Review of The Transportation Experience

Frank Manheim at GMU reviews The Transportation Experience, Second Edition.  [copied below from Journal of Planning Education and Research 36(2) p.271-72 (behind a paywall)]

The Transportation Experience: Second Edition
The Transportation Experience: Second Edition

Garrison, William L., and David M. Levinson. 2014. The Transportation Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 605 pp. $92.00 (paperback). ISBN 978-0-19-986271-9

Reviewed by: Frank T. Manheim, George Mason University DOI: 10.1177/0739456X16644800 

The Transportation Experience offers unique breadth of scholarship in describing the history of US transportation. Its erudition and insightful links with other aspects of societal evolution are improbably combined with an informal, colloquial style that makes most of the book widely accessible. However, a curious omission emerges as the narrative reaches the modern era. The senior author acknowledges in his afterword that he deliberately minimizes engagement with politically controversial subjects.

The first paragraph already demonstrates the book’s flair for dramatic impact. It describes actions of Thomas Jefferson, head of the US Patent Office, on August 26, 1791. Four applicants sought patents for complete steamboat designs. “Solomonically dividing the patent spoils kept any from dominating the market and developing a large enough market to succeed” (3). The multilevel insights from this anecdote reveal that Jefferson, the brilliant inventor, naturalist, and intellectual and political leader, made a decision that impeded people and progress he wanted to encourage. The primary source of such erudition is the senior author, William L. Garrison, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. His peripatetic studies over more than a half-century (Garrison was born in 1924) complement the book’s detailed account of transportation with insights from tangential fields like history, engineering, economics, and social psychology.

This second edition is completely restructured, extensively rewritten, and augmented in comparison with the first edition of 2005. In contrast to the first edition’s prefatory discussions, this book has no preface, introduction, or discrete acknowledgments. It is far more tightly organized. After a detailed table of contents, the treatment is divided into parts, thirty-five numbered sections that run through five overlapping “waves” of chronological developments, and “phases of the life cycle,” that the authors initially describe as brainstorming sessions.

Grounded as it is in deep scholarship, the colloquial style of the book probably reflects contributions by the junior author, David Levinson, a civil engineer and professor at the University of Minnesota who has special interest in transportation. But addressing readers more personally also appears congenial to Garrison. He closes by offering an invitation to readers to “have fun imagining alternative development pathways that will exchange today’s problems, both obvious and obscure, for new ones” (p. 524).

Wave 1 (1790–1851) is subdivided into three sections: “Rivers of Steam” describing the early history of the steam

engine, the steamboat, and inland waterways; “Design by Design: The Birth of the Railway”; and “Incentivizing Investment: Roads through the Turnpike Era.” Subsequent waves deal not only with new subjects like maritime transport, including trading companies, ports, cargo and passenger vessels, and biographical detail on the great marine engineers, Marc and Isambard Brunel. They update developments in earlier transportation modes like railroads (Wave 2, 1844–1896) with topics as diverse as “Trial and Error,” “Learning about Freight Rate-Making,” “Cornelius Vanderbilt,” and “Comments by Social Critics.” Waves 3, 4, and 5 encompass the periods 1890–1950, 1939–1991, and “Modern Times,” respectively.

The waves focus on but are not limited to their time period. Events are often placed in historical perspective by chronological profiles extending to the present.

Many of the book’s figures and tables qualify as what l call leveraged illustrations. Such illustrations compress important insights and in-depth research into simple and eas- ily understandable figures. For example, Wave 2 includes a plot of total US railroad route kilometers from 1830 to 2010, peaking in 1920. Subsequent declines in route kilometers have an inflection point marking accelerated losses after 1970. Most other advanced nations experienced losses but none as great as this country.

“Life cycle” discussions clarify factors affecting transportation and related fields. Phase 1 of the life cycle discusses inventing and innovations. Phase 2 introduces the concept of the “magic bullet,” which refers to innovations that make possible reductions in cost, and often make gains in convenience and accessibility. Henry Ford’s assembly line is a classic example. Impactful generalizations allow readers to independently discern nontransportation as well as transportation applications. For example, I identified the supermarket, Amazon, and Ebay as non-transportation magic bullets.

Phase 3 of the life cycle, titled “Aging in Place, Aging sans Grace,” describes a central problem for transportation. “As systems transition from innovation through growth to maturity, the administration of the systems transitions from entrepreneurs and engineers to managers. Organizations become more and more risk averse; taking chances tends to be punished.” Section 18 includes a summary of leading theories and strategies for coping with the problem.

