The New Train Hold-up

Authentic frontier gibberish leadership:

In his State of the Union address this year, the president called for building high-speed rail, and backed up his words with $8 billion in stimulus money, distributed to various states, for rail projects.

But Republican candidates for governor in some of the states that won the biggest stimulus rail awards are reaching for the emergency brake.

In Wisconsin, which got more than $810 million in federal stimulus money to build a train line between Milwaukee and Madison, Scott Walker, the Milwaukee County executive and Republican candidate for governor, has made his opposition to the project central to his campaign.

Makes you proud to be a North American. Among many, one question is whether some non-trivial number of voters already believe this is the way to go or are these guys – and these are mostly guys – able to convince them. I mean, what’s the appeal of thumbing your nose at hundreds of millions of dollars coming to your state for infrastructure upgrades and expanded capabilities also known as huge quality of life improvements? Sure, running against the black socialist president might poll well, but c’mon man. A huge country full of big cities connected only by interstates and airports. How far does resentment toward fancy European transportation systems actually take you? Maybe the real question is, how long does it take to get there?


In another dimension:

For decades, three hours has been seen as the magic number, the journey time at which train travel becomes faster than flying on a centre-to-centre basis. But with stricter and more time-consuming airport security, plus frequent air traffic delays, that magic three hours is stretching. So much so, that Guillaume Pepy, CEO of SNCF (French national railways) has stated that this three hours has become four or perhaps five.

He cites Paris-Perpignan, where SNCF’s high-speed TGV takes five hours, yet where rail has captured 50% of the market.

It’s not only journey time that’s important. European high-speed trains typically achieve punctuality of 90-95% on time or within 15 minutes, whereas European airlines struggle to reach 63-68%. And with WiFi and power sockets for laptops, a train journey is often more productive.

The point in the first graph is one that anyone who flies understands all too well: as flying becomes slower, rail becomes faster.

Aren’t you glad that, as opposed to worrying about things like high speed rail service between, say, Charlotte and Chicago, your government keeps dicking around with whether rich people deserve permanent tax cuts, or even more importantly, ways to keep Muslim community centers out of Manhattan? Manhattan?

Makes you wonder about what qualifies as a pre-existing condition. Ah, freedom.

As seen on Atrios.

Truly Rapid Transit


While our friends on the right keeping yelling about how backwards, unsafe and unfreedom it is to not sit in your car alone and imbibe talk radio, our friends on the Right Bank are doing something other than idling on the way to work.

Yet the Réseau Primaire de Transport du Grand Paris (primary transport network of greater Paris) may be coming to life. This week, the government opened public debate on the project, revealing the extensive studies it has completed on potential alignments for the rail corridors, including proposed station sites. And the Sarkozy Administration has committed to €4 billion to the Société du Grand Paris, the semi-autonomous organization that will build the project and invest in eight major development sites that will have prime access to the network.

If the program is approved, the Société would take on 40 years of debt financing to sponsor the €21.4-23.5 cost, to be paid back mostly through deals made on real estate in station areas.

The project would encompass 155 km (96 miles) of new lines that would be added to the existing automated 5.5-mile Line 14 Metro that currently runs along a southeast-northwest route through Paris. Three routes would be offered: a 50 km Blue Line from Orly Airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport, via the existing Line 14; a 75 km Green Line from Orly Airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport, via the La Défense financial district west of Paris (with 21 km shared with the Blue Line); and a 60 km Red Line from La Défense to Le Bourget Airport, via the southern and eastern suburbs. Commute times for suburban residents hoping to reach destinations outside of Paris will be decreased significantly, with average train speeds a very respectable 40 mph thanks to few stations (give or take 40, depending on the final alignment chosen) and very high frequencies thanks to automation. At peak hours on some segments, trains will arrived every 85 seconds.

As Atrios points out, this project will cost about three months of Afghanistan, plus you get the trains at the end. And less dead people, at least theoretically.

And though that hurts, it’s not the real kicker. No, the further insult here is the constant badgering by the craven morons standing guard against this kind of progress. To hear mass transit constantly demonized in the U.S., one might think that the idea of not getting everywhere by private car represents the end of civilization as we know it. Well, you know what? It would! And not a moment too soon. Something’s got to change. But this is precisely where our confederate republican brethren have drawn the line – in calling this kind of change exactly what it is and opposing it for that very reason.

