13 October 2009

HSR routing effects on Diridon

The California High Speed Rail Authority has been workshopping route details all over the state. Especially sensitive are the Atherton/Menlo Park/Palo Alto areas and the area immediately to the south of Diridon Station, where numerous alternatives exist. In the picture below, you'll see a mix of working class residential and industrial buildings near the station. Further south is the well-heeled neighborhood of Willow Glen, and while the train wouldn't run through Willow Glen its residents are more than a bit concerned about HSR.

Unlike in the Peninsula, which the existing Caltrain corridor is the only available route, several route options exist south Diridon Station. CHSRA wants to use the most cost-effective route possible since they want to stretch the $10 billion in state bonds and whatever federal stimulus money comes their way, but every option has a cost/benefit component in both the short and long term.

The least expensive route is probably the green/white line above labeled SR87/I-280. It's an S-curve that would run in an aerial along the two area freeways. However, the S-curve makes it also the slowest option, and could adversely impact many of the express trains that would pass through San Jose without stopping at Diridon. The route also runs through the original Orchard Supply Hardware location's parking lot. Along with the other Caltrain-aligned routes, it would likely take some amount of land from the ballpark site. FWIW, that land wouldn't be for the ballpark anyway, it'd be used for parking.

The "Downtown Aerial/Tunnel" option is misleading because running an aerial isn't really an option. An aerial would require billions of dollars of eminent domain proceedings and would kill any chance of developing the six blocks between the ballpark site and the arena. A tunnel would be an enormous engineering challenge, since it would bore under both the existing light rail tunnel and the planned BART subway, plus a creek and a river. In either case, the route would have minimal impact on the ballpark site, clipping the northeast corner at worst.

However CHSRA and Diridon area residents proceed, it's good to know that the ballpark can be built without having to worry about the final route's impact.

A's TV ratings down in 2009

The move to CSN California may be good for the A's long-term financial security, but they sure have taken a major hit on TV to do it according to Sports Business Journal. Having moved from CSN Bay Area to the sister network, the A's posted a paltry 0.82 rating locally for the season, a drop from 1.72 in 2008. The Giants, having been in playoff contention until the last week of the season, scored major gains of 25,000 households, or roughly one full ratings point.

The drop can be traced to two major factors, team performance (poor for most of the season) and channel availability. Lew Wolff pointed to the lucrative dealed ink with Comcast as a source of financial stability. Both parties must have known about a possible drop in viewership and Comcast more or less subsidized the move, as it wants to beef up CSNCA in order to push other non-Comcast cable operators like Charter to add it into their systems. Comcast would then get subscriber fees from a competitor. The cable giant has been on a content grab over the last several years, potentially culminating in an acquisition of NBC-Universal (at least one game theory expert thinks it's going to happen). Comcast already has stakes in 11 regional sports networks including the aforementioned CSNBA/CSNCA, plus Versus, The Golf Channel, and an equity share of MLB Network. A merger with NBCU would give Comcast unprecedented control over content availability. Never mind that NBC has languished in last place among the four major networks for years. Content is king, and with content Comcast gets major leverage.

So if you're thinking that the A's are but a mere pawn in a much larger game, well yes they are. Comcast is in a position to seriously challenge ESPN and its networks, which bring in the heftiest subscriber fees thanks to bundling. Team performance notwithstanding, the A's need Comcast to win its battles for greater carriage. For most of you, it'll be difficult to root for a company like Comcast that's so often anti-consumer. Just don't think about it for now, and dream about IPTV being the technology that, once mature, will bring down the ridiculously archaic barriers (such as blackouts) that we deal with now.