Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Urban News Vol. 59

Quick status report on the state's railway investment award and a superior blog that recently caught my eye.

High-Speed Rail Plans for New York Take Shape
by Steve Orr, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Article Key Points:
  • Incremental steps to be taken to stretch 'high-speed' corridor between Albany and Niagara Falls
  • Design work to begin soon on 11-mile test track in Genesee and Monroe counties
  • 85 trains per day currently use CSX tracks between Buffalo and Rochester including 8 Amtrak trains
  • While New York sent in applications for 39 projects, only 7 were funded
  • 1 application was deemed incomplete, the largest one, intended to fund the entire corridor
  • State intends to build track record with $151M granted in this round of federal funding

This piece served as a nice status update as well as an elucidation to the widely reported news regarding the wholeness of the state's applications. My dose of irony for the week came in the sidebar:

"The stretch of track that New York state intends to build is roughly 20 miles east of the site, on the same railroad right-of-way, where a steam-driven locomotive dubbed the Empire State Express No. 999 became the first man-made conveyance to break the 100-mph barrier. The history-making run occurred west of Batavia in May 1893. No. 999 hit an unofficial top speed that day of 112 mph — faster than 21st century Amtrak trains will go on the new track."

This reminds me of J.H. Kunstler's popular lament that the state of the railroad system in this nation is such that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of it. The talk today of 'high-speed' rail is a large misrepresentation by Eurasian standards, but in a good way. We shouldn't encumber ourselves at this point with expensive lofty goals. Simply attempting to restore capacity and service to Pre-World War II levels represents a simply massive undertaking due to our wholesale rejection of the transit mode through policy, taxation, and direct action over the last 60 years.

Yesterday I came across a blog that combines planning and architectural expertise with the best humanist common-sense aspects of avowed urbanists. Howard Decker, former curator of the National Building Museum, has made Rochester home for the past 3 months and is diving headlong into our history. His blog, titled 'A Town Square' looks at heady proposals for shaping the city such as the Olmsted/Brummer Plan of 1911 (some good ideas), the Bartholomew Plan of 1929 (which sowed the seeds of our intractable disgraces), and platting decisions made by Nathaniel Rochester in 1811. His two most recent posts represent the most coherent and eloquent Rochester-specific urban social commentary that I've seen on the internet. Much less condescending than this scattershot, Decker's works, some of which he has compiled into a volume entitled, "The Next City: Shaping a Useable Future," will be linked in the friends of the M.U.C. sidebar henceforth.


Howard Decker said...

Thanks, Bob. I'm quite flattered. said...

Good HSR update. I raised an eyebrow when I read that grade separation between the tracks and street crossings are only required beyond speeds of 125mph. Not sure when that rule was established but I can see that being a public sticking point. Maybe not during this phase of the project. But wait until tracks are ready to run thru towns like Fairport.