Maddening. But speaking of remaining calm in the face of staggering idiocy, the neighborhood around the Chatelet stop is a nice area.


So there’s this major, slow-motion environmental catastrophe underway, and we’re three weeks in. My parents are celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary – the family all pulled together and chipped in on a Caribbean cruise, for which they leave on Thursday. Now I wonder if they were going to see any evidence of the sheen getting into the loop current when they slip past the Keys. So there’s that.

It’s difficult to think of much else when something like this going on and, by all evidence, worsening by the day. But in terms of dismantling the system that got us here there’s actually plenty to talk about, think about and prepare for. But just thinking about it, how would we begin to lessen our dependence on deep-sea oil drilling? Maybe we think about pricing gasoline to reflect the true cost of taking it out of the ground, much less burning it. Maybe we try to discover how to use less oil on a per capita, per day basis. Well, how do you start down that road do that? Build more highways?

The umbrella group for America’s state DOTs, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, has started a major new push for, you guessed it, more highways. The new campaign argues for highway expansion in urban areas as if fifty years of similar policies hadn’t led to a dead end of sprawl, pollution, and oil dependence.

As described in an important post onMobilizing the Region by Ya-Ting Liu of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, AASHTO has released a series of reports and a new website making “the case for capacity.” The website is filled with friendly explanations of “what’s so great about an interstate” and promises that “urban interstates are the new ‘Main Street.'” As unbelievable as those claims must be to anyone living next door to the Bruckner Expressway or parked in traffic on the Cross-Bronx, AASHTO’s stated intention to massively expand the urban highway system is all too real.

Does this make sense? In a certain kind of way it would, if we were looking for further rationales to continue drilling for oil anywhere we could find it – because we need all we can find – and we need to fulfill the other side of this feedback loop. But we’re not. In fact, that’s not actually our problem at all. At the moment, our problem is finding a way to cap an out-of-control oil well a mile below the surface fifty miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, the result of an exploded rig that was built without the proper safety precautions envisioned for just such an incident. So you could say our problems are a little more acute than merely finding the budget to dispassionately build more highways, to grow, as it were. Oh the once-upon-a-time whimsy of such a luxury, right now.

This disaster is testing our resolve and ability to ignore it, and I truly hope our indifference carries the day. But after just a short while now, and it hasn’t really been that long, it seems like we’re beginning to fight something else, something taking the shape of an ocean-borne oil slick you might see during a once-in-a-lifetime vacation on a twelve-story cruise ship. At first it may appear to be out of place; but in the end, it has as much right to be there as you do.

Measures of Affluence

Is it how fat you are? Or how skinny? An iPhone or Samsung? Clothes, car, house… surely all of these. But like so many things, of course, it depends.

The consumption model flows from conspicuous to discreet, along a kind of progressive continuum, whereby once you achieve a certain stage or level of affluence and find momentary reprieve from keeping up, your benchmark then changes to reflect the new set of priorities of those directly above you. And the fun begins again.

So what if (!) other variables experienced a, um, shift, in their ability to reflect the wealth of their bearer? For example, let’s say that once upon a time only the rich could abandon the bustle of the city and afford lengthy commutes to far flung homes, to live out in the country and venture into town only on occasion. Even if they had to travel in everyday, this too was a sign of how much they could afford to spend on personal transportation. But then the dirty, dangerous city becomes more desirable for some reason, or life in the country less so (bears, Sasquatch) and a switch occurs wherein a long commute is suddenly a symbol of penury, while the short drive or the ability to even occasionally do without a car becomes IT among the fashionable set. Wow. That’s convoluted. You see what we’re up against. But is there another way to have get fancy trains and buses and trams and funiculars?

There’s no way to pull back on burning seas oil drilling without dramatically stepped-up conservation; and there’s no way, in this culture, to make conservation work without making it part and parcel of status and/or something people want. I guess we might at least look at this as something that can happen, however far-fetched it may seem.

