Thursday, April 19, 2012

Transportation Network Systems -- Their Glory and Vulnerability Revealed

Last night's episode of America Revealed, Nation on the Move,  was on our nation's transportation systems.

As a researcher and educator, whose passion has always been networks (and especially transportation and logistics), I knew that this was another PBS TV production that I could not miss.

I am also a bit biased, since its host, Yul Kwon, interviewed me in NYC for a video segment on the Braess paradox and gridlock, and the interview is now part of the production's extensive website for education purposes.

The segment last night highlighted both private and public transportation and included beautifully filmed segments on school busses, subways, airplanes, and even freight. The graphics were fantastic -- demonstrating dynamically the flows of various transportation modes on the networks.

Yul began by saying how he is fascinated by networks and systems and then reported on transportation from airplanes, a traffic reporter's helicopter, and even a school bus in Arizona.

I have always loved transportation and my readers know that I got my driver's license (yes, I passed my driver's test in Northampton, MA) only after becoming a Full Professor and a mother. But, then again,  growing up in Yonkers, I would walk to public transportation, and ride busses and subways in NYC. As a student at Brown University, and a member of the women's cross country and track teams, I could get to where I needed to by foot (or with friends would take the bus into Boston and ride Amtrak home for holidays). As a faculty member, many of the most interesting places required air travel, and I continue to love flying and collecting conversations and experiences throughout the journeys and my explorations at various destinations. Luckily, now I get invited to speak and usually someone else pays the tab (thank you).

I very much enjoyed the freight segment last night, with a focus on Chicago, where Amtrak, commuter trains, and freight trains all have to share the same tracks. I have written about the freight capacity crisis and competition for scarce resources and the U.S. for years has not been devoting the attention and financial resources that our critical infrastructure (especially transportation) needs. America Revealed also captured some of the history of transportation construction in the U.S. with poor decisions made, which now are being undone at much greater costs.

My students get it and repeatedly ask me why can't the U.S. have transportation systems with trains and busses similar to parts of Europe?!