Destination Centralization

It’s by now a commonplace that jobs are more centralized than residences, in terms of CBD concentration. But what I think is worse-known is that destinations in general are incredibly centralized, both across and within metro areas. In other words, people from out of town, especially out of country, are more likely to visit the more central metro regions, and within those regions are more likely to visit city center.

For good examples, take tourist travel to Britain and France, both conveniently capital-centric for this discussion. London has 15.6 million annual international visitors, slightly more than its metro area population; Paris has 9.7 million, slightly less than its metro area population. Most secondary cities in both Britain and France don’t even come close: the same ratio in Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham ranges from one quarter to one half, and in secondary French cities is even lower, down to one ninth for Marseille. (Nice and Monaco, a specialized tourist region, punch above their weight; so does Edinburgh.) You can peruse the numbers and see that the same observation is true in a number of countries with one well-known global city, excepting those with a different region specializing in tourism.

For business travel specifically, one look at the distribution of four- and five-star hotels in a country and a metro region will show similar centralization. For example, consider the New York hotels shown on Five Star Alliance. Counting separately listed hotels in Connecticut, there are 56 five-star hotels, of which 50 are in Manhattan (mostly in Midtown), four in Fairfield County, and one each in Hoboken and Huntington. On, there are 40 four-and-a-half- and five-star hotels; of those I can find information about 37, and of those 36 are in Manhattan and one is in White Plains. In Boston, Five Star Alliance shows 18 hotels, one in Cambridge and the rest in Back Bay and Downtown Boston; shows 11, all downtown or in Back Bay. In Philadelphia, Five Star Alliance shows 8 and 4 of which I can find information about 3, and in both cases all hotels are in Center City.

Let’s untangle what this means. Of course there’s a concentration of activity in Manhattan, Downtown Boston, and Center City. Just not that much. Manhattan has 22% of the jobs in Greater New York; it doesn’t have 50 in 56 jobs, or even 50 in 56 jobs that require commuting (it has 36% of jobs that involve out-of-county commuting).

I believe this boils down to a specialization of usages that attract visitors from far away. There is tourism in the Hamptons and the Jersey Shore, in the Poconos and the Hudson Highlands, in Vermont and Cape Cod. However, a huge fraction of it is local. I doubt anyone from California has ever visited the Northeast for the primary purpose of skiing in Vermont, unless it involved a corporate retreat with a lot of locals. The things that are special enough to attract people from far away are by definition uncommon. Moreover, unless those are obscure niches, they will be famous enough to have the resources to pay for prime location. They’ll cluster in the CBDs of the largest cities because everything else relevant to them is in the CBDs of the largest cities; the main factor that can break agglomeration economics, high cost, is less relevant to them.

It’s the same reason why CBDs so often host corporate headquarters, major law firms, and similar outfits. Once the cluster has been established, everyone wants to be in it, and as a result of competition, only the richest users, typically the ones with the most global networks (thus, most likely to bring in outside travelers), can afford it.

What this means for an intercity transportation network is that being located downtown has great value, even in very suburbanized metro areas. A station in the San Francisco CBD is more valuable than one in San Jose or Gilroy, and a station in Downtown Los Angeles is more valuable than one in the San Fernando Valley or Palmdale. The same is of course true of the intermediate cities, and this is why there’s a good reason to serve their downtowns rather than skirt them as the LGVs do. (Of course, there are other reasons – cost and noise – to not serve their downtowns. However, ignoring costs, the benefits are on the side of downtown stations, making a value engineering decision to avoid urban areas less obvious.)

This is one primary advantage of high-speed rail over flying: it gets you closer to your destination. To leverage that, operators make sure to locate their stations as close as practically possible to the CBD. In no place that I am aware of did HSR serve a city at a peripheral location, except when necessary for line geometry. Japan National Railways built Shin-Osaka because it was impossible for a through-line to get to Osaka Station above ground, and SNCF builds peripheral stations for small towns to avoid expensive urban construction; in neither case do trains pass by a CBD but stop elsewhere, and in both countries HSR builders make major effort when reasonably practical to serve city centers.