Bike People

See… that sounded like an admonition, but you add a ‘for’ in there and it’s just a website.

Maybe in the same way that Republicans do things like pay $200 for a ticket to hear Sarah Palin speak not because they like her (yeah sure, even they aren’t that stupid), but because they know it pisses off liberals, maybe people will buy and ride bikes just because they know it will piss of conservatives.

Okay, I guess because we don’t derive joy in that way – or is it that we just get our kicks in other ways? – that won’t work. But you have to admit it is a kind of icing on a kind of cake.

True Stories

The term ‘exclusive,’when employed as anything other than a pejorative, has to double back on itself a time or two just to keep up. The theatrics can be dizzying.

The gated community in Hemet doesn’t seem like the best place for Eddie and Maria Lopez to raise their family anymore.

Vandals knocked out the streetlight in front of the Lopezes’ five-bedroom home and then took advantage of the darkness to try to steal a van. Cars are parked four deep in the driveway next door, where a handful of men rent rooms. And up and down their block of handsome single-family homes are padlocked doors, orange “no trespassing signs” and broken front windows.

It wasn’t what the Lopezes pictured when they agreed to pay $440,000 for their 5,000-square-foot house in 2006.

Okay, set the money aside for a second – I know; it’s difficult. What were these homeowners being promised?

The development promised a Tiffany neighborhood for what was then something closer to a Target price.

It’s mainstreaming the haute bourgeoisie, as if that was a thing we would want to do , or could do without consequences from Mother Universe. Come on, “brochures that coo”? But again, the whole thing is so stupidly incoherent, if I only blamed the gullible buyers it would legitimize the developers/lenders as some kind of Barnums who should be lauded. For the buyers, we have to admit that, circa, 2005, this was what the American dream looked like. The whole thing is a construct to separate you from your money, yes; but what happens when it works? We’ll have to admit: the rubes’R us.

Thanks to overbuilding, demographic changes and shifts in preferences, by 2030 there could be 25 million more suburban homes on large lots than are needed, said Arthur C. Nelson of the University of Utah. Nelson believes that as baby boomers age and as younger generations buy real estate, the population will abandon remote McMansions for smaller homes closer to shops, jobs and the other necessities of life.

Ya think? Now hear this: no where should property values ever be as high as even $200K for a quarter-acre lot (with a house!) if it is more than a ten minute-walk (on foot) to the bar, the post, at minimum ten restaurants, at least a hippie grocery store if not a carniceria and the bank. Does this mean people can only live in big cities? No, it does not.

Elitist happiness misers.

Fancy Train Trips

They should re-do the Ozzy tune with new lyrics and let it become a new bourgeois advertising sensation for the summer. Okay, maybe not. But this sure looks good, even if most of the trips are foreign and everything.


If you’re at all like me (and you probably are in some small ways) you probably don’t read the Book Review as often as you should (you know you don’t). As a corrective for us both, here’s a snip about Conover’s “Routes of Man”,

I especially recommend the book’s horrifying fourth chapter, “A War You Can Commute To,” which deals with the Israeli occupation’s interdiction and interruption of Palestinian travel, the retaliatory menaces to which Israeli checkpoint soldiers are subjected and their retaliations in turn upon Palestinian homes. I wish I had the space to consider Conover’s observations, and his reactions to them, with the complexity they deserve. Instead, I will have to settle for quoting from the caption of his aerial photograph of the 60 Road, which carries settlers between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, shooting straight and very high above the S-curves of the local road for Palestinians passing between its pillars: “In much of the West Bank, separate roads carry Israelis and Palestinians. . . . A series of concrete panels on the highway’s left side, near the top, serves to protect Israeli vehicles from projectiles.”

This is, of course, less to recommend the book than to say that educating yourself about its subject matter will never end. Just as it’s not enough to Green (v.t.) car dealerships, it’s not enough to just say that personal automobiles are an unsustainable blight and are going to go away. There’s actually quite a bit more to it than that, more humanity involved that just stopping or changing the ways we get around from place to place to place. Apparently not without its own shortcomings, this book highlights a few of those.

Plus, the reviewer gets an attaboy for quoting both Rem Koolhas and Eugene P. Odum, the father of modern ecology.