Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Future of High Speed Rail for Selfish Cities

my train to Milano stopped in BolognaThe Raleigh Department of City Planning hosts a lecture series called "Designing a 21st Century City" every few months. I went to my second lecture presentation last week where John Robert Smith (former Mayor of Meridian, MS and member of Amtrak's board) and James Corless (Director of Transportation for America) spoke about the future of high speed rail in the US and how it will affect our own growing city.

There was a typical talk about how the national transportation policy hasn't changed in over 50 years, how we could have raised enough money for rail transportation just by stockpiling the increase in gas prices or by taxing gas a few extra cents, how Americans are choosing to take public transportation more than ever because of the fuel hike, how the environment and political climate are suffering from the continued use of automobiles. Most people in the field already know all this. None of this is news. But we have a chance to really make high speed rail and light rail in our region a reality with the availability of new federal funds... but there's a catch. OH there is always a catch! They're only awarding transit funds to those states/regions that have their shit together. That means Raleigh will never get transit funds unless the rest of the region has a plan and only if each city in the region works together to create a unified plan.

My biggest fear is that we won't let go of our stubborn inability to compromise and will be left in the dust without any prize money to take home. The Triangle region is known for a lot of things including long-standing university rivalries between NC State (Raleigh), UNC-Chapel Hill, and Duke (Durham), but loving one another is not one of them. Raleigh thinks they're better than Durham and Chapel Hill thinks they're better than Durham & Raleigh and Durham just ignores the rest of the region hoping they don't slip away. I just want to tell all of our fair cities to stop the rivalries and start working together. And then when Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill start working together we can start collaborating with the rest of our region from Greensboro to Charlotte and back to Richmond.

The dream of taking a 110mph high speed rail train from Raleigh to DC is really just too exciting NOT to stop fighting. Don't worry Raleigh, we can still be unique and play nice.

UPDATE(01/28/2010!!): The feds awarded $545 Million to North Carolina today for high speed rail between Charlotte, Raleigh and Richmond. Keep it up! Story here: http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/6903052/ 

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