Sunday, June 23, 2013

Response to a comment in

The following comment was left on an story about the feasibility of a Chicago-Detroit high-speed rail line. I wanted to make a refutation comment, but I was limited by the numbers of characters in the response box, so I decided to respond on my own blog.
you mention a feasibility study that shows this plan "earning tens of millions of dollars a year in profit" yet i don't see a link to the study. You provide a link to the high capacity transit costs in other stories . 

Also to begin a piece using Japan as a success is problematic. In terms of square miles the entire nation of japan would only be the 6th largest State in America yet in terms of population it nearly matches our top 8 states combined. 

Also when factoring cost for a plane versus a train its better not to throw in ancillary costs for one but not the other.
I agree that it would be nice to see the feasibility study. However, even looking at the numbers, what is reported seems within the ballpark. Still, having a link to the study itself would be nice. No real issue here, but the next paragraph contains some real non sequiturs (at least when one looks at the issues in relevant terms).

You suggest that Japan is not a good comparative example with the United States, and make the astute point that - by land area - it smaller than the five largest states of the nation. However - unlike many of the states west of Michigan - Japan isn't boxy; it's quite elongated, northeast to southwest. You failed to account for that in your comment. Indeed, if you were to look at the distance from Sapporo (the capital of the northernmost prefecture, and the terminus of one of the "Bullet Train" lines once that line is completed) to Kagoshimachuo (the southernmost Bullet train terminus in the city of Kagoshima), you'd get a straight-line distance (which I'm using as a rough analogue for the airplane distance) of roughly 960 miles (which happens to be about the same as the straight-line distance from Los Angeles to Vancouver and further than the straight-line distance from Detroit to Oklahoma City). In this sense, the distance of two relatively important Japanese cities is far longer than the distance between any two similarly important cities within any one state. So your first point of pure SIZE - while technically correct - is not a useful statistic, since Japan is a long country, but not a relatively wide one. But let's move on to the comment about population density.

It's true that Japan is a country with a greater population density than the entirety of the United States, and you are right in pointing this out, since greater population density correlates strongly with greater train transport. However, like the problem of looking at gross land area (see above), your association of gross population is also problematic. If you are going to compare demographic distribution, shouldn't you do so at a scale that is - itself - comparable? If we look at Japan, it is easy to see that its population distribution pattern is completely different from that of the United States as a whole. However, it is far more similar to the concept of megalopoli. If we consider the nation of Japan to operate in a similar way to the megalopoli of the combination of the Great Lakes and Northeastern megaliopoli, we would then be able to consider like with like. Indeed, the comparison of the Japan against the Great Lakes-Northeastern Megalopolis provides the following results:

  • Japan: 126,659,683 people/145,925 sq.mi. = 867.978 people/sq.mi.
  • GL-NE Megalopolis: 90,500,000 people/173,000 = 523.121 people/sq.mi.
This regional perspective allows a person to compare like with like, since Japan and the GL-NE Megalopolis have roughly the same land area and comparable numbers of people. (Indeed, many planners actually look at the unit of "megacity" or "megalopolis" when conducting regional planning; they don't look at the entire United States.) Therefore, your contention that comparing the regional plan of high-speed transport with Japan is "problematic" is - itself filled with problems. However, let's move on to your final paragraph.

You make the point that the author doesn't add the ancillary costs when adding up the prices for train travel. Okay, let's add the additional costs. AATA bus fare from Blake Transit Authority to the train station ($1.25), a taxi could put you out by as much as $15. But maybe the person gets their spouse or a friend to drive them to the station on their way to work. Then the additional cost is approaching $0.00. So, transport costs to the train station: $0 - $1.25. We can - of course - add the estimates from the story about costs at the other end (which would be the same, regardless of traveling by train or airplane) which are, "car mileage ($25), taxi ($30) or mass transit costs ($3)." So the ancillary costs associated with the proposed high-speed rail system would be: $3 (get dropped off in Ann Arbor and use mass transit in Chicago) to $45 (take a cab to the train station, take a cab to your destination in Chicago). There. Done.

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