  1. Matthew

    When I was there, I made the mistake of thinking Shin-Osaka was closer to the city center than it is, which cut down my time in the city considerably, unfortunately. But it’s an understandable decision, from a geographic perspective, as the core of Osaka is on the wrong side of a river, for the purpose of through-service.

      • Matthew

        San Francisco doesn’t (yet) have high-speed rail service. But the Amtrak through-service is located in Oakland, not SF proper. The CAHSR will presumably terminate at TransBay, at great expense.

        • Wad

          With or without HSR, San Francisco is still thriving even though it can be accessed by land only from the south.

          If San Francisco were somehow bypassed by HSR in favor of San Jose or Oakland, it would not deactivate with all functions gravitating near the terminal station. Also, San Francisco is still the Bay Area’s No. 1 city when you factor in the population swell during the day on account of schools and jobs. Therefore, it still makes sense for it to be the tent pole even though it’s geographically constrained.

          • Matthew

            I don’t think anyone disputes this. What does this have to do with the Japanese value-engineering the Toukaidou Shinkansen?

          • Wad

            Matthew, it’s about finding the answer to connecting a city to a network when geography is an obstacle, as it was for Osaka and will be for San Francisco.

    • Andrew in Ezo

      Let’s not overplay the “remoteness” of Shin-Osaka- it is only a six minute train ride away from Osaka Station (you must have had really little time to see Osaka…), which itself is located in Umeda, which is the edge of the CBD, not the center. Shin-Osaka also hosts a station of the Midosuji Line subway, which runs centrally through Osaka, touching all the main nodes- Umeda, Yodoyabashi, Shinsaibashi, Nanba, and Tennoji.

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  3. John Schumann

    To serve US metro areas, HSR lines will need stations downtown (CBDs) as well as at nodes in surrounding areas. Witness the NEC:
    * Boston: South Station (CBD) + Back Bay and Route 128
    * New York: Penn Station (primary CBD) + Stamford, Newark (a satellite CBD), Metropark
    * Delaware Valley: Trenton, Philadelphia-30th Street (close to CBD), Wilmington (a satellite CBD)
    * Baltimore: Penn Station (close to CBD) + BWI Airport
    * Washington: New Carrollton, Washington Union Station (CBD)
    The busiest such corridors, like the NEC today, need to two levels of service: express (Acela Express) and stopping (NE Regional), though developmental corridors like the Capitol Corridor in CA do not yet have critical mass to support more than one service level. When completed, CAHSR will require operation of both express and stopping services to meet the needs of through Bay Area-Southern CA ridersa and thos travveling to, from and between intermediate cities.

  4. BruceMcF

    So would the complement to this is be entitled “Origin Dispersion”?

    First you need to have core downtown stations, or as close as possible, to get people where they want to go on their outbound trip. Then you need good recruiter stations to collect people for those trips and to take them back home on their return trip.

    The core downtown stations, if well connected to the transit into that core downtown, does double duty as a recruiter station for a catchment around that downtown.

    Then, you look at potential recruitment at other potential station locations, and include the ones that are worth their while as recruiter stations.

    • Alon Levy

      Kind of. Origins are more dispersed than destinations at all levels, but reading what some commentators think, it looks like they’re not considering the average amount of dispersion, but just the amount of dispersion at origins. In other words, the amount of dispersion of origins is exactly what people think it is, while the amount of dispersion of destinations is much smaller.

      The main issue with recruiter stations is that, by definition, origins are dispersed. With middle-of-favored-quarter exceptions like Stamford or California’s mid-Peninsula station (doing double duty as a destination, though PA tilts more toward destination and RWC more toward origin), it’s hard to come up with very good locations. The advantage of connecting transit is that it can collect people from multiple origins, and piggyback on the much larger volume of local trips to support acceptable frequency; the origin end is fortunately where people are less transfer-averse, so it’s not as big of a deal.

