Joseph Bellomo has a simple proposal for the California High-Speed Rail Authority: Leave the design of the proposed high-speed rail to the world's brightest designers.
Bellomo, a Palo Alto architect whose projects emphasize modular construction, energy efficiency and sustainable design, laments that the design of the controversial 800-mile rail line has so far been dominated by teams of engineers, each working on a separate segment of the line.
So while other local architects, urban planners and concerned residents are busy lobbying the state for underground tunnels, Bellomo advocates a different approach for selecting the design of the proposed line -- an international design competition.
Last month, Bellomo sent a letter to the rail authority, the state agency charged with building the $45 billion rail line, proposing a two-tiered international competition in which architects and designers from around the world would send in proposed designs for the entire line. The proposals would be narrowed to three finalists whose ideas would be further developed.
"The only way to get good design, holistic design, is through competition," Bellomo said.
Bellomo said the High-Speed Rail Authority is reviewing his proposal. Similar calls for competition have also recently popped up in Los Angeles, he said.
Around Palo Alto, Bellomo is best known for his work near University Circle, including new office buildings at 102 and 116 University Ave. and a "corporate cafe" at the former Facebook building.
But transportation has never been far from his mind.
Bellomo designed the award-winning High Street parking structure and, more recently, he created the "Bike Arc" -- a sleek curved parking stand for bicycles. He co-invented the "Bike Arc" with Jeff Selzer, general manager of Palo Alto Bicycles, in an attempt to give parked bicycles more dignity.
Bellomo's vision for the high-speed rail line combines some of the same elements that could be found in his local work: smooth curves, sweeping arcs and as many green elements as the system can support. His concept for an elevated rail line would be powered through a "photovoltaic solar corridor," a string of interconnected tubes and panels that Bellomo said would provide up to 25 million kilowatt hours of power per year. In addition to supporting the solar panels, the round corridor would also provide an acoustic screen, mitigating noise impacts of the speeding trains.
Bellomo's rail system would be supported by curved concrete beams about 40 feet apart. A "concrete dish" would rest on top of the beams and support the speeding trains.
Passenger platforms, elegant bike-parking structures and a continuous bike corridor further complement his design for the rail line, which would stretch initially from San Francisco to Los Angeles and ultimately from Sacramento to San Diego.
He estimates the cost of the line to be $36 million per mile (or $28.8 billion for 800 miles).
Bellomo acknowledged that his vision for a modular, energy-generating elevated rail line has a flurry of obstacles to overcome, both at state and local levels. The rail authority is taking a piecemeal approach to designing the line, splitting it into eight separate segments. The agency is expected to release its alternatives analysis -- a study of various possible alignments -- for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment next month.
Jeff Barker, deputy director for communication for the High-Speed Rail Authority, called Bellomo's proposal an "interesting idea," but noted that the authority's Board of Directors had not formally reviewed the proposal.
Barker said the authority wants to make sure the communities along the proposed line have a say in the design and not have any one company dictate what the entire line would look like. The authority plans to work closely with the communities before considering the final design, he said.
"If you call around to a number of communities across the state, they'd argue that they want to have a say in what the system will look like in their cities," Barker said. "It's an interesting idea, one worth looking at, but our default is to look to local populations in the neighborhoods through which the line will be running."