The (Only) Path to a World-Class Transportation System is to Design it Sustainably

by Michael Sussmanrail-cropped

Building productive transportation systems can only be accomplished by designing them sustainably. We can’t overcome unavoidable limits on clean air, stable climate, and land by just spending more money. Our new imperative must be moving freight while minimizing its impact on the environment, open space, highway capacity, and the overall costs of building and maintaining infrastructure. Given the differential between trucks and trains in the space they require for moving goods, the environmental impact of their relative fuel usage, and the efficiency of steel versus concrete and asphalt, it is critical that we shift into designing systems that optimize use of these two modes.

The market can only support this if business, government, and community cooperate. This can be accomplished by aligning around whole-system lifecycle measures and sustainable investment strategies.

Considering the pressures of increasing population on land use, transportation congestion, and the environment, three significant evolutions must occur: 1) include shorter supply chain options in planning, 2) ship as much as sensible by rail to benefit from its energy and space efficiency, and 3) proactively think and plan for reduced dependence on fossil fuels. Accomplishing these transformations must include win-win approaches that support existing transportation providers through this transition. Our existing truck, rail, water, and pipeline infrastructure is too vital to strand assets.
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People are Naturally Community-Oriented

Collaboration Will Take Us Where Competition Can’t

by Michael Sussmanpeople_network-672x372

Across the world at any moment, on any given day, billions of people go about their business looking out for each other’s best interests. The world would not work as well as it does if that wasn’t true. Cooperation and thoughtfulness abound, while selfish, antagonistic acts pale in numbers.

“Are people inherently compassionate or self-centered?” has remained an oft-posed question because of the difference in impact between acts of cooperation or love and acts of aggression or thoughtlessness.

Hug someone today and the feeling of love can fade by tomorrow. You almost have to hug them over and over again, and we do. Shoot or knife someone, drive drunk and crash, or meanly criticize another person and the memory and consequence can last a lifetime. It is this severe and often lasting impact of violence and negativity that muddles our appreciation for the overwhelming amount of cooperation and consideration all around us.

So why did we orient the modern world’s commerce and governance on competition and mistrust, rather than cooperation and trust? What would have us think that we must pit individuals, companies, organizations, political parties, and countries in an endless competition for success?
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It’s Time to Embrace Collaboration

By Michael Sussman

”Preserving competition in the marketplace,” by itself, is an incomplete regulatory principle that must be augmented with thoughtful collaboration if we are to produce an optimal, sustainable transportation system. When we saw the need for paving muddy roads to and from the railroads in the early 20th century, we missed the opportunity to thoughtfully integrate the newly developing freight highway system with the highly developed rail system. The resulting competition in commerce and public policy triggered a disastrous long-term shrinkage of the geographic footprint of the rail network leading to a suboptimal transportation system.

Coordinating across industries, companies, agencies, and indeed political parties requires respect, collaboration, and consensus-based decision-making processes. Our governing system, however, is structured to manage competing “factions” instead. Competition in the marketplace, competition for government attention, and competitive debate, rather than thoughtful deliberation, have stifled our collective ability to address the thornier issues of our day.
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Decreasing Transportation Impacts on Land Use and Environment in California

By Michael Sussman

In July, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Executive Order B-32-15 directing numerous state agencies to collaborate on and develop an “integrated action plan” by July 2016 that establishes clear targets to improve freight efficiency, transition to zero-emission technologies, and increase the competitiveness of California’s freight system. Caltrans and other state agencies have already solicited comments and are now fully engaged in the development of the action plan. OnTrackNorthAmerica’s intention is that the action plan implement strategies that better deploy freight rail’s economic and environmental benefits.

OnTrackNorthAmerica (OTNA) has been working throughout 2015 to contribute its expertise in freight transportation land use planning to the state’s progress. In light of the significant projected increases in the state’s freight traffic over the next 25 years, California must focus on the optimal integration of freight transportation and land use. Lower emission truck and locomotive engines alone will not be enough. Conserving highway capacity and road maintenance expenses requires an optimal modal balance between truck and rail modes.
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