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Transportation: A Geographical Analysis

Transportation: A Geographical Analysis

by William R. Black

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This comprehensive text provides an authoritative introduction to transportation geography. With a primary focus on the United States, the volume also examines problems and trends in Europe and other parts of the developed world. Students gain a solid grasp of the history, definitions, and core concepts of the field, as well as models for analyzing transportation


This comprehensive text provides an authoritative introduction to transportation geography. With a primary focus on the United States, the volume also examines problems and trends in Europe and other parts of the developed world. Students gain a solid grasp of the history, definitions, and core concepts of the field, as well as models for analyzing transportation networks and flows between regions. Environmental, economic, and social issues in transportation planning and policy are addressed, and the uses of geographic information systems in transport (GIS-T) are discussed in detail. Written in a clear, straightforward style, the volume emphasizes real-world applications of the concepts discussed and identifies promising directions for future research. No advanced mathematical knowledge on the part of the reader is assumed.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This high-quality book from a noted transport geographer is a welcome addition to the literature. Readers interested in networks, flow analysis, and spatial interaction will find it especially indispensable. Clear and insightful sections on the transport planning process, transport impact analysis, and transport's impact on the environment are major bonuses. From a contemporary perspective, the sections on geographic information systems in transport and the treatment of such current issues as congestion and sustainable transport are critical reading for academics and policymakers alike."—Thomas R. Leinbach, Department of Geography, University of Kentucky

"This is the best and most comprehensive analysis available of regional transportation systems in the United States, befitting William R. Black's reputation as one of the field's foremost authorities. Not only is Black's work on the evolution of U.S. transportation insightful, but his development and demonstration of research methodologies is also without peer. The book distills historical and recent policy questions into clear, researchable issues, blending spatial, economic, environmental, and social considerations. It concludes on a positive note of sustainability that is both optimistic and judicious. This book should be required reading for all transportation researchers and analysts. As a text, it is sure to dominate the field for the next decade."—Kingsley E. Haynes, University Professor and Dean, School of Public Policy, George Mason University

"It would be difficult to imagine a more useful or comprehensive introductory text in the field of transportation geography. The author successfully manages to infuse the text with his abiding interest in the geographical aspects of all things to do with travel and transport."—Andrew Gillespie, University of Newcastle, UK

Built Environment
"...provides a major contribution to the transport geography literature....each chapter could easily be used as a lecture topic in its own right. Its strengths are in placing the geographical literature in the centre of the transport literature, as the richness of that material has much to offer all students and researchers. The book is full of nuggets of information and ideas, with an overall clarity of perspective."

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A Geographical Analysis
By William R. Black

The Guilford Press

Copyright © 2003 The Guilford Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-57230-848-6

Chapter One

An Introduction to Transportation Geography

Geography is that branch of science that seeks to explain, predict, and otherwise analyze the location and magnitude of phenomena at or near the earth's surface. These phenomena may be actual surface patterns (e.g., cities or river networks), or they may be phenomena that for a given time may be mapped (e.g., peak hour traffic in London during an average day in 2000, or migration flows between states of the United States between 1995 and 2000). Where sufficiently detailed information is available, the geographer can examine the processes that have led to the formation of a given spatial pattern.

Transportation is the movement of goods or people from one location to another location. Broadly defined, this includes just about every type of movement possible, so we need to limit the definition somewhat. Thus, transportation is the movement of goods beyond their local production area and the movement of people between different geographical locations. Such a definition enables us to disregard the movement of goods within a plant or within an industrial complex, of people within an establishment, and of the migration of populations, topics that are examinedby other disciplines.

The transportation geographer's interests center on both the location and geographic pattern of transport systems and the magnitude of the movement or spatial interaction over the elements of such systems.

Defining geography as that branch of science that seeks to explain, predict, and otherwise analyze the location and magnitude of phenomena at or near the earth's surface does have implications for transportation. Implicit in this type of definition is the existence of some type of differentiation; that is, the surface of the earth differs from place to place. If this were not the case, there would be no variation. All places would be much the same and as a result there would be no need for transport and travel beyond local areas since there would be nothing in the rest of the world different from where we are at present. Everyone and every place would have the same resources and capabilities.

However, the surface of the earth is different from place to place. Places differ in terms of population size, language, resources, environmental factors, industrial specialization, local history, and human activities. It is these differences from place to place that generate the demand for transportation. People want commodities that are not produced locally-for example, fruits, vegetables, televisions, shoes, paper, and thousands of other goods-and this desire generates demand for transport. Businesses need resources that are often not available locally, and this need generates a demand for transportation. We vacation in areas that have different histories (battlefields, medieval castles, colonial origins), different environments (coastal areas, the mountains, wilderness areas, the tropics) and different attractions (largest structures, major amusement parks, casinos, etc.). We work, shop, worship, and seek entertainment, for the most part, outside our own neighborhoods, necessitating a journey to work, to shