For the past two weeks, I’ve been traveling a lot for business and pleasure and I realized that I’ve utilized a healthy mix of transportation options: light rail in Minneapolis, planes between Denver and Minneapolis and Philadelphia, commuter rail in Philadelphia, automobiles in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and good old fashioned walking. What has been great about this trip, is that I’ve used each of these methods as part of a transportation system–a network of options. This seems like an obvious observation, but what troubles me is that too many discussions on transportation seem to separate out the various modes (cars, trains, planes and bike/ped) into warring camps.
Many people understand implicitly that different transportation options operate as a system. For example, I may drive my car to the airport, get on a plane to fly to some distant city, and then get off and catch a train to my hotel. Each transportation choice is made based on a mix of economics, convenience, and efficiency. Driving a car during off peak hours when roads are less congested may make more sense than waiting an hour for a train, but catching a frequent train during rush hour may save the unnecessary stress of congestion.
While it is very easy to see how each transportation mode can operate as part of an integrated system, we often do not address transportation solutions systemically. Instead, the debates fall into unnecessary camps that create a false notion of either-or decisions. This has part to do with the way in which we finance transportation as well as the limited pool of funds available (especially in these times). However, we need some bold leadership and clear communication that all options need real consideration. Now is the time to build a global competitive advantage by strengthening our major regions with integrated systems.
Integrated transporation systems not only gives expanded choice to American citizens, but can be an important economic development tool. Imagine a 36 minute commute from downtown New York to downtown Philadelphia on a truly high speed system. If the high speed rail was then linked into strong local transportation options, mobility would increase for the region allowing the efficient movement of goods, services, and ideas. This would link the two city economies, enabling better global competitiveness.
Richard Florida has much more to say about this specifically as it relates to mega-regions. He also mentions Patrick Adler’s (of the Martin Prosperity Institute) high speed rail time table, which compares average drive times between major cities and the hypothetical high speed rail time based on average French TGV speeds of about 155 mph. The table is show below courtesy of Richard Florida’s blog and the Transportation Quarterly.
Before I get too far off track (no pun intended) talking about just high speed rail, I wanted to bring this post back to its initial motivation. High speed is just one piece of an infrastructure framework we can build in this country to reinvent and reinvigorate regions. Too often we break it down into its component parts and lose the forest for the trees. If I were to zoom into the map above, you ideally would see local systems that integrate into these regional links. The challenge for planners and policy makers is to help people visualize and understand these connections and how each piece – local, regional, and national – fits together. This was best done recently by NC3D to help pitch high speed rail to Californians, which I’ll leave you with to enjoy.