High-Speed Rail Meets High-Speed Growth

California’s proposed high-speed rail (HSR) system has the potential to spur dramatic economic growth throughout the state. While public attention is largely focused on the benefits of three-hour commute from Los Angeles to San Francisco, the biggest beneficiaries of HSR might be California’s smaller towns and cities. At this year’s Rail~Volution Conference, HR&A Principal Judy Taylor examined how stronger connections between California’s major economic hubs and its mid-sized cities will drive economic growth.


  1. Access will attract new residents, but mid-sized cities must revitalize their downtowns to remain competitive. Palmdale and Bakersfield are mid-sized cities within a two-hour drive of Los Angeles that will benefit from high-speed rail. These cities will automatically attract new residents by offering shorter commutes and more affordable housing options than the suburbs of Los Angeles. However, each city can drive additional growth by reorienting commercial and residential development around new rail stations to draw regional economic growth from the periphery to the city center.


  1. Targeted development strategies and public improvements around station areas will go a long way. Many smaller cities face physical barriers to growth due to decentralized economic activity; these challenges are often compounded by years of under investment in their downtowns. Through targeted investments around station areas, and land-use policy prioritizing density and infill development, these cities can create competitive urban environments that offer desirable housing, jobs, and connectivity.


  1. The creation of a new type of central coordinating body would help drive additional growth. With the termination of California redevelopment agencies and their broad range of redevelopment powers, there is a need to establish a new type of independent entity, likely a public-private partnership, with the ability to coordinate investments. In addition to managing current growth, such a body could also help to advocate for future investment and provide a precedent for future high-speed rail stations to serve as economic anchors for these cities.


HR&A is advancing station area planning high-speed rail in both Bakersfield and Palmdale, California. Currently, we’re identifying market opportunities to develop competitive, transit-supportive amenities with the goal of transforming station areas into attractive downtown destinations with new residents, businesses, and visitors from around the region. Learn more about HR&A’s approaches to transit-oriented development across the nation.