).

    On the other hand, a fast train which would carry lots of people on a popular route very efficiently? Seems like a rational idea.

  27. OINKER says:

    Anon 12:35AM – please take your meds.

    The subject is HSR. Stick to the subject.

    "a fast train which would carry lots of people on a popular route very efficiently? Seems like a rational idea." – see past comments with links to sources.

    OINK OINK OINK

  28. Mark Arsenal says:

    Personally, I would prefer the funds be devoted to strengthening standard intercity rail. There are some corridors that are grossly underserved and the cost of HSR does not justify its limited ridership and limited impact on auto use.

    At the very least, we should have a standard rail line from LA to Las Vegas before we start planing a high-speed line that costs 30x as much and whose tickets are affordable to 1/10th the ridership.

  29. OINKER says:

    Mark,

    I could not agree with you more. Upgrade/rehab existing tracks to allow passenger trains to travel over them at non-HSR speeds is far less costly and will impact many more people than any HSR Pork Train proposal. With the money left over, allocate those funds to mass transit projects that make sense and improve mobility within metropolitan areas.

  30. James says:

    First, I really enjoy this blog and feel you have a great perspective on the issues and challenges facing the smaller Midwestern cities. I thought I would post my thoughts since I spent the first 21 years of my life in Illinois and Indiana and have now lived in Boston for 8 years.

    I must say, I agree with Glaeser for the most part, and do not think it “east coast elitism” to do so.

    A few points I would make:
    1. While Chicago certainly has the density / walk-ability to support large investment in HSR, none of the cities it would connect with does. To me, this is the most important point. The Cushman-Wakefield report you link to includes only the CBD, which in Boston excludes office space in very close in cities such as Cambridge, which is less than a mile from the core of downtown and has an additional 17.5 million square foot of office / lab space (Cambridge alone has 40% more office space than the entire CBD of my hometown, Indianapolis). http://www.us.am.joneslanglasalle.com/ResearchLevel1/Q209GreaterBostonofficestatistics.pdfHSR from Boston would travel to cities such as New York, Philly, and DC, which also have train stations at the core of their business and residential districts, serving millions of people each.

    2. On a related note, the train stations in Boston, NYC, DC, Philly, etc. are generally located within walking distance of at least hundreds of thousands (more like millions) of middle and upper income people who are the people most likely to pay to use HSR. For example, the Acela serves South Station and Back Bay Station in Boston. Probably 100,000 wealthy residents live within a 10 minute walk of these two stations. Another couple hundred thousand live within a 10 minute subway ride. Contrast this to Indianapolis or St. Louis – most people would probably have to drive 15-30 minutes to a huge parking structure and park to board the train, right? May as well drive all the way or drive to the airport.

    3. Many of the things that make cities like Indianapolis attractive to families (little traffic, cheap parking, easy access to airports) work against high speed rail and in favor of driving or flying. Let’s use Boston and Indianapolis again since those are the two cities I know best. Driving to the airport in Indy is cheap and easy, once you get there, parking is cheap and easy. Similarly if you live in Chicago and have a business trip in Indy, I would drive. Chances are your business won’t be downtown as it would be in Boston or NYC, and even if it is, parking borders on being free in downtown Indy. In Boston, there are hourly shuttles (737s) from Logan to NYC that take less than an hour, but many people pay more to take the Acela even though it takes 3 hours because it is so much more easier, cheaper (parking) and less stressful to get to the train stations than to Logan or JFK, even though Logan is one mile from the CBD. Parking in downtown Boston costs about $40 a day and parking at Logan is $36 for a day, plus almost $10 in tolls to get there. I would take the Acela any day. In Indy, if I had the choice, I would drive or fly even if HSR were an option. In short, driving is generally cheap and stress free in any city that would link to Chicago, while it is very expensive and stressful in the NE.

    4. One line serves the entire Northeast Cooridor (Boston-Providence-Hartford-NYC-Philly-DC), while a Midwest line would look more like a spoke and require a lot more miles to serve more than two cities.

    5. When discussing HSR in the Midwest, people necessarily focus on cities like Indy or St. Louis, but leave out similarly sized cities in the NE (e.g. Providence, RI and Hartford, CT) that Acela serves.

  31. The Urbanophile says:

    James, thanks for the comment and kind words.

    I certainly don't think the high speed rail case is a slam dunk.

    I do think Glaeser's use of a ten mile radius in Boston is specious. I suspect that not only does it capture urban Cambridge, but also outright suburban business centers.

  32. James says:

    I agree the 10 mile thing is not the best measure, but I was actually referring to the 59 million square ft you referred to in the Cushman report, which is the same 58 million referred to in the Jones Lang report I posted (CBD) and does not include Cambridge. Our inner belt (route 128) is 12-15 miles outside Boston, has about 60 million additional square feet of space and is extensively served by rail. In fact, even the Acela Express to NYC stops in Westwoood at the Route 128 station.

    http://www.us.am.joneslanglasalle.com/ResearchLevel1/Q209GreaterBostonofficestatistics.pdf

  33. Alon Levy says:

    James, the Route 128 stop connects to no transit and is unwalkable. It's a glorified park and ride, and together with New London should be the first station to be skipped by truly high-speed Acelas.

  34. OINKER says:

    Alon – the Westwood stop:
    50 University Avenue
    Westwood, MA 02090

    @ 128 does indeed provide very walkable access to Acela/Transit.

    Are you suggesting that the Pork Train needs a Pork Station to also be built?

    OINK OINK OINK

  35. Robert Munson says:

    I wanted to make sure that you and your readers had this article from John McCarron on HSR.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi-oped0727mccarronjul27,0,4748777.story

  36. OINKER says:

    Thanks Robert Munson and John McCarron….my points exactly.

    HSR = Massive Pork Train

    OINK OINK OINK

  37. gate valves says:

    nice article! great post!

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