The authors like evocative labels for their waves, such as “Lord Kelvin’s curse” (in Wave 4, 1939–1991). This “curse” is defined as work that puts emphasis on numbers rather than thinking. Among examples, the authors cite the advent of the Universal Urban Transportation Planning System (UTPS), which created a “clean break from precursor planning systems.” However, modern UTPSs “ignored the well-honed planning techniques for arterial roads and local streets lodged in urban public works offices.”

Section 24 provides a brief discussion of theoretical topics such as temporal and spatial dynamics, the network design problem (NDP), “Macro-Economics vs. Life Cycle Economics,” queuing models, metacycles, and historic path dependence. Section 26, “Meta-cycles,” which closes Wave 4, deals with capital, cyclicity, and the new role of innovation in the production function.

“Wave Five: Modern Times” faced a challenge because of difficulty in addressing the vast literature and complex controversies over environmental change and energy in limited space. A good opening of this topic is provided by reference to George Perkins Marsh’s pioneering and influential book Man and Nature (1864), which warned Americans about abuse of the natural environment (the date of its first edition is erroneously cited as 1850). The ensuing treatment provides basic data such as energy consumption and use by auto, air, and rail transportation after World War II, but this section largely ignores a huge rhinoceros in the living room: government policies and sociopolitical issues.

The great strengths of the book are already suggested in its first paragraph. Heading these is its formidable scholarship in transportation history. Next, wide-ranging technologies, evolutions, and human responses encountered in the development of transportation systems are described with an irreverently colorful and informal writing style. The authors have the rare gift of using detail to clarify and enliven rather than to complicate and obscure generic concepts like “disjoint incrementalism.” Disjoint incrementalism refers to improvements or expansion of technology in one area that ignores possible adverse effects on others. It is illustrated by truckers’ adoption of high-pressure radial tires that disproportionately damage roads. No other book offers as great a wealth of historic detail, presented in vital and candid ways. Consistent clarity in explaining terms and concepts while the narrative builds a detailed framework of knowledge makes the book highly recommendable for non- specialists and beginning students as well as a basic historical reference for professional practitioners and academic researchers.

The startlingly and inappropriately minimal space given to law, politics, and governmental policies is due in large part to the authors’ stated principle of not commenting on “today’s debates and actions” (p. 412). The senior author says about this policy in his part of the Afterwords: “I wear one hat when judging whether or not to enter ongoing affairs. I wear a second hat when debating goals, programs, opportunities, etc.”

Garrison’s honesty about avoiding politically contentious subjects is consistent with the book’s open style and contrasts with some academic studies that simply dance around sensitive issues. But what is the point of devoting such concentrated thought and space to nonpolitical transportation issues if they are overridden in importance by government policies and politics? Rietveld and Stough (2007) indicate that it is possible to address sensitive topics like regulatory reform (or deregulation) while retaining scholarly objectivity. These authors as well as Black (2003) review important insights from European nations’ experience, another area largely omitted by Garrison and Levinson. Author Levinson would apparently be readier to grapple with politics, judging from his account in the Afterwords of the failure of the I35W bridge over the Mississippi River at Minneapolis. He cites existence of 72,500 structurally deficient bridges in the United States, concluding that “Americans can seem good at short-term tactics but poor at long-term strategy. This needs to be rectified.”

The critical role of government for good or ill is hard to overestimate. Excessive regulation helped undermine the United States’ passenger rail system (Gallamore and Meyer 2014). The Clean Air Act Amendments (1970 and later) were effective in reducing air pollution but had unintended adverse effects on urban areas’ transportation planning systems (Garrett and Wachs 1996). Uncoordinated proliferation of permitting authorities in response to environmental concern in the 1970s is described by Manheim (2009) as a key factor in delays and increases in the cost of transportation and other major construction projects. The Chrysler building, a revered jewel in New York City, was completed in twenty months from 1928 to 1930. Contrast this with Boston’s scandal-ridden Big Dig. Permitting began in 1982, final approval was received nine years later, and highway I93 was fully opened only in 2005.

The book by Garrison and Levinson can be warmly recommended as a mine of information on US and early UK transportation development in a broadly based historical framework. The twenty-seven pages of references provide documentation of the book’s data. However, they do not provide balanced coverage, leaving out reference to authoritative and influential transportation authorities like William R. Black and John R. Meyer. Finally, the book does not provide adequate treatment of contemporary transportation problems or foreign experience.

References

Black, William R. 2003. Transportation: A Geographic Analysis. New York: Guilford Press.

Gallamore, Robert E., and John R. Meyer. 2014. American Railroads: Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Garrett, Mark, and Martin Wachs. 1996. Transportation Planning on Trial: The Clean Air Act and Travel Forecasting (Metropolis & Region). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Manheim, Frank T. 2009. The Conflict over Environmental Regulation in the United States: Origins, Outcomes, and Comparison with the EU and Other Regions. New York: Springer.

