Hi, and Daimajin, thanks for the welcome! I was just in Paris a few weeks ago, and I wanted to share a couple of photos of what it looks like when government investment in transportation is more sane – when there’s more than one technology getting dollars, instead of a monopoly. This first shot is one of the trains that runs east from Paris – the TGV Est line that opened this June. This train took me to Strasbourg (nonstop) at a maximum speed of 320kph – or 200mph, the fastest passenger rail service in the world right now. Interestingly, it would have taken more time to fly, because the train station is in the city, and the airport would have required local transportation on both ends.This second shot is of the German ICE train – also high speed, also operating from Paris, this train likely went to either Frankfurt or Munich. This particular service also just started running in the last couple of months (although both of these train designs are a few years old):
What’s crazy, to me, is that the common arguments against this kind of investment don’t hold up under pressure. We don’t have the density? That’s not true – except for Paris itself, the TGV Est serves cities smaller than Seattle, Portland or Vancouver BC, in a similarly sized corridor, with nonstop service. We don’t have the money? Also untrue, we spend vastly more on our roads in this region than we would need to for this kind of rail service – and it isn’t subject to congestion like our highways.

I’m not suggesting we should stop spending on roads entirely – but I do want to point out that the largest highways in France are generally six lane. They don’t have to spend the billions we do on highway infrastructure that doesn’t really scale up – a 14 lane highway doesn’t move people any faster than a 6 lane highway, and they know that. The best way to move more people is to make sure they have more options, to split transportation investment rather than just letting our highway costs snowball ever higher. That’s what Roads and Transit starts to do this year – build us infrastructure that doesn’t cost more and more to expand over time, and that lasts instead of needing constant upgrades and replacement. That’s what the rest of the world has done, and they’re not seeing messes like our SR-99 and SR-520 now. The best time to stop making future messes for ourselves is now – and building a comprehensive rail system is the best way to avoid the problems that come with only having one transportation option.

11 Replies to “Sanity in transportation investment:”

  1. They also tax the hell out of their gasoline, have higher barriers to entry for drivers (licensing, test-taking, min. 18 years old driving age), higher insurance costs, and other “social engineering” to move people to other options.

  2. And a vastly more productive society
    (GDP per hour worked), better education, longer life spans, less obesity, better education, more vacation time, better food, etc.

    But we we have Hummers, Nascar and a crumbling empire.

    America, Fuck yeah!

  3. Europe does engage in some “social engineering” in their high taxes on gasoline, but part of that tax represents some of the real cost of driving. In the US, we subsidize driving. A completely neutral but financially balanced gas tax rate would be somewhere between what we pay here and what they pay over there.

    Japan also has fairly high gas taxes, but does not actually need to subsidize transit operations, which are covered by fares (though not construction costs).

    I think another argument for a saner, more balanced policiy towards transportation might be that we’d ultimately spend less public funds on transportation altogether.

  4. Please, let’s keep it civil.

    I think
    this is an interesting take on the US-Europe divide:

    “For the past three weeks I’ve stayed and traveled in southern Germany (Swabia, between the Black Forest and Bavaria), Switzerland (the central region, around Lucern), and western Austria … In these parts of central Europe (all German speaking), I have been mightily impressed – as ever – by the strength of communal bonds, the presence of local cultures and distinctions, the persistence of tradition and memory, a culture that saves (in every sense), and a strong ethic of work aimed at preserving a high degree of independence. … This impression – admittedly somewhat biased by the particular areas where I’ve been staying – does not easily fit with the predominant American Left-Right views of Europe, both of which respectively praise or condemn “Europe” for its progressiveness. …According to the Right wing narrative, Europe is in the throes of cultural suicide, with its churches abandoned, its cradles empty, and incapable of dealing with the threat of internal Islamic domination given trajectories in the birth rate and the feebleness of the “multicultural” response. According to both narratives, Europe is largely … reducible to Amsterdam, Bruxelles and the Hague. … Indeed, the combination of local economies, nearby productive farmland outside every town, viable public transportation and widespread use of alternative energies points to a culture that has never abandoned sustainable communities in the way that America willfully and woefully has done over the past fifty years. You can also get some sense why there is even resentment here toward America’s wastefulness: the Europeans pay higher prices for everything in an effort to use less, and whatever “give” there is in the worldwide production of resources is a kind of unintended sacrificial gift that many Europeans are making so that America can continue its energy gluttony. That said, the last laugh will be theirs, I think, when our civilization corrodes with increasingly worthless suburban housing tracts, our incalculable debt, and our inability to finance the American way of life. … Here’s something funny: my German father-in-law – no friend of big government, and about as anti-60s one could find – describes this way of life (including the solar panels, etc.) as conservative. And what could be more conservative than the Swabian motto – “schafe, spare, Häusle baue” (work, save, build a house)?”

  5. And a vastly more productive society
    (GDP per hour worked), better education, longer life spans, less obesity, better education, more vacation time, better food, etc.

    coupled with birth rates ranging from 1.2 to 1.5. Eurabia, here we come

  6. I have heard such arguments for a line like this for example from Seattle to Portland would have an impact on the Environment as the line reaches certain corridors along I-5 that are sensitive. I am pro-transit obviously, but I would be interested in the cost of building such a line, I know that via Overhead Wire they are talking about one from SF to LA and San Diego. I think if it costs us so much to get a tiny (by most other comparable lines) light rail system, this has to have similar roadblocks if not more. Roadblocks like water, hills, valleys, etc. I would be interested though! Lets see if Prop 1 passes. Until then it is a nice dream. I just don’t think the country is progressive enough, let alone the Pacific Northwest.

  7. Nick, it’ll happen eventually because we can’t afford to replace our highway infrastructure at its current capacities – but projects like this last hundreds of years.

  8. Both sides of the ‘social engineering’ debate are operating on the assumption that that there is some ‘natural’ price of gasoline that is free from government interference. That is quite simply not true. Subsidizing auto travel, taxing it heavily, and ‘leaving’ it to the market, are all government decisions. Even ‘leaving’ it to the market requires the government to make up its mind to do so and the very existence of a market requires the government.

    Instead of worrying what is natural and what is not, we should think about what kind of transportation system we want, how we are going to pay for it and then tax or subsidize whatever modes however much we want (and is feasible).

  9. Dave, we can’t “choose” what kind of transportation system we want. We need more than one system.

    And yeah, actually, what’s “natural” really does matter. Before federal highway investment started in 1916, we had a robust system that could handle shifts in fuel prices because more than one mode of travel competed with each other!

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