A Prolegomenon To Bill Garrison

The remarks I gave at the Memorial for Bill Garrison held January 11

Bill Garrison lived from 1924 to 2015. Over this time he witnessed rise of the car (the automobile/highway system as he called it), the fall of transit, the rise of aviation and the fall of intercity rail.

Bill Garrison (2007)
Bill Garrison (2007)

When I first applied and came to Berkeley in 1994, I didn’t know who Bill Garrison was. This was the age before the World Wide Web made information available at your fingertips. Once I arrived, I saw he was a Prof. Emeritus, which still did not make much impression.

But he was one of those people everyone (but me) knew somehow. Students from earlier years said I should take his course (co-taught with Mark Hansen) in the Spring, even though it had a mundane title like Transportation Policy and Planning, which sounded like a class which I had taken several times before. It was nothing like any class I had taken before.

Before each class, he would write all of the relevant lecture’s notes on the chalkboard, and then he would just lecture from them. He also had typed course notes available at the library.

It was a great class, where I learned about and fell in love with the S-Curve. It explained so much, and technology change was never considered anywhere else in transportation planning.

When I ultimately landed at Minnesota, I would teach a similar course in January 2000. I had photocopied the notes from the library, but this was the new millennium, so I asked him for his notes electronically so I could share with students.

He wrote:

Those are vintage notes, David.  Most of them are now in computer files, but having been written in fragments by a person who is not well organized, it would be a considerable undertaking to pull them out and send in any reasonable order.

But I would like to see them used and would be willing to do that. It would take about a month, I think, and that might be too late for your use. Also, there is some need for revision to include modern times.

I’ve had in the back of my mind developing the notes in book form, but other things get in the way. Would you be interested in doing that?

He sent me a bunch of WordPerfect files (on a Zip Disk) which I managed to convert, and scanned some others for which the electronic files were lost .

I organized and edited them and put them in book form (The Transportation Experience) and sent them to him. We met in person in 2002, at which point he said, something like, “Oh, have you seen these notes for CE256,” which were for another course he taught before me time. He then sent those to me, and I reorganized the book. With some back and forth it was put into shape and sent to a publisher.

Over time I came to realize who he was, his significance to Quantitative Geography, Transportation Policy, and ITS. He is one of the few academics who has had papers written about him and his contributions.

But his insight, the ability to see farther than his peers, hit home. In the early 2000s I shared with him some work that I thought was interesting that I was doing on the evolution of transportation networks. He said, you should look at this paper, from 1965, he wrote with Duane Marble, one of his famous Space Cadets, students of his from the University of Washington who rocked Geography. It was called “A PROLEGOMENON TO THE FORECASTING OF TRANSPORTATION DEVELOPMENT” *   It was an obscure report done for the Naval Ordinance Laboratory of all places, which anticipated work on the growth of networks 4 decades later.

In short, I have come to realize there are no original ideas in transportation, they all were anticipated by Bill Garrison and his students in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s Bill Garrison’s world and we are just living in it.


  • “Prolegomenon” is defined as “A preliminary discussion, especially a formal essay introducing a work of considerable length or complexity.”