      • BruceMcF

        A different way to say “its very hard to come up with very good locations” is, “lots of locations will serve about as well.” Its less of an issue on the Northeast coast, since most plausible alignments have the center of some actual, factual city to go through at any reasonable HSR station spacing. but there really is not an overwhelming need to be in “downtown” Bakersfield, so if getting there costs too many minutes or dollars or both, then bypassing it, putting the station at the edge of town, and providing a local transport connection to the middle of town, seems quite reasonable.

  5. Andre Lot

    I’d not neglect the potential of greenfield stations to spur real TOD development around them, even as a way to pay parts of its costs. Imagine if the CAHSR run along I-5 (instead of the Central Valley) and two brand new, middle-of-nowhere cities oriented and centered around their respective high-speed stations were built (very high density around station, cheap light-rail to outer TOD suburbs etc).

    US can indulge in land uses Europe has no space for. And it has a tradition of brand-new semi-urban agglomerations.

    • Joseph E

      There’s no water in the west central valley, and no reason to build a city there. People want to live near the beach (for lifestyle reasons) or perhaps in the mountains, and they want to live near downtown SF and LA (for employment opportunity reasons), or at least near Sacramento, San Diego, Fresno or another existing big city. And there are tons of low-density areas around those cities, currently used for parking lots, low density industrial or commercial uses, or low density residential, but which already have the infrastructure to support much higher uses. Therefore, new development should happen close to the center of Los Angeles and San Francisco, or on transit corridors leading there. Zoning laws and regulations, plus subsidies for greenfield development, are the main thing holding this back and driving development toward the central valley.

      If you want to build a new, walkable, high-density city on HSRe, then work on transforming Redwood City, Sylmar or Norwalk, which could become better cities due to a HSR station within commute distance of the big cities.

      • Wad

        There is a very good case for transformation in the Central Valley. It’s in SoCal’s and the Bay Area’s interest to turn the Central Valley into another Orange County.

        And I mean that with a straight face.

        I don’t mean Orange County’s land use, although the Central Valley already looks like much of OC between the freeways and far from the train tracks. I mean Orange County’s economic profile. The OC of today happened because it happened to be in between two bigger, wealthier neighbors.

        It happened in stages. As L.A. and San Diego urbanized, Orange County was still an agricultural hinterland, much like Ventura County is right now. Later it suburbanized, where it sent residents to other urban centers to work. Much later, Orange County became urban, where most of its residents could stay within the county and even attract residents from other counties to work there.

        Here’s the Central Valley’s problem. It has Sun Belt demographics but coastal California’s costs. It can’t compete in either realm. It’s too far and too low-rent to compete qualitatively with coastal California. Worse, California as a high-cost state overall makes the Central Valley uncompetitive with other poor, fast-growing areas in the South and Southwest. It has natural advantages in agriculture, which is a raw supply and the lowest in the economic value chain. Supply regions keep areas poor (see Jacobs). Otherwise, the urban areas are basket cases.

        The agenda is, get the Central Valley to behave more like the coastal metro areas, and link them to L.A.’s and the Bay Area’s economic orbits. If there’s a way to bring Fresno and points north and south to the Bay Area and L.A. within an exurban commuting distance, and do it in a way no one else is doing it — like a train, but a really, really fast one — it would offer a way to stand out of the crowd.

    • Wad

      It’s not worth it.

      What should be done with the Central Valley cities along SR-99, since shifting HSR-centric development to I-5 will destroy these cities economically? The urban areas of what are still heavily agricultural counties still have 4 million people. And urban Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, Modesto and Stockton will not revert to wildlands on a quick timetable. They’ll stay urban, but as a large, spread-out housing project.

