Getting Real About High-Speed Rail

Today on the Streetsblog Network, member blog Worldchanging has an interview on the future of American transportation with Nancy Kete, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute and the managing director of EMBARQ, the WRI’s Center for Transport and the Environment.

215183857_0c736d4f20_m.jpgA bullet train is not necessarily a silver bullet. Photo by rikdom via Flickr.

Kete, who says the US needs to be emitting 80 percent less CO2 by 2050, "at the minimum," cautions against seeing a nationwide high-speed rail network as a quick fix to our carbon problems. In an interview with Worldchanging’s Sarah Kuck, Kete says changing the nation’s intercity travel patterns is going to take careful planning — and a more realistic public view of the true cost of driving. She had this advice for the Obama Administration:

[S]tart with the corridors where there is a certain density, and a high demand for something other than driving and flying. Prove out the concept with truly high speed rail, and then as people see the benefit of it, the demand for it in other places might increase.

In addition, we have to think about tolls and higher fuel taxes
to discourage driving on the same corridors that have a lot of congestion on the road so that you drive people appropriately to the transit option. And then the third thing is, the U.S. has a growing population. You want to make sure that growth occurs along these corridors so that you have more density and more riders. Not just to get the riders, but so that you have your infrastructure and your
demand in the same place because that’s the only thing that will make it cost effective and carbon efficient.

Most people don’t know how much it costs them to drive their own car. We have these externalized costs associated with owning the car, which we don’t pay every time we drive, so once we own a car and we’ve paid those costs, we only see the fuel costs… If we made it clearer, like with pay-as-you-drive insurance, and with fuel prices that more accurately reflected the cost of building and maintaining the road system and protecting the fuel supply, which is related to keeping peace in the Middle East and
keeping our access to a steady supply of oil and all the environmental costs… if the driver paid all those every time he/she filled the tank, we would be paying much higher costs all the time and would make
different decisions about how much we drove our cars.

Other things to think about from around the network: The Dirt looks at the possibility that cities of the future will generate more power than they consume. Scaledown asks if Windsor, Canada will be the new Easter Island. And DC Bicycle Transportation Examiner has Chuck Schumer’s word on it: Not only is Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor "a very human person," she’s also a cyclist.

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