by Jerry Schneider
Professor Emeritus, Urban Planning and Civil Engineering,

University of Washington,
Seattle, Washington

This book is a rare treat.  Francis Reynolds has offered us a bold vision of a future national-scale transportation concept (with global implications) that deserves wide dissemination and discussion.  That our urban and intercity transportation systems are in serious difficulty is apparent to us all.  But it is also apparent that no solutions are being put forth either by industry, academia, think tanks or public officials that offer any substantial prospect for relief.  Most simply complain bitterly about our ruinous congestion, safety and air quality problems and are especially worried about our high level of vulnerability to likely reductions in the availability of oil in the future.  Few have attempted to even think about how these problems might be overcome let alone invent a reasonable and comprehensive approach to dealing with them. 

Most recently, attention has been focused on the reauthorization of the federal transportation program. The major stakeholders have identified their funding needs for building and maintaining highways and transit systems during this period and they are staggering. The bill has also been burdened with a very large number of "earmarks" for many projects that have little to do with transportation. Yet, the needs are great. For example, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has recently produced a report entitled “The Bottom Line”.  It concludes that an average of $92 billion per year will be needed to maintain the current physical condition and performance of the highway system over the next 20 years and that $126 billion per year will be needed to improve the system. Further, they estimate that $19 billion is needed annually to maintain the nation’s transit systems, while another $44 billion is the annual estimated need for transit system improvements. The total annual bill - $281 billion! And, they don’t even deal with our air, rail and water transportation facilities and services where the infrastructure needs are also huge.

Could it be that just patching-up and extending the current systems is not a prudent or sensible course of action?  Is there a better way that some of these funds could be invested that would provide for increased levels of mobility without perpetuating and intensifying the negative effects that current systems inflict on us, our cities and countrysides?  Now that the Interstate System has reached its 50 birthday, isn't it time to think seriously about a system that will initially supplement but eventually replace it? Francis Reynolds thinks so and has outlined a metropolitan-wide and intercity transportation concept that offers a vision that is far superior to the growing maintenance bill that is generated by an aging Interstate System.   He offers a positive approach that promises some relief from the ruinous congestion, negative environmental impacts, risky oil dependency and global warming prospects that are currently so worrisome. 

In the 1960’s and 1970’s our federal government sponsored studies with titles like “Toward a National Urban Growth Policy” that looked at future population projections and attempted to identify ways to accommodate growth that would both maintain and enhance the livability of our cities. Another report entitled Tomorrow’s Transportation was published in 1968 by the Lyndon Johnson administration that identified future urban transportation needs and technologies and urged that they be developed and made operational for use about now. A transportation system concept that is quite similar to that outlined in this book was also included in the Tomorrow’s Transportation report to the Congress.

Since that time there has not been any serious work done to examine ways that our auto-dominated system could be significantly improved to be much more compatible with the high levels of mobility our society and economy needs. This book offers an opportunity to revive this past work by providing a reasoned concept that offers some hope for an improved future level of mobility, with more positive and many fewer negative attributes.

It has been my pleasure to watch this imaginative futures-creation process undergo a vigorous debate on the Internet and evolve into its present form. Futurist Jim Dator has said, “Any useful statement about the future should seem ridiculous”.  But, I, and others have found that this vision is both useful and not at all ridiculous. What is ridiculous is the current effort to extend the current system and its financing mechanisms, largely unchanged, far into the future. Reynolds describes an path to the future that is part evolutionary and part revolutionary by defining a transition path that retains the most useful attributes of the private auto while reducing its many negative impacts.

Reynolds does not argue that his concept is the only feasible and desirable path to a more productive future transportation system. He recognizes that other alternative visions will also be put forth. All will need to be evaluated and compared in a highly visible manner with substantial participation from the many stakeholders that will necessarily be involved in and impacted by the evolution of the current system. Not only would the U.S. benefit from such an effort but other countries like China and India might also be able to evolve their transportation infrastructure in ways that are less threatening to the global environment and economy. 

Still, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Population Forecast (Middle Series) is expected to increase from 300 million in 2006 to 394 million in 2050, an increase of some 94 million. One thing that we know for sure is that the provision of transportation infrastructure strongly influences when and where this urban growth will occur. This book provides a transportation scenario that can be widely used in future discussions of an appropriate national growth strategy and should help to stimulate them to be conducted with the sense of urgency that they deserve. 



Last modified: August 02, 2006