      You’d have to offset the investment in I-5 greenfields with efforts to either clear out the urban Central Valley in a massive population transfer, or transfer money continuously to prop up their basket case economies.

      • Nathanael

        Exactly. You don’t actually WANT to facilitate “New Cities” while bypassing existing ones; the existing ones don’t return to farmland or wilderness for a very, very long time, and even when they do, they’re “dirty”, low-quality farmland or wilderness. Once you’ve poisoned an area by building cities on it, you want to keep city activity there rather than poisoning more wilderness and farmland.

    • Alon Levy

      The US tradition of brand new agglomerations is really overrated, in the sense that there are very few cases of this happening, and those take decades to grow (for example, Las Vegas). It’s not easy to build a city from scratch, and I’m not aware of cities arising this way in the modern era from intercity infrastructure. The US of 2012 is not the US of 1850, where a new city with a good location on the railroad could grow; already in the 1950s and 60s, the Interstates helped direct development within metro areas by creating edge cities, favored existing cities with good location on the network, and moved the US away from the old Northern-centered core-periphery system, but nowhere that I can think of did they create new metro areas from scratch. Frankly, if you want new development it’s a better bet to serve the existing cities (or the edge of their urban areas, still much closer in than I-5).

      • Nathanael

        Of course, it’s clear that it’s *possible* to create new cities by concerted government effort. The UK examples (Milton Keynes?) are most obvious, but the US has built several from scratch at military bases.

        But the bigger point is, we don’t WANT to do that. “Pave the world” is not an environmentally sound strategy.

        • Nathanael

          And crucially, while it’s straightforward to make new cities, it’s practically impossible to get rid of old ones, even if you murder the population and salt the earth, which I don’t think we want to. There is still a city within walking distance of the location of Carthage.

        • Alon Levy

          Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Milton Keynes just a commuter town for London, i.e. again an example of development within metro areas?

          • Andre Lot

            But that was my point: creating two or three mega-edge cities just past the major mountain ridges near-ish each terminus of CAHSR (Bay Area and L.A.), which are currently an obstacle (despite the relatively fast highway links).

            These cities could be planned as “railway exurbs”, even with some dedicated high-speed service right to the core of each area, taking still probably less time than – for instance – a Caltrain ‘bullet’ service from Santa Clara to downtown San Francisco, or those lackluster metrolink services going to Palmdale. I’m thinking of “commuter rail on steroids” here.

            With a greenfield site, it wouldn’t take up much land to build 3 of these cities, planning them to house 300 – 400 thousand inhabitants each. You can even put a greenbelt around them to provide a “boundary” if you want to.

            This could help alleviate the constrained real estate market in San Francisco, providing a fast link with a satellite city where there wouldn’t be existing NIMBYs and the likes fighting over any more dense project. And that would make possible to leave the peninsula suburban character unchanged for most of it, easing fears of people in Menlo Park, Santa Clara etc.

            I didn’t mean new economically independent cities, but rather outlying satellites with fast connection. Considering both LA and SF have half-decent urban transportation systems, that could further provide a boon for these as people arriving from high-speed commuting trains would need some transit to reach their central destinations.

          • Alon Levy

            You know this better than me, but, don’t the examples in the Netherlands have multiple easy (fast/cheap) links to the existing centers? That is, roads with reasonable auto trip times, or transit with fares affordable to the middle class, and some way of getting to other nearby towns?

            I’m asking because those HSR cities on I-5 would only have HSR access, with a hefty fare because of the long distance and the expectation of operating profits. Initially there wouldn’t be any local economy, so everyone would have to take the trains, which isn’t a realistic expectation because of the fare. (In contrast, at least in the US, when they built the postwar suburbs, there were some reasonably close streetcar suburbs to shop in.)

