State of the Union: Billions of Dollars for High-Speed Rail, But What About Other Modes of Transport?
In April 2009, Obama announced his plans for a national high-speed rail master plan. Photo by Center for Neighborhood Technology.

In April 2009, Obama announced his plans for a national high-speed rail master plan. Photo by Center for Neighborhood Technology.

Last night, President Obama delivered his first State of the Union address, announcing that Florida will receive $1 billion for a high-speed rail line (running between Tampa and Orlando.)

In total, 13 major corridors will receive $8 billion in stimulus funds to help develop new high-speed rail infrastructure, which Obama has touted as being an effective jobs creator.

From his speech last night:

From the first railroads to the Interstate Highway System, our nation has always been built to compete. There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.

Tomorrow, I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. (Applause.) There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help move our nation’s goods, services, and information. (Applause.)

Indeed, city-to-city railways bring big benefits (see EMBARQ Senior Transport Engineer Dario Hidalgo’s analysis here.) But missing from Obama’s “state of the union’s infrastructure” portion of his speech last night was a shout-out to other modes of transportation that could also be effective in creating jobs, not to mention, improving the environment and improving public health. This includes bicycling and pedestrian facilities, as well as bus lanes and other mass transit.

Just today, the Alliance for Biking & Walking released a new report showing that “where bicycling and walking levels are higher, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes levels are lower” and “higher levels of bicycling and walking also coincide with increased bicycle and pedestrian safety and higher levels of physical activity.”  Getting people to move between cities is great, but to improve existing travel conditions within cities should also be a top priority.

In his speech delivered in April last year, Obama said, “What we need is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century. A system that reduces travel times and increases mobility, a system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity, a system that reduces emissions and creates jobs.” Again, he emphasized trains: “What we’re talking about is a vision for high speed rail in America.”

EMBARQ Director Nancy Kete responded to the President’s high-speed rail vision by saying “there’s a missing mode in the plan,” according to a press release issued by the World Resources Institute. “To complement rail, we also need to help cities build high-quality, high-capacity bus rapid transit systems, which can offer good high-speed service, but at a fraction of the cost of rail.”

Check out former TheCityFix Blogger David Daddio’s post about The Illusive Dream of Modern American Rail. Some potential drawbacks? A “large influx of cash will do relatively little to increase train performance in most areas” and upgrading tracks is “extraordinarily expensive.” Plus, the “one-size-fits-all programs would inevitably get politicized by members of Congress.”

And as Obama himself said last night, “[Americans] are tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can’t afford it. Not now.”

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