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Thursday , 30 May 2024

Urban Centres, Intermodal Solutions and other Transit Issues in the US

Airports can successfully be the hub of transit systems in today’s time but current urban planners and transit officials have been concentrating only on using high speed rail at urban core areas. They fail to realise that urban centres are no longer restricted to being one unit. Instead, they have many interconnected nodes and if allowed to interact efficiently, they are complementary to each other despite having different strengths.

Cross Airports with High Speed Rail

Air travel is the highest speed transit available to us and promises to be so in the foreseeable future. Hence, it makes tremendous sense to start with airports as the hub of transit systems instead of trying to shoehorn transit into existing centres as the former opens up many more effective and efficient transit solutions for us. Airports already have substantial highway access built to accommodate them. Adding high speed rail to reach them will enhance their efficiency as multi-modal transit areas. When the options for reaching destinations multiply, competitive factors begin reducing the costs, thereby revving (driving) up satisfaction with travel.

The first aspect that goes in favour of making airports the transit hubs is that the airports generally have substantial open land available with them which, if used intelligently, can lead to efficient transit in the coming years. Linking aircraft that travel at five hundred miles an hour with trains that travel at two hundred miles an hour puts an extraordinary level of efficiency into trips by the general public. You could virtually walk to a station in Boulder or Fort Collins and take a train to the plane that would shave hours off trips from both cities and the destinations in between. Also, airports that are subject to severe weather conditions can redirect flights to weather free airports and use the rail system to complete travel for their users, thereby causing them minimum inconvenience.

We have reached a saturation point with the urban mission in many ways. The time is appropriate for other core urban areas to take over some tasks from it now. Big enough families certainly wouldn’t want to go to city centres where they do not get free parking or are not allowed to bring their grocery cart straight to their cart. Congested urban core areas cannot take the additional burden of modern intermodal bus, high speed rail, light rail and automobile travel. Hence, the school of thought that city centres must also be transit centres is a misnomer.

In the Denver area it makes enormous sense for Denver International Airport to become the hub of a Front Range High Speed Rail system. The limited transit solutions first expressed in DRCOG’s development of RTD needs to mature into a more comprehensive set of longer solutions that include all modes of transit along the entire Front Range Corridor – Transit 2.0. High speed rail will be considerably more successful if we build to serve us with an open mind regarding utility, and efficiency in actual trip requirements.

Intermodal, sustainable transit is the need of the hour

Since a few decades there has been a marked growth of communities all across the United States, leading to a transit mix. While many big and small transit agencies have strived to meet the challenges of this transit mix, they have had to tackle challenges of their own too – their independent systems, different funding sources, inter-agency competitions and lack of sincere endeavour to integrate them into an effective body. Highways do not work effectively with rail, light rail and bus systems. This leads to an anemic transit ridership, and each of these systems fails in their individual goals of serving their users in terms of utility and efficiency. Because of these loopholes, the user misses out on the most important form of transit – the ‘intermodal transit’.

Intermodal freight inclusive of human transit has proved to be the most efficient mode of moving freight. It is mindboggling to try and understand why the US administration does not prohibit competing human transit systems during the planning stage itself. Intermodal planning, development and construction would, any day, be the most effective mode of transit.

Competition Creates Chaos

Competing highway departments, local transit agencies operating buses, and the mushrooming independent airport authorities have harmed the United States drastically as all of them vie for every level of funding and resources. They are the biggest obstacles in the path of the US transit systems since their severe competition mars the growth of a truly intermodal public transit keen as they are to serve their managements instead of the users. With the creation of each of these agencies has come a bureaucracy that is compelled to compete with other agencies and has no incentive to work with others; their funding and their management are all dependent on maintaining as much autonomy as possible. A further incentive for separation has been the valid concern that a unified transit authority would be skewed in favour of some constituencies at the expense of the others, and highway agencies with their massive dedicated budgets and armies of in-place engineers could easily overcome their smaller brethren in airports, rail and transit. The solution here is that an intermodal agency would need to be charged with a more comprehensive mission than simply getting the most automobiles possible from point A to point B.

The Intermodal Solution

The government needs to play a very active role when it comes to creating the intermodal transit agencies, chartered by each state. While planning for future transportation, it needs to work with state legislatures to create these intermodal agencies in the first place. It is very clear that no single transit agency can build an intermodal system on its own. This job requires the coming together of transit planners to design, in a unified manner, the systems that complete the links that have until now been designed independently and inefficiently. High speed rail will work if it actually goes from airport to airport in the Northeast, the Central Midwest, Texas and the West Coast. Taking high speed rail to the plane should be as simple as taking an elevator to the check-in counter.

Light rail and local bus service should arrive immediately under sports venues and malls. Again, elevators, escalators and stairs to trains and buses that then take users directly to their door, become the transit method of choice.

Freight was made intermodal decades ago – because it makes sense. So, shouldn’t human transit be at least as efficient as freight?

Using the Underground as transit mode

In trying to conquer the space, oceans and land for safe and high-speed transit, we seem to have forgotten that it is the ground beneath our feet which may offer the greatest promise for a sustainable future.

The underground technology in drilling and mining has been ignored in our pursuit of sustainable solutions in energy and transportation. It is time to look at these old technologies creatively and with a new set of reference points. The ‘Geolithic Thermocline’ can provide reliable sustainable energy and transit tunnel construction offers weatherproof transit paths lasting for centuries. The early leaders of Colorado, who foresaw the need for water resources, would be disappointed that we have not capitalised on our knowledge in mining and tunneling.

Tunnels as safe and efficient transit paths

Tunnels are weatherproof highways for transit systems, perfect for major urban transit solutions, and good for some suburban applications. Trains can be routed in nearly straight paths from station to station. Impact with surface owners is generally by-passed. Tunnel designs can be optimised to meet the needs of every type of train from light rail through high speed rail, and even maglev. Tunnels and underground transit ways completely and safely separate all surface traffic from the trains, allowing them to run faster and perform without the risk of snow, track debris or incidents with automobiles or freight trains. Also, tunnels permit true last mile solutions, delivering the passenger directly to his destination with an elevator or escalator.

Two primary types of tunneling are available, cut and cover, and drilled tunnels using either Tunnel Boring Machines, or more traditional road header cutting machines. Cut and cover is more suitable for areas in open country, some suburban locations and along highway paths. It is cheaper, generally, than bored tunnels, and the first choice of underground construction should be used as much cut and cover tunneling as possible.

Our transit solutions are already at hand – start planning, and digging, now.

(Donald Missey is an engineering and construction project manager in Denver Colorado, with an extensive background in project life cycle cost management in transit and energy projects.He can be reached at: dmissey@prsvcs.com)

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