Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008 at 6:31 pm in Altamont Commuter Express, Amtrak, BART, Bicycling, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), connectivity, driving, Environment, fuel, Funding, global warming, high-speed rail, rail, Transit vs. driving.
Ok, if a black man can be nominated for president, maybe California can build high-speed rail.
It’s starting to look like the wind is behind this thing, what with college students campaigning for it all over the state from now until November, when voters will have to decide whether they like the $10 billion bullet train bond measure or not.
I’m still waiting to see what sort of borrowing plan Sacramento will cook up to get us through the current budget crunch. I get the sense, however, that even that won’t stop the bullet train measure from going before voters.
Tomorrow between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., students on UC Berkeley’s famous Sproul Plaza will be riding tricycles, jumping on pogo sticks and walking on stilts while wearing “I’d rather be riding high-speed rail” t-shirts.
These students, sold on the idea that the bullet train is public transportation’s answer to the Prius and a major way of fighting global warming, have been pulling off stunts like this up and down the state. While the students’ enthusiasm at first blush might evoke comparisons to Barack Obama’s youthful appeal, I see it a bit differently.
The presidential parallel I see in the bullet train’s renaissance resides in John McCain’s candidacy. Obama, after all, is a fresh face, a new hope, if you will. Like John McCain, high-speed rail is an idea that became popular in the past, then faded from the public’s imagination as we all got on with our miserable, gas-guzzling lives.
Now this rather old idea, which came of age during the Vietnam War on foreign soil, is suddenly and unexpectedly on the ballot for real this time.
The timing couldn’t be better. In the past, high-speed rail seemed like a passing fancy, a groovy idea but not too compatible with a 90-cent-a-gallon gas, 1974 Chevy Impala-driving society.
Since then, we’ve been on the roller-coaster of oil crises, economy cars, cheap gas and my-4-by-4′s-bigger-than-yours.
Today we live in a world where Iran has gasoline riots, where the law of supply-and-demand has finally kicked in at California gas-n-gos and a lot of us know people who face death daily trying to keep one of our major oil suppliers from falling to pieces.
And a growing number of Californians are almost literally warming to the idea that an investment of tens of billions of dollars might be justified to make a major stab at carbon emissions from the millions of vehicles that sputter up and down I-5 and U.S. 101 between two of America’s megaregions.
This year my house was picked for the Census Bureau’s annual Community Survey, in which a large sampling of the populace is asked a host of demographic questions which are then extrapolated into data representing the population as a whole.
This year’s theme seems to be commuting distances. I was asked where I start and finish and how many minutes I commute. I had to think about this one, because last week, as you may have read, I ended up driving when I didn’t want to because my NOT high-speed train got stuck behind a freight train for two hours plus.
It asked the mode used last week that covered the most distance, so I had to say train, because an aggregate of three out of five days were train commutes.
I also had to do some soul searching to report the minutes of my typical commute. I wanted to say two hours, as I normally tell people. But that’s really just the normal train trip. From the time I leave my house to the time I arrive at work is really closer to 2:20.
I’m not going to belabor my reasons for living way out in the Central Valley, other than I did it for love. But I am where I am, and that puts me on one of those pogo sticks, from a couple of perspectives, wearing one of those HSR t-shirts.
But I don’t think it’s just me that pines for an alternative to driving-as-usual. The entire nation is talking about high speed rail. There are communities in Arkansas lobbying for Texas’ high-speed rail to come on by. It seems like every state with a major city has some sort of effort in the works, to say nothing of other nations, such as Morocco and India.
The problem is that this isn’t China, where leaders can get up in the morning, rub their eyes and decide to spend billions on maglev. This isn’t socialist-leaning Europe, where citizens are used to giving up half their incomes to taxes and government spending involves a bit more wiggle room.
But this is the land of fearless indebtedness, so we may well plunk down our collective Visa card and take this baby for a spin in 2020 or so.