            What can happen is that an existing small city could become larger and have higher property values because of HSR access. The one true middle-of-nowhere example with the Pacheco routing is Los Banos (there are none under Altamont), where a station is banned because the area is environmentally sensitive; the Sierra Club insisted on such a ban as a condition of supporting Pacheco. But Gilroy is small and could grow with HSR service, and so could the station areas in Fresno and Bakersfield.

          • Anon256

            It’s not clear to me that the HSR costs necessarily make such a development unattractive. The developer could subsidise fares/passes for residents, or the rent could just be low enough to offset the cost. Since rent in the existing urban areas is dominated by land and regulatory costs (rather than construction costs), the new exurbs might still offer lower total costs.

            The main problem I see with the proposal is that developments planned and built all at once tend to be hideous and unlivable. Milton Keynes is an archetypal example, and large planned developments in the US (both low and high density) are generally even worse.

          • Alon Levy

            In Japan you can trace exactly what’s a suburb of the big cities, because of how they define metro areas: 1.5% of the adult population needs to be commuting to a central city. (If you apply the same definition to the US, you usually reconstruct the CSA, with some exceptions, e.g. in Boston you can something much smaller.) And Mishima, the archetypal Shinkansen suburb, doesn’t quite make the cut as a suburb of Tokyo. The southwestern edge of the metro area is Atami, which also gets service on the legacy Tokaido Line.

            Now, admittedly, it’s not the best example, because Shinkansen fares are high. A monthly ticket from Mishima to Tokyo is ¥89,660. The TGV would be a better example because of its lower fares, but unfortunately France’s definition of metro area is more American – it’s based on a high commuting percentage to the entire contiguous urban area, rather than on a small percentage to a central city, and this makes it less likely to catch HSR suburbs.

          • Nathanael

            “The main problem I see with the proposal is that developments planned and built all at once tend to be hideous and unlivable. Milton Keynes is an archetypal example, and large planned developments in the US (both low and high density) are generally even worse.”

            In addition to the problem of the destruction of rural areas, I also agree with you on this. Another famous example of a city “planned and built all at once” is Brasilia, and boy oh boy did that not work out well — I am told they “forgot” to build housing for the workers who built the city. Even DC suffers from its “planned city” heritage, and it wasn’t actually very tightly planned or built all at once. (Actually, new capitals are the typical example of planned “new cities” throughout history; they often take centuries to start feeling like real cities.)

          • Wad

            @Andre, the Bay Area and Southern California have developments that you describe right now — Stockton, Modesto and Solano County for the former; Antelope Valley and the Victor Valley for the latter.

            Needless to say, they don’t quite work well.

            In the case of the Bay Area, the exurbanization of the San Joaquin Valley and Solano County happened because of strict low-growth policies in the counties around San Francisco. The low-growth policies didn’t stop sprawl, they just put it in a place where residents didn’t have to look at it.

            For a while, the formula seemed to be working. The San Joaquin Valley and Solano County could Kotkinize their local economies by papering over small-town poverty with rapid growth and suburbanization, and with the upshot of two distinct metropolitan areas — San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose and Sacramento.

            In Southern California, the Antelope and Victor valleys didn’t even have those advantages going for them. They’re largely overbuilt low-rent districts with a major flaw: the developers never knew about Marchetti’s Wall.

            The business case for these areas was “drive until you can afford it,” but they were imposing an exurban economy upon a poor small town. These areas are very isolated from the metropolitan area, yet are built with the expectation that most of its residents will commute and bring money back with them.

            Andre, in the cases of the San Joaquin and Antelope valleys, you already have development built in for the train. Now, you just add the trains. The sprawl and human settlement is already there. You also give these areas a comparative advantage they don’t have now: a link to a high-speed rail line.

            Right now, these areas have plenty of roads and highways and links to metro areas. Yet they’re still failing. That’s because roads and highways are commodities. Other areas can offer the same amenities at a lower cost (either lower property values or shorter commutes), or be more expensive but offer a higher quality of life and hold their values better (exurban property values fell off a cliff, while coastal property values took a small haircut or held their own).