Rietveld, Peter, and Roger Stough, eds. 2007. Institutions and Sustainable Transport: Regulatory Reform in Advanced Economies. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

The Transportation Experience: Second Edition, is available on Apple iBooks

The Transportation Experience: Second Edition, is now available on iBooks, as well as  Oxford University Press,  Amazon, and Barnes and Noble

The Transportation Experience: Second Edition by William L. Garrison and David M. Levinson
The Transportation Experience: Second Edition by William L. Garrison and David M. Levinson

 

The Transportation Experience: Policy, Planning, and Deployment

William L. Garrison & David M. Levinson

 

Description

The Transportation Experience explores the historical evolution of transportation modes and technologies. The book traces how systems are innovated, planned and adapted, deployed and expanded, and reach maturity, where they may either be maintained in a polished obsolesce often propped up by subsidies, be displaced by competitors, or be reorganized and renewed. An array of examples supports the idea that modern policies are built from past experiences. William Garrison and David Levinson assert that the planning (and control) of nonlinear, unstable processes is today’s central transportation problem, and that this is universal and true of all modes. Modes are similar, in that they all have a triad structure of network, vehicles, and operations; but this framework counters conventional wisdom. Most think of each mode as having a unique history and status, and each is regarded as the private playground of experts and agencies holding unique knowledge, operating in isolated silos. However, this book argues that while modes have an appearance of uniqueness, the same patterns repeat: systems policies, structures, and behaviors are a generic design on varying modal cloth. In the end, the illusion of uniqueness proves to be myopic. While it is true that knowledge has accumulated from past experiences, the heavy hand of these experiences places boundaries on current knowledge; especially on the ways professionals define problems and think about processes. The Transportation Experience provides perspective for the collections of models and techniques that are the essence of transportation science, and also expands the boundaries of current knowledge of the field.

The Transportation Experience: From Steamboats to Streetcars.

I will be giving a Seminar in Civil and Materials Engineering  at University of Illinois at Chicago on October 3, 2014 at 11:00 AM. The Talk is in 1047 Engineering Research Facility (ERF).

The Transportation Experience: From Steamboats to Streetcars.

Abstract: The talk explores the historical evolution of transportation modes and technologies. It traces how systems are innovated, planned and adapted, deployed and expanded, and reach maturity, where they may either be maintained in a polished obsolesce often propped up by subsidies, be displaced by competitors, or be reorganized and renewed. An array of examples supports the idea that modern policies are built from past experiences. The planning (and control) of nonlinear, unstable processes is today’s central transportation problem, and that this is universal and true of all modes.

The talk is based in part on the book: The Transportation Experience

Part 5: Why Greens should like buses

By David Levinson and David King.

I don't need a war to power my bicycle. Bumper sticker on car.
I don’t need a war to power my bicycle. Bumper sticker on car.

Greens are most associated in the US with non-motorized transportation. As pedestrians ourselves, we see the many advantages. While many more people could walk than do, and many others could re-arrange their home and work locations over time to enable one or more members of their household to walk or bike, getting people to move home or change jobs to minimize travel costs is a big ask. Creating new (and re-creating existing) urban places (instead of new suburban places) aligns with the philosophy of some Greens. Economic development and real estate  tend to be local issues, and downtown real estate in particular is now an odd ally of the Greens.

The next best thing to minimizing distances through changes in relative location and land use is getting people to their destinations in an energy efficient way.

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

While Greens don’t fit cleanly on the three-axis model, it is probably most related to Social Justice/ Equality, but extending the object of Justice from People to the Environment as a whole (that is valuing the environment for its own sake, not just for the sake of future humans).

Why Greens should want to invest in buses.

Energy use per passenger-km by mode. Source Transportation Energy Data Book, USDOE Energy use per passenger-km by mode. Source Transportation Energy Data Book, USDOE. Figure 27-8 in The Transportation Experience

  • Buses (when more fully occupied) are more energy efficient than other modes, and electric buses show promise to improve this even more. (In practice as shown in the adjoining figure, buses are less energy efficient than cars on average, due to low occupancies in off-peak and suburban services, though the marginal passenger incurs almost no additional energy consumption.)
  • Buses (and vans) are community transportation where people can meet their neighbors and the driver.
  • Rail construction (or any infrastructure construction) is highly disruptive to fragile eco-systems and highly energy intensive, so the payback period for CO2 emissions may be decades, if at all. If you think that CO2 is something to worry about, improving bus service in a matter of months should be far more valuable than potential reductions more than a decade away.
  • Making buses work better adheres to the adage used about housing that the greenest houses are existing houses. The greenest transport is more intensively using existing transport. Even with new rails, existing roads will remain. We should use them wisely.

Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary

Should light rail get priority at St. Paul stoplights | Pioneer Press

Interviewed by Fred Melo of the Pioneer Press for this piece: Should light rail get priority at St. Paul stoplights?

David Levinson, a professor of Transportation Engineering in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-engineering, says St. Paul had plenty of time to perfect Green Line traffic signals during six months of test trips.

He suspects the decision not to give the Green Line nearly as much priority at traffic signals as the Blue Line is mostly political. When the Blue Line debuted in 2004, cars queued up for lengthy wait times on Minneapolis cross streets. City engineers in St. Paul feared a repeat.

“I think the city could do more,” Levinson said. “I think the city knew about this for a very long time. I think the city was scared of the very long signal times on Hiawatha Avenue. … They were reluctant to give as much priority.”

Kari Spreeman, a spokeswoman with St. Paul Public Works, said the city is committed to making sure bicyclists and pedestrians can cross the avenue, cars can make left turns, and the light rail can go by. It’s a lot to balance.

“We have a team of traffic engineers working on the system every day and are continuing to work closely with Metro Transit to tweak the system,” Spreeman said. “Our goal is the same as it has been from the beginning — to strike a balance.”

Greg Hull, an assistant vice president with the American Public Transportation Association, said he’s seen other cities wade through similar questions about how to balance major transit investments with competing traffic demands.

“The challenges you’re facing in Minneapolis-St. Paul are not unusual for what you’ll find in most cities,” Hull said. “They become political decisions, and it becomes a matter of local jurisdictions needing to determine what’s in their best interest.”

Some transit engineers say the conflicts between cross-traffic and public transit aren’t always as significant as they are perceived to be. A 2003 study based in Fairfax County, northern Virginia, found that giving buses priority at intersections through extended green lights improved their reliability without significant impacts on traffic at cross-streets. In fact, the traffic queue on the side streets increased by one vehicle.

“It’s important to recognize there’s a trade-off,” Levinson said. “That said, there’s going to be a lot more people in a train than in a car at any time, so the trade-off should favor the train.”

Nate Khaliq, a former firefighter and neighborhood activist who lives in the Summit-University neighborhood, said he was surprised that the train doesn’t already get priority at traffic lights.

“I would have thought they’d have all this stuff together, when you put $1 billion into a public transportation project,” Khaliq said. “It certainly wouldn’t bother me to wait a little longer at stop lights.”

Comment: I did the interview over the phone while riding on the Green Line. We (the east-bound train, with me aboard) made the lights until we entered St. Paul. We were stopped at a Red Light at Berry Avenue, a street with very little traffic, the first light wholly inside St. Paul.

Chart of the Day: Steam vs. Sail

Steam vs. Sail.  <a href="http://smile.amazon.com/The-Transportation-Experience-Planning-Deployment/dp/0199862710/ref=smi_www_rcolv2_go_smi?_encoding=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0">The Transportation Experience</a> (Garrison and Levinson 2014) Figure  5.1
Steam vs. Sail. The Transportation Experience (Garrison and Levinson 2014) Figure 5.1

Chart of the Day: Liner Transatlantic Crossing Time

Liner Transatlantic Crossing Time.  <a href="http://smile.amazon.com/The-Transportation-Experience-Planning-Deployment/dp/0199862710/ref=smi_www_rcolv2_go_smi?_encoding=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0">The Transportation Experience</a> (Garrison and Levinson 2014) Figure  5.2
Liner Transatlantic Crossing Time. The Transportation Experience (Garrison and Levinson 2014) Figure 5.2

Chart of the Day: Post in the US

Post in the US.  <a href="http://smile.amazon.com/The-Transportation-Experience-Planning-Deployment/dp/0199862710/ref=smi_www_rcolv2_go_smi?_encoding=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0">The Transportation Experience</a> (Garrison and Levinson 2014) Figure  3.9
Post in the US. The Transportation Experience (Garrison and Levinson 2014) Figure 3.9

Chart of the Day: Turnpikes in the US

Turnpikes in the US.  <a href="http://smile.amazon.com/The-Transportation-Experience-Planning-Deployment/dp/0199862710/ref=smi_www_rcolv2_go_smi?_encoding=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0">The Transportation Experience</a> (Garrison and Levinson 2014) Figure  3.5
Turnpikes in the US. The Transportation Experience (Garrison and Levinson 2014) Figure 3.5