Eno Transportation Weekly
Eno Staff Favorites from 57 Years of TQ
November 2, 2018
With the related announcement that the Eno Center has finally put the entire 57-year run of Traffic Quarterly (1947-1981) and Transportation Quarterly (1982-2003) online, some of the Eno staff have taken a look through those archives and singled out articles that they found interesting or relevant.
Port Authority Bus Terminal.
Robert Puentes, President and CEO:
Austin Tobin’s 1952 article about the construction of a new Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York is interesting both for what has changed, and what has not. Last year I was asked to serve on a jury of eight experts in a design competition for a new building. The jury saw just how remarkable the terminal is and how the inspired investments to connect the terminal directly to the Lincoln Tunnel and New Jersey Turnpike enabled buses to avoid conflicts with street traffic. Yet today, the terminal is showing its age and straining under the significant traffic from buses that are longer and heavier than when the building was built over half a century ago. According to Tobin’s article, 60,000 bus passengers commuted between New York and New Jersey every weekday in 1950. Today, that terminal serves 225,000 people per day and is a key part of the interstate passenger transportation network.
Predictions of Future Technology.
Paul Lewis, Vice President, Policy and Finance:
Much has changed in 50 years, but it’s also instructive to review the predictions for the future to evaluate how the transportation profession has addressed, or not addressed, the challenges of the past. Traffic Quarterly articles from the 1960s demonstrate a remarkable semblance of today’s challenges, and today’s proposed solutions. Take, for example, “Better Roads Mean Better Living – But,” a 1968 article by Victor Azam. He states that “the very success of the [automobile] carries with it the seeds of its own destruction,” continuing to address how roadway expansion creates ever-increasing congestion that we cannot build ourselves out of.
However, he boldly states that “the private car of today appears to have little future in the world of tomorrow.” To solve the transportation woes of the 1960s, he discusses how electric cars have been “developed by several manufacturers.” London is experimenting with deploying “automatic taxi trains.” The federal government is developing a “new vehicle” for American cities, involving “small vehicle door-to-door pickup feeding larger trunk-line vehicles.” The clairvoyant Azam even predicts Elon Musk’s Boring Company, with freight traveling on “rail-mounted electrical ‘sleighs.’” In fact, he closes his article by supporting the notion that roadways could very well be built on the moon within 20 years.
Alice Grossman, Policy Analyst:
The futuristic view of transportation in TQ in the 1960s also shines through in the opening of Russell E. Singer’s 1964 article “Future Role of the Automobile in Urban Transportation.” His vision of automated transit and micro mobility in a fully V2X connected urban landscape included monorails (with enough seats for everyone!), moving sidewalks, personal flying devices, and notably, a high-speed elevator.
Singer takes the opposite opinion from Victor Azam, insisting that “The automobile is here to stay.” He saw the rising populations in suburbs and multi-nucleic urban growth patterns as an obvious reasons why personal automobiles will continue to play a role in U.S. transportation, and pointed to user preference surveys showing that most people just prefer traveling in private automobiles. When thinking about modal and technology shifts moving forward in the twenty-first century, these factors still ring true. Our land use is not built up to support high-frequency, full coverage mass transit outside of urban areas, and some people will never prefer to use shared fleet or shared vehicle transportation options. 50 years later, transportation planners and policy-makers are still trying to find the right balance in multimodal infrastructure spending and urban planning practices.
Statewide Multi-Modal Planning.
Alex Bond, Director, Center for Transportation Leadership:
In early 1973, the idea of a multimodal state department of transportation was a novel one. Legislatures were adopting authorizing legislation that cobbled together existing parts of state agencies along with new duties to create what we now recognize as a state DOT. When Professor Norman Ashford of Loughborough University penned the article “The Planning Function in State Departments of Transportation” for Traffic Quarterly, there were nineteen state DOTs established, and more on the way. He spotted a trend among the burgeoning state DOTs where planning capabilities were being established to complement the traditional engineering and construction roles.
The article captures the spirit of the time period—one of excitement, innovation, and wide open policy possibility. The transportation field was in a period of profound change, with the recent establishment of USDOT, formation of state DOTs, public takeovers of public transport, and flush with cash from interstate highway construction. Dr. Ashford expressed hope that the planning office of the state DOTs would have equal status to other functional units and perform both policy and system planning. He had particularly strong faith in the multimodal focus of the new state DOT planning offices:
“Legislative intent has indicated that state departments of transportation have shown a strong desire to bring about an emphasis on modes other the well-established and extensively funded highway mode.”
While some of his predictions panned out, many of them proved to be rosy forecasts. One development Professor Ashford could not have foreseen was the establishment of metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) by the Federal-Aid Highway Act in August of 1973—only eight months after the article was published. The Act stripped state DOTs of their capital planning authority in urban areas; and likely with it Norman Ashford’s vision of holistic, multimodal statewide policy and system planning.
Brianne Eby, Policy Analyst:
Bicycle commuting has played a growing role in the American commute for decades, as seen in Michael Everett’s 1974 article, “Commuter Demand for Bicycle Transportation in the United States“. But while the author concludes that “in spite of the many social and private benefits to bicycling, the mere construction of a safe bike-route in a congested urban area may not be enough to divert large numbers of persons from their cars or even to assure reasonable usage of the route,” today, there is understanding that bike infrastructure both increases ridership and makes bicycling safer.
