A Single Transportation Network: Truckers and Transit-Riders Unite

This quarter, I’m taking a freight transportation class in the civil engineering department, the first class I have been able to take outside the College of Built Environments in my three years of graduate school. I’ve really been enjoying this class; it has shown to me the importance of planning for roads and infrastructure needs to accommodate not just pedestrians, bikers and cars but also trucks. While trucks driving through a city are not desirable, they are also very necessary: everything we consume is delivered by a truck.

Trucks are also vital to an area’s economy. Truckers and uncongested access roads are vital to sustain Seattle’s industrial areas, which are major job creators in the region. Trucks are also affected by transportation policies made regarding other modes; most of don’t take into account their impact on other modes.

A recent lecture about freight policy also particularly resonated with me and with the idea of treating all different transportation mobility modes as a single system rather than separate ones. In the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Vision 2040, a strategy for development, there is a study that looks at freight transportation and mobility and how different ways of transportation infrastructure development would benefit different stakeholders. The graph below shows these different alternatives and how they benefit the users.

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Alt-1 emphasizes the efficiency of the existing system through converting HOV network into HOT system and through substantially increasing the bus service. Alt-2 emphasizes building more roads and transit options to increase capacity. Alt-3 uses toll revenues to expand road capacity and fund more road building. Alt-4 combines traditional revenues and tolls to maximize efficiency. Alt-5 focuses on regional tolling, has the least amount of investment in roads and concentrates on the largest expansion of light rail and other high capacity transit. The preferred alternative has the largest increase in transit and has very limited but strategic highway road expansion.

The results for this study show that the largest investment in transit and minimal investment in expanding roads is the best option for all parties involved. By transferring money from roadway expansion to transit, this alternative actually does a better job of reducing highway congestion than by only roadway expansion. This strategy benefits both transit riders by expanding options, and lower congestion benefits truck drivers who have no alternative but to take the highway to make their deliveries.

I am intrigued by the alliance of interests between truckers and transit-riders; on the surface these two groups don’t seem like they would have much in common. This aligning of interests reinforces the importance of thinking about a singular transportation network that encompasses all modes (train, water, bus, truck, car, pedestrian, bike etc.). In a consolidated transportation network, revenue could be put where it will make the most impact, whether it is strategic roadway expansion or increased transit options. By having a smarter way to allocate funds to where they will do the most good, we can create a more efficiency transportation network that will have expanded capacity to move an increasing population for less carbon.

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