Invest to Grow
I would begin by investing that money, not spending it. We have to invest it so that the existing system can be a foundation for growth and expansion. We need to think about how to provide relevant intercity transportation that will attract riders as well as give both consumers and manufacturers choices, so we can exploit the comparative advantages of each mode of transportation to prevent congestion.
The social good of a national transportation system was our first great national economic priority. It is the great national economic enabler, and everyone knows when the system does poorly: We all wait a little bit longer, and we all pay a little bit more.
Our competitiveness depends in large part on our ability to keep costs down, and that takes investment. But the results of investment aren't invisible. You will see them in every store and in every town in America.
—Alex Kummant, president and CEO, Amtrak
The largest sector of infrastructure is the one dealing with logistics. As a living cell is an extraordinary set of micrologistics, so a megacity is an extraordinary set of macrologistics.
The logistics of contemporary industrialized man are extremely inefficient and wasteful, as our dump sites, offal of Homo rapax (rapacious man), testify. Maintaining and improving these modes only modifies what is dysfunctional—a too conservative approach. I call this pursuit of a “better kind of wrongness.”
As the nation's infrastructure now in disrepair is obsolete anyway, we need a serious conceptual reformulation of the whole system along realistic guidelines: not expanding roadways to accommodate ever-increasing traffic, but reformulating the damaging patterns of our communities, especially our promulgation of one- to two-story single-family homes. One house or mansion per family requires a logistical landscape horrendously wasteful and brutally anti-environmental—the nemesis of greenness. The automobile is both cause and consequence of the city's breakdown and the unavoidable materialism of suburbia. We must marginalize the automobile.
It might turn out that the human habitat has to be realigned with the logistical grids serving it. That would require urban ribbons of modest width incorporating parallel road, pedestrian, and bicycle pathways, and stations for local, regional, and continental transit.
—Paolo Soleri, founder, Arcosanti and the Cosanti Foundation, Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Fix Our Rusting Rails
We have a passenger railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. There's no big project that would do more to reduce America's oil consumption than restoring passenger rail service on a par with the other industrialized nations. And forget about high-speed or maglev for the moment—let's just get it going again at a normal speed.
Restoring passenger rail service would have many additional benefits. It would put tens of thousands of people to work at all levels, from labor to management. It would decongest airports that are overburdened from flights going only a few hundred miles (trips that are better served by rail anyway). It would help revive many central cities. The infrastructure for running it is lying out there, rusting in the rain, waiting to be fixed. It does not require the reinvention of anything.
This would give us confidence to go forward and make other necessary changes in a society facing a permanent oil crisis. The fact that we are not even talking about it shows how unserious we are.
Finally, the restored U.S. passenger rail system should be electrified so it can be run by means other than fossil fuels.
—James Howard Kunstler
Author, The Long Emergency and The Geography of Nowhere
Go High-Tech and Low-Tech
Having just taken my first ride on Shanghai's maglev train from Pudong Airport, at slightly less than seven minutes' duration (as compared to nearly an hour by taxi a few days earlier), I would spend a good chunk of the $1.6 trillion on interurban rapid transit. How embarrassing for our vaunted technological prowess when our recently reintroduced flagship train on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service, the Acela Express (sic), crawls into New York from Boston in slightly less than three and a half hours, three times longer than it might take the Shanghai maglev. Not too many of us will forgo the shuttle, or perhaps even the convenience of our cars, for such a hare.
At the other end of the technological and fiscal spectrum, I would invest in what many European cities now deploy: low-cost bike rental stations, easy to find and to leave the rental at one's destination. Until the Segway becomes ubiquitously (inexpensively) available, the old-fashioned bicycle can well support our short-distance commutes.
Whatever dollars are left, I would devote to teleportation or human e-mail research. But then just maybe some investment should be dedicated to reforming our land-use habits so that we wouldn't have to commute so far, so often.
— Alex Krieger
Professor of urban design, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, and principal of Chan Krieger Sieniewicz, Cambridge, Mass.
A broad view of infrastructure includes the essential resources of land and water. These should be identified and quantified for conservation, cultivation, and urbanization. Urbanization includes the full network of mobility, from national air and rail to local bicycles and walking. We already know that it is imperative to reduce the impacts of cultivation and urbanization on land and water and to reduce the need for transportation based on nonrenewable resources.
Five centuries ago, the most important component of built infrastructure was the city wall. Just as we no longer need such defenses, so might we look upon our vehicular dependence in the light of a historic evolution. All human constructs are capable of intentional adjustment. Transport can be reduced by providing land for agriculture within every metropolitan area and requiring urban patterns that support transit and enable walking.
Thus I would encourage triage with regard to repairing and maintaining the national vehicular infrastructure, so that resources could be allocated as well to the support of water quality and land for cultivation within metropolitan reach and to the development of a generous public transit system for the movement of goods and people.
—Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, principal, Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., Miami, and dean, University of Miami School of Architecture
The Vision Thing
When one thinks of the great infrastructure projects in history, it was often a design vision that led to innovation.
The Hoover Dam is a great example. Most people think of it as a magnificent feat of engineering prowess. What is not realized is that the original design was so ponderous and unattractive, public officials insisted that an architect was needed to redesign and oversee the project. In 1933, architect Gordon B. Kaufmann was given the commission to rework the dam and make it cohesive. His dramatic concave form organized the functional elements, provided inspiration for millions, and popularized modernist design.
If we are going to create infrastructure that will truly carry us into the next century, we need this kind of imagination, and we need to ensure that architects are in leadership positions on infrastructure projects.
— Mark Strauss, principal, FXFowle Architects, New York
Wind and Water
Our continued growth places demands on public infrastructure. However, infrastructure will change and evolve because of technological advances. It will continue to provide new opportunities for better management of our water and wind resources; we need to capitalize on these with sustainability and green architecture.
Increasing our use of gray water within facilities is going to become a higher priority as well as harnessing wind for energy. Relying more on water retention for everyday needs should result in new infrastructure systems that are more environmentally friendly while utilizing a sometimes wasted resource. Wind energy may supplement some very generic building systems while easing fossil-fuel demands. It could spur a heavier use of wind farms, whose energy creates a network of new infrastructure.
—Curtis J. Moody
Nolan, Columbus, Ohio
Big Dig, Boondoggle?
Is America's infrastructure terminally ailing, or does it just need a twist of the compass and a refueling of priorities? Here in Boston, the home of the $14.5 billion Big Dig, observers and users of the mammoth tunnel project have concurred that, as the old saying goes, “Progress is not its most important product.”
For all the hard-topping, a truly walkable city and serviceable public infrastructure are still out of sight for many inhabitants and commuters stuck in traffic. Given the nation's overall $1.6 trillion infrastructure deficit, there must be a better way to end clogged highways and get travelers moving.
Or so goes the sentiment, while local observers— this writer among them—witness the ordeal of the city's interminable construction-cum-destruction project, only to see traffic multiply and no better options in rail mobility.
In short, there is precious little return on Boston's investment for those wanting to walk or ride on much-needed public transportation. In this project, at least, the axiom “If you build it, they will come” has proven true, to our detriment.
—Jane Holtz Kay
Author, Asphalt Nation