Everett’s article was written at a time when a series of factors resulted in reduced federal support for bicycling facilities and research and when infrastructure and policy generally favored automobiles. These factors still ring true today, despite urban commuters’ growing appetites for bicycle commuting. The growing availability of shared active transportation options (i.e. docked bikeshare programs and dockless bikes and scooters) and reduced vehicle ownership are both factors that can help to stimulate public interest in expanding bike facilities and networks. This moment presents an opportunity for communities to consider the public health, safety, congestion mitigation, and economic benefits of providing citizens with safe bicycling facilities.
Rail-Highway Grade Crossings.
Alexander Laska, Communications Officer and Assistant Editor, Eno Transportation Weekly:
Reducing fatalities at rail-highway grade crossings—the second leading cause of rail-related deaths in America—is a main focus of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. This week at the FRA’s Trespasser & Grade Crossing Fatality Prevention Summit, Sec. Chao called on the FRA and four other transportation agencies to “collaborate in devising new strategies to further improve safety around grade crossings.” Interest on the part of the federal government and others in improving or eliminating grade crossings is long-standing. Three articles in TQ spanning 40 years focus on grade crossings:
In 1960, city traffic engineer Theodore M. Vanderstempel examined how to improve the “crossbuck” to enable better nighttime visibility for motorists, finding that enclosed lens reflective sheeting was far superior to ordinary paint. In rural areas, these crossbucks were often the only warning drivers had of an upcoming crossing. (Ed. Note: The 3M Company has long been the market leader in reflective paints and sheetings, and not coincidentally, they have historically been the biggest non-railroad lobbying interest in favor of a dedicated federal program providing funding for rail crossing safety upgrades.)
In 1990, Dr. Timothy Ryan of JHK & Associates attempted to quantify the cost of delaying emergency vehicles at grade crossings (such as loss of human life from medical emergencies, or additional property damage due to fire emergencies), finding that emergency vehicle delay costs are “generally much smaller than accident costs” at those crossings.
Finally, in 2000, Stephen Laffey, Chief of Data Services at the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS), assessed the potential disruption to northeastern Illinois communities from implementation of the Swift Rail Development Act of 1994, which required all trains to sound their air horns as a warning every time they approach and enter a public at-grade crossing. (At the time, 894 grade crossings in that part of the state had whistle bans or were exempt from whistle rules.) He found that 32 percent of residents and 38 percent of workers in northeastern Illinois would be impacted by the law, as well as several hundred schools and hospitals, as those people all lived within a half-mile of a previously-exempt crossing and would likely hear the horns. FRA’s rule on locomotive horn sounding, which also provided for establishing Quiet Zones exempt from the rule, went into effect in 2005; there are 61 such quiet zones in Illinois, the fourth highest number in the country.
Transportation User Fees
Jeff Davis, Senior Fellow and Editor, Eno Transportation Weekly:
It’s hard for me to pick just one article from the TQ archives (putting them online was my project so I have probably read more of them than anyone else at Eno). Certainly, people who accuse me of going too far back in history for the articles I write in ETW would be well served to read Earle Field’s 1964 article “Some Aspects of Traveling in Stuart England” where he posits that the English road system reached its nadir of dysfunctionality in the early 1600s. And I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Alan Boyd, the first U.S. Secretary of Transportation, in 2016 (interview here – part 1 part 2 part 3) and ask him about the two articles he wrote for TQ in 1966 and 1967 about the formation of DOT.
But I have to go with a relatively recent article (summer 2001) by Eno’s then-President Damian Kulash entitled “Transportation User Fees in the United States.” In it, Kulash not only outlines the economic theories and political realities behind America’s system of funding most transportation spending by user taxes or direct user fees, he also traces their antecedents back to the beginning. In particular, he found this great quote from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (a book which I have never had the time or discipline to read):
When the carriages which pass over a highway or a bridge, and the lighters which sail upon a navigable canal, pay toll in proportion to their weight or their tonnage, they pay for the maintenance of those public works exactly in proportion to the wear-and-tear which they occasion of them. It seems scarce possible to invent a more equitable way of maintaining such works… The person who finally pays this tax, therefore, gains by the application more than he loses by the payment of it. His payment is exactly in proportion to his gain. It is in reality no more than a part of that gain which he is obliged to give up in order to get the rest. It seems impossible to imagine a more equitable method of raising a tax.
(Seriously. Did anybody know that “wear and tear” was a saying so old that Adam Smith used it in 1776?)
Kulash also noted that the allocation of costs among different classes of highway users was getting less accurate, with the heaviest trucks underpaying their fair share of road maintenance costs (this has probably gotten worse in the 17 years since the article was written, but we don’t know for sure, because Congress hasn’t given DOT money for a new highway cost allocation study in 20 years). And he astutely noted that increasing user fees or taxes to recover the “marginal social cost” of road use (a.k.a. “negative externalities”) was probably not politically salable in the United States – at the time (and this was in 2001), Kulash said that economic estimates of those marginal social costs, if recovered via gasoline taxes, would result in a gas tax increase of between $1.40 per gallon and $7.95 per gallon.
And, back at the dawn of the new millennium, Kulash saw the future pretty clearly: “On the highways, the emergence of electronic vehicle identification will permit new forms of user fees. At the same time, increased use of hybrid vehicles and vehicles powered by alternative fuels will make fuel-tax-based user fees more complex and cumbersome.”