            A high-speed rail connection, now that’s something different. It will correct the tyranny of geography (a train commute will be faster than a car commute), it has novelty (unlike roads, trains need a population base to justify access, so stations will not be built indiscriminately) and it offers economic opportunity by having lower costs than older metros as well as a fast connection to a metro.

        • Gauephat

          A better example of a “new city” would be something like Almere, a suburb of Amsterdam built on reclaimed land in the ’70s. It is a perfect example of TOD; an east-west rail line with five stations (and sixth under a construction), met by north-south BRT.

          Or even more recently, Ijburg is another suburb under construction on reclaimed land, centered around a tram line (that might be upgraded to a metro line in the future).

          • Andre Lot

            The Netherlands have plenty of similar cities built with similar logic. In the late 1980s, facing yet-another housing shortage, and waiting to avoid the banlieu phenomena, the Dutch government designated around 30 “new cities” near already existing ones.

            They are an interesting thing: planned to have their own basic services and essential commerce activity with downtown malls, shops etc., but also already conceived with the idea of being major commute towns for nearby areas. This made such places attractive to middle class, and avoided their stigmatization of immigrant and jobless retreats as it had happened with some massive “fringe-of-the-city” projects of the 1970s such as the Biljmer.

            The complete list is here (in Dutch):

            All of these new cities were already planned with some sort of fast link: light rail, train, busways, bus-to-rail etc. They have extensive bike facilities as well. And they are usually close to major highways. So access is not really a problem by whatever mode.

            IJburg and Ypenburg are the exceptions in the sense of being denser than the average Dutch neighorhood.

            There are some controversies about these neighborhoods. Some complain much money was spent in middle class-oriented neighborhoods with not enough social housing. Some (me included) really like the landscaping and the über-neat gardens and small water body placements in the setting of the neighborhoods. Some think they triggered a small lessened version of “white flight” in Netherlands – these new cities are overwhelmingly more populated by Dutch native speakers and Dutch citizens compared to the cities they are satellites of. Some people are pushing for a new round of “new cities” (those part of the original plan are like 60% built already).

          • Gauephat

            Just from a landscaping perspective, those new neighbourhoods are fascinating. I’ve been to a couple, and without exception they have been simply beautiful. The incorporation of what essentially are drainage canals as a fundamental part of the landscape is inspired.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Jersey City and Paterson New Jersey, planned communities to get away from the evils of New York. Quite a few mill towns ( Paterson was a mill town also ) were planned communities, can ‘t think of any off the top of my head. Then there’s the planned suburbs, Forest Hills, Radburn, and quite a few that weren’t so rigidly planned.
          …. Pullman Illinois.. there were probably “Ford” suburbs too. A five dollar day ( 50 cents an hour ) was quite attractive at the time and people put up with the intrusions into your personal life that being a Ford employee entailed.

          • Adirondacker12800

            …Reston… there’s another one too. Our answer to Milton Keynes.

      • BruceMcF

        Quite. Being at the intersection of I-70 and I-71 helped Columbus to grow to be one of three million+ urbanized areas in Ohio, where before there had been only two … but it grew there from the status of being the largest of Ohio’s medium sized cities, which is why I-70 and I-71 intersected there in the first place.

  6. jim

    I looked at Five Star Alliance for Washington DC. The same sort of thing, the overwhelming majority in the urban core. But, because the jurisdictions change at the Potomac, one can discern two groupings. The larger one is in NW Washington, in or near the CBD. But there’s a significant grouping in S. Arlington, Alexandria and (just across the river from Alexandria) National Harbor, MD, on the order of ten miles from the CBD grouping.

    I suspect the same sort of thing is also true of New York. There’s the major group in Midtown, centered around the East Fifties, and a smaller, but significant, group downtown that the Hoboken hotel really belongs to. Not quite as far apart as the Washington groups, and masked by both groups being in Manhattan, but still constituting two separate destinations.

