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- July 28, 2010BY EMILY EHLERS
As California lays the high-speed rail groundwork, SPUR continues its series on international precedents. While France built high-speed rail two decades after Japan and within a different state apparatus, the system had remarkably similar results: growth and concentration. France teaches us that a state investment in high-speed rail (HSR) can have major impacts on places that are isolated and suffering from lagging economic performance. The examples of Lille, an old industrial and mining center in northern France, and Nantes, south of Paris, are often cited as success stories.
Euralille [Photo Credit: flickr user savourama]
Lille is an important crossroads in the European HSR network with service to London, Paris and Brussels. Once a quickly depopulating and gritty industrial city, Lille has diversified into knowledge-intensive, service-producing activities. Euralille, the new retail, business and conference center designed by Dutch powerhouse architect, Rem Koolhaas and OMA, is illustrative of the makeover. Euralille straddles Lille's two main railway stations. A standalone city, it houses productive facilities as well as affordable housing. In 1994, Architectural Review dubbed Euralille the "Instant City."
Equally unrecognizable change has befallen Nantes. An industrial port city in the 19th century, in the past 30 years Nantes has developed into a major service sector hug. In 2004, Time magazine named Nantes "the most livable city in all of Europe." The TGV, France's high speed rail network, came to Nantes concurrently in 1981.
The success of the TGV cannot be separated from France's institutional and planning framework. The determination and capacity of a strong French state was instrumental. The nation owns and provides operational subsidies to SNCF, the HSR operator.
[Photo Credit: flickr user Julka2009]
However, this is not to say that localities have no role in high speed rail. In recent years, local government has played a more important role in France. Vis-Ã -vis joint development agreements and direct development subsidies, French localities have exerted pressure to densify around TGV stations. Cities also set the purchase price of land and assemble properties to facilitate development. Lille approached station area development with public private partnerships in mind. Part of the key to Nantes' and Lille's success is the not insignificant recent investment in transit feeder networks that connect high speed rail with outlying areas. Not including Paris, there are 20 light rail systems in France, most built after HSR. Of these 20 systems, 18 are in cities with HSR service. At least in France, the concentration of travel demand thanks to high speed rail and the urban location of most stations have generated a consequent demand for feeder transit, with the usual array of environmental and land use benefits.
All told, the public sector bet that HSR investment would be sufficient to catalyze urban growth and induce private investments. They were right.
- HSR in France is largely a product of the government's building, operating, maintaining the network.
- Local planning and development incentives can play a huge role in sparking station area development.
- HSR can transform decaying cities into the most livable in Europe.
- HSR ridership increases with robust feeder transit.
In the coming weeks, we'll look at "HSR" in the United States and United Kingdom drawing conclusions about what it all means in the California context.
SPUR's policy paper on high-speed rail is due out this fall.
- July 9, 2010BY EMILY EHLERS
This Week: JAPAN
For evident selfish reasons, I like to tout the Golden State as the breeding ground for innovation. And as California attempts to build the first high-speed rail (HSR) network in the country, it's tempting to consider ourselves warriors heralding in a new day for transportation. Really, though, HSR has been successful for decades in Asia and Europe. Nations from South Africa to South Korea are doing precisely what California hopes to achieve.
Scheduled to break ground in two years, HSR in California is the single largest infrastructure investment since the days of Eisenhower's superhighways. HSR will transform the space-time dynamic, seamlessly connecting cities across the state. It presents enormous opportunities for economic development, mass transportation and transit-oriented development. On the flip side, the environmental, economic and social costs of screwing up high speed rail are equally great. To facilitate the former, it is imperative to analyze the experiences and operational context of our HSR predecessors abroad—which I'll conveniently take up in this blog series.
Let's start at the beginning: Japan
[Photo Credit: flickr user jamesjustin]
The case of Japan is particularly relevant to California because it simultaneously articulates the best and worst effects of HSR. Plus, even though Japan developed the world's first system in 1964, its system remains iconic. The sleek efficiency and glamour of the Shinkansen train streaming past at 200 mph is hard to deny.
Practically from the onset, HSR in Japan has turned a profit, repaying initial construction costs in just seven years. Acknowledging the transformative economic and social potential of HSR, the government-owned Japan National Railways (JNR) addressed both operational efficiency and development around the station. JNR operated all rail transportation in Japan, integrating local and regional transit with the Shinkansen HSR, which made transit more convenient and accessible. On the development front, in the wake of the Shinkansen, many station areas grew into active, high-density office and residential spaces. However, it's difficult to tell how much of this growth would have occurred anyway. HSR may have simply redistributed growth around the station.
The system certainly redistributed and concentrated growth within urban areas, but it had some of the most profound—if harried—effects on more rural areas. Inherently, HSR's speed and convenience has the potential to expose previously remote locations to development, mobility and job markets. And in Gifu, the new transportation system stymied economic development for decades.
[Photo Credit: flickr user kamoda]
When a new Shinkansen station was announced in 1964, speculation led to high land costs that quashed developers in the area. Without a strong link to Gifu, the station area for decades remained low density, and the viability of the Shinkansen station continued to rely on large customer parking lots. However, things have changed. Since 2007, just north of Gifu Station today stands a 43-story high-rise residential and office tower, the tallest building in the prefecture. In fact, recent construction centers on Gifu Station.
After twenty years as a national railway company engaged in both operations and station area development, the Japan Railways (JR) Group fragmented into seven regional, for-profit companies in 1987. These seven private entities have further diversified to incorporate—in addition to land development—hotel development, retail sales and tourism under their purview. The JR Group even has offices in Paris and New York to further promote tourist-use of the Shinkansen. The network continues to redefine itself.
Meanwhile, California grapples with alignment and ridership projections and local land use policies. So what can we learn from HSR in Japan?
- Planning is important for the coordination of station area economic development and operational efficiency
- Integrated regional transit and HSR is imperative to attract ridership
- Because HSR stands to transform rural areas the most, they warrant increased attention
In the coming weeks, we'll look at HSR in France and the United Kingdom, drawing conclusions about what it all means in the California context.
SPUR's policy paper on high speed rail is due out this fall.