California's High-Speed Rail Should Learn from Europe
Cross-government agency oversight, central city stations, and comprehensive vision necessary to make most of new transit cross-government agency oversight, central city stations, and comprehensive vision necessary to make most of new transit system.
A new report from The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) argues that in order for high-speed rail (HSR) to deliver on its promise to drastically improve intrastate travel and boost local economies, California’s HSR project must be designed as the backbone of a comprehensive system beyond HSR route planning alone. It must also include simple, sustainable connections with local transportation and careful planning of each station and surrounding area.
In the report, Eric Eidlin, a community planner and 2013-14 Urban and Regional Policy fellow, highlights best practices in HSR development from Europe that can help inform planning efforts for California’s newest transit system.
“Cities across France and Germany demonstrate how HSR can be a powerful tool for strengthening cities and towns along HSR corridors in economic, social, and cultural terms,” says Eidlin. “With careful planning, the same can be achieved in California.”
While there are trade-offs between high traveling speeds and maximizing connections, Eidlin argues that the inherent urban design advantages of stations in the centers of cities will maximize the economic development and travel benefits of HSR in California.
With potentially 10 times the amount of jobs and economic activity on one-twelfth of the land an airport uses, Eidlin says, “HSR systems offer a lot of mobility for the land you give to it.” Applying the lessons from Germany and France and their varied approaches to HSR systems at this important juncture could save, and potentially earn, California billions of dollars in economic activity over time.
The report also highlights the environmental benefit of the rail system, which is estimated to prevent 3 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually and result in 4 billion fewer vehicle miles traveled on California’s highways in 2040.
Eidlin recommends that policymakers and implementers:
- Site HSR stations in central city locations wherever possible;
- Emphasize connections in dense urban areas, and prioritize speed in sparsely populated areas;
- Ensure seamless service coordination between local transit and intercity rail service;
- Form a cross-government agency entity with each service station;
- Prioritize land uses within station areas that will maximize ridership for HSR; and
- Identify and implement comprehensive plans for train stations’ non-transportation roles.
For more of the policy recommendations, the pros and cons of HSR, and key topics related to HSR station and station access, download the full report here.
Urban and Regional Policy Fellowships introduce policy leaders to innovative strategies and equip them with the information, tools, and connections necessary to implement them. Fellowships provide opportunities for practitioners at the urban and regional levels to meet with their counterparts across the Atlantic and examine policies that have been successfully implemented to address similar needs. Fellows travel for short-term (three to five weeks) research periods, with the goal of returning to their work equipped with the ideas and insights necessary to effect significant and lasting change in their own communities. Support for the fellowship is generously provided by the Bank of America Foundation and the Compagnia di San Paolo.
Eric Eidlin is a community planner and sustainability lead with the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Region 9 office in San Francisco, where he provides assistance on planning and environmental issues to several transit agencies throughout California. He has been involved in station area planning efforts in cities located along the future California HSR route. He was a 2013-14 Urban and Regional Policy Fellow. Prior to joining the FTA, he worked as an urban design consultant on transit-oriented development projects in the Bay Area and elsewhere in California. Eidlin holds a master’s degree in urban design from the University of Toronto and a master’s degree in city planning from the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1999-2000, Eidlin studied urban sociology at the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, as a Fulbright Scholar. In 2014, he was named one of the top 40 professionals under the age of 40 in the field of public transportation by Mass Transit Magazine.