    • Alon Levy

      In New York you definitely see these groupings, but they don’t track the CBD development quite as closely. The Midtown grouping is centered right in the middle of the 50s, but there are also hotels reaching up into the UES and down to the 30s; the Downtown grouping isn’t even centered on Lower Manhattan, but rather has a lot of hotels in SoHo, TriBeCa, and other decidedly non-CBD neighborhoods.

      • jim

        Yes, where there’s a secondary destination within the city it isn’t aligned with the CBD. That’s true of both Washington and New York.

        Los Angeles is even more markedly polycentric. Five Star Alliance gives 51 hotels in LA. Only four of them are in downtown LA, near LAUS. There’s a clear secondary destination near the ocean, mostly in Santa Monica. The primary group, though, (a bit under 70% of the hotels) is centered on Beverly Hills.

        LA’s polycentrism is exceptional. Most of the time, when I’ve gone to a city on business, it’s been to the CBD: Chicago, Wacker Drive; San Francisco, downtown; New York, Midtown; Philadelphia, Center City; Boston, Rt. 128 and Back Bay. But I’ve never been in LA’s downtown. Santa Monica, Westwood, Pasadena, but not the CBD.

        • Wad

          Jim, L.A.’s polycentrism is not by accident.

          Downtown was always the center, but never the heart, of Los Angeles. It has historically served as an economic hub, but nothing more. It was the center of both passenger and freight railways, and the central business district developed there. Downtown once had a stable residential population, but they were largely cleared out to build freeways and the replacement central business district.

          Another big problem was that Southern California grew wealthy because it was a settler economy. L.A. and its suburbs were the Midwest’s South Africa. The Midwestern mindset, good and bad, was imposed upon the area.

          L.A. was an accidental city, because it ended up becoming something that wasn’t supposed to happen. Cities were antithetical to Midwestern values. They didn’t want L.A. to become another New York, or worse — Chicago (a city that happened in the Midwesterns’ own backyard, which was a more personal affront).

          Downtown L.A. was a place of practicality and industry, nothing more.

          Now contrast that with Pasadena or Beverly Hills. These were smaller areas, but they were the hearts of L.A. because economic elites lived in these areas and tended to their gardens, both their own and the broader “civic” garden. Cities like these present a good face to the public because they are a reflection of the elites’ values.

  7. Nathanael

    Anyway, on topic: Rochester and Utica have decent city center stations, as do (for what it’s worth) Rome and Schenectady.

    Buffalo sort of does, if you count Exchange St; it suffers from geographic problems. Syracuse and Albany do *not*, and this is due to the demolition of their original stations and the tracks leading to them. The Keystone Corridor has pretty much uniformly good station locations, thanks to the cities being built around the tracks. The Boston-Albany route has excellent station locations, suffering mainly from terrible track routing. (Perhaps something could be done; a Worcester-Springfield Direct Line?)

    In Virginia, practically all of the stations are decent city center stations except for Richmond Staples Mill and Petersburg (Ettrick). Plans are to relocate to Richmond Main St; it looks like Petersburg will be stuck with its Ettrick station, though. North Carolina is making a point of picking good city center locations for stations, although the route to Winston-Salem has been postponed indefinitely.

    One lesson from this is that Springfield, IL should retain its current station location. In general, the Illinois passenger rail projects have built well-located stations; even the new Moline station is as good as you can get while using the current bridge across the Mississippi.

    Another lesson is that CAHSR is correct to insist on downtown stations if at all possible.

    Detroit is suffering from the same geographic problems as Buffalo; the downtown is not on the way from anywhere to anywhere (unless a new rail tunnel to Windsor is built); and yet the Dearborn station is being relocated to be more “central” to Dearborn. St. Paul is relocating its Amtrak station back to downtown St. Paul, away from a really terrible no-mans-land between Minneapolis and St Paul. Ann Arbor is trying hard to move its station closer to the center of town.

