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On a Roll

By Paul Bendix

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About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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Anglo Menlo Park

Uploaded: Aug 26, 2014
Try arguing Menlo Park politics in rainy Gloucestershire, and you'll get a different perspective. El Camino and downtown development?How can you Americans afford so much 'disused' land? Caltrain? Surely all your suburban railways are electric. The drought? Can't you bring water down from one of the wetter bits (e.g., Oregon)?

The drought, in fact, provides much fodder for the British press. The Sunday Observer describes the end of the 'swimming pool culture.' The Times marvels that California has lost 63,000,000,000,000 gallons of water in the last year. This, it adds, is enough to cover the entire state to a depth of five inches. And the Sunday Times wants us to know that the Sierra Nevada topsoil, freed from the weight of its water, has risen about 10 cm. In short, to Britons California's drought seems as exotic as aboriginal practices in New Guinea.

As for the Specific Plan, forget it. The thing is incomprehensible enough for Menlo Parkians, and I'm not trying to get my Gloucestershire cousin up to speed. We have other fish to fry here in the UK. For example, a serious effort by the northern quarter of the nation to break away. How real a possibility is an independent Scotland? Real enough for people not to joke about it. And in a nation that jokes a lot, this is saying something.

As for high-speed rail, Britain faces its own version of this issue. The cost of building the ultra-fast line from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds is staggering enough. But the problem of choosing a route defies solution. As in the US, regional interests and parliamentary constituencies are jockeying to have the new line near or far. And no one agrees on the benefit. Still, the discussion is framed in ways that are quite different.

First, everyone acknowledges the need to reinvigorate the country's North. The chronically blighted region, once the home to coal mining and manufacturing, needs something. A high-speed link between Leeds and Manchester would urbanize a whole region, enlarging opportunities for commerce and employment. Everyone seems to support this idea.

As for the high-speed line to London, people are asking interesting questions about the future of travel itself. Would improved fiber optic conductivity, even to places like my cousin's Cotswold village, boost opportunity and reduce the need to commute? Wouldn't this make better use of land and budgets?

It's a good question. It's a different question. And it's the sort of question that makes travel worthwhile.
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