Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Here comes the train; get out of the way

"It is impossible to address the broad crisis facing California without affecting some preexisting plan in some way. Whether it's the transmission lines needed to carry power to cities from a solar plant in the Mojave Desert or the Carrizo Plain or whether it's building a light rail line next to an LA high school or something else entirely, solutions to the economic, environmental, and energy crisis aren't being built on a blank slate. We have to implement them within the built and the natural environment we have, and that means when we want to build high speed rail, it may mean other plans have to be shifted to accommodate it."

Here's the crux of the problem. Whether it's stated in Cruickshank's blog, or in the minds of CHSRA or Caltrain, if we want a high-speed train, other plans, conditions, and facts on the ground must give way. Presumably, regardless of how destructive this train will be, it's purposes are pre-eminent and supercede all other concerns. It's what Diridon meant when he said, "we will overrun you." Well, that's clear enough and posits the entire situation as an either/or set of conditions. All accommodations rest with us, not with the train. And, this is what we have been saying in these emails for years. That is why negotiation with the rail authority, the good intentions of many among us, will be fruitless.

It is also why our task to stop the rail tsunami is so challenging. The HSR has been sold to California as the panacea for all our problems and troubles, like unemployment, the environment, congested highways and airways, and, of course the deficits in our economy. Therefore building it must come at any cost, we are told. It is why Supervisor Sue Lempert once urged the Menlo Park City Council to understand all the sacrifices we few individuals should make "for the sake of the greater good." It is the basis for the voters-passed-the-bond-issue argument, regardless of their lack of awareness of what they were voting for.

Cruickshank's conversation eventually has to come around to us and the use of his favorite word, NIMBY.

"In this way they're not so different from the Peninsula NIMBYs, who seem to prefer a permanent 1975, even at the expense of Caltrain's survival. They're all motivated by a belief that trains bring blight, that trains are not a part of a desirable community. That is a belief unique to the late 20th century, but that belief runs deep. [actually, I would settle for a permanent 2009]

Nobody is yet articulating a truly 21st century vision: one where sustainable land use and transportation, including high speed rail, produces cleaner and quieter communities, bringing economic security for the many and protecting everyone from the looming catastrophes our dependence on oil is about to produce."

Why is it not yet clear that "sustainable land use" is unsustainable? It's part of the sales rhetoric and hype of the developers, along with 'smart growth' and 'vibrant, livable urban environments.'

Cruickshank argues the remarkable and paradoxical, 'more is less' position; that is, more construction, more concrete and steel and more development, is quieter and cleaner. I find the calling of the high-speed train 'green' an oxymoron. To me, 'green' is literally natural and green, like trees and grass. To call one of the largest construction projects California has ever experienced, 'green,' is an affront to logic and common sense. To say that, well, it's more green than this or that, is hairsplitting. Green buildings are not green, they are buildings. Building them is not green. They consume land, which is then not green. Manufacturing all the required materials, whether it's for a building or a train, is not green. We are being sold a false bill of goods! And, Mr. Cruickshank, that belief is not unique to the 20th century. You will hear quite a bit more of it in this, the 21st century.

The final insult to our intelligence comes from this statement: "High speed rail will function as an "organic machine" in California. " 'Organic machine' is like 'wildlife management.'

However, here's an interesting twist of attitude from Cruickshank. Although we are still his NIMBY enemies, some of us, those who support tunneling, are a part of the California future that he sees providing benefits for all of us:

"Ultimately what all this shows is that in building HSR, we aren't battling "NIMBYs." We're battling an obsolete model of California. The key dividing line is whether people see a train as a valuable part of the future, or an unwanted relic of the past. Palo Alto residents who design tunnels for HSR are embracing the possibilities of HSR, whereas those who sue to kill the project just don't seem to want trains around at all - including Caltrain, which their HSR denial is putting in jeopardy."

I'm in favor of a tunnel, but only if we can't stop the train on the Peninsula. And, I'm a Menlo Park resident that doesn't "embrace the possibilities of HSR," by which I mean, specifically this California high-speed train. Ah, well, Robert, it's your blog; you can say whatever you wish. Your basic premise is that the California past is obsolete and undesirable, and that the future of California is embedded in the high-speed train. I respectfully disagree with both parts of that premise.


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