    Most cities are making truly immense efforts to get stations downtown, actually. Syracuse, Albany, and Winston-Salem are odd exceptions. As is, of course, the idiotic local government in Hanford, CA.

    • Bobr821

      Winston-Salem is an odd example of station building in NC. It appears they want to redevelop the city’s former (and somewhat historic) Union station, I believe that the city has recently purchased the site using eminent domain. Unfortunately the station was originally built to ‘bridge’ once separate Winston and its neighbor Salem (you can see the station at the corner of MLK and Excelsior in google maps). This means the old station is not walkable to any business district and falls in a non-gentrifying no-mans land much like the current Twin Cities station. There is a better option for a Winston-Salem station, Patterson ave and 2nd street — this would be in the shadow of the CBD and directly adjacent to the now flourishing Piedmont-Triad Research Park.

      All this digression is academic since the SEHSR considers the Winston-Salem link to be little more than a line on a map. Its a shame since I think a strong case can be made that connecting Winston, Greensboro and Charlotte via high-frequency commuter rail (in additional to the SEHSR) would create a reasonably skilled and perhaps globally significant labor market (built around 4 ‘middling’ research universities, two engineering schools, two medical schools, a FEDEX mini-hub (built for European shipments), one of the 20 busiest passenger airports in the world). Without the rail connections all we have is 3.5 million people scattered widely over 3000 square miles who like to spend weekends watching NASCAR.

      • Nathanael

        SEHSR concluded that:
        (1) the track to Winston-Salem from both sides (east and south) was very expensive to build to fast standards, costing something similar to the entire set of planned projects from Charlotte to Raleigh;
        (2) the local governments in Winston-Salem weren’t putting in any money and weren’t pushing hard for it.

        So it’s still a line on a map. Perhaps after Charlotte gets its center city station and Raleigh gets a new station and the rest of the route is upgraded, the locals in Winston-Salem will start agitating harder for downtown service. It often works that way.

    • BruceMcF

      Hanford is just a town. Visalia is closer to being a small city and, wouldn’t you know, they would very much like to have an HSR station if were possible.

    • valkraider

      Memphis, TN has a similar problem with Detroit. What was known as the “CBD” is dying for multiple reasons. One, the “C” is not really true, the Memphis downtown was established on the river because that was where the economic activity was back a hundred years ago. As trains and cars moved the economic activity away from the river, and the 60s and 70s brought sprawl and flight away from downtown, the population of Memphis spread eastward sprawling 40 miles away from downtown. Downtown is at the extreme western edge of the metro area (there is really nothing in West Memphis Arkansas because the river floods over there frequently it is mostly just low lying flood plain).

      As a result, no one ever has any reason to go downtown unless they happen to work for Autozone which is the sole corporate hold-out staying in downtown Memphis. People go every now and then to a sporting event or a festival but for the most part downtown is just a place filled with derelict buildings.

      So in a long-winded way, my point is that it helps when a central business district is actually central – or they have to work very hard to keep the economic base in the downtown area (for example Chicago’s downtown is not very central but has such critical mass that it will stay the CBD).

      As far as tourism, in Memphis there are exactly two tourist destinations. 1: Beale street, which is in the CBD. 2: Graceland – which used to be in the suburbs but is now in a middle no-mans-land but not far from the CBD and is usually reached by shuttle or rental car. Aside from corporate travel to Fed-Ex or International paper – no one visits Memphis to go to the sprawling eastern part of the region.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Hey if California doesn’t want the money there’s plenty-o-stuff that can be done in the Northeast and Illinois. Constant tension catenary on the Northeast Corridor could suck up most of it. Port Morris NJ to Scranton PA already has environmental clearance, it’s just waiting for money. Poof there goes another billion if they electrify it. Electrify the Empire Corridor between Croton and Albany, should make the train at least 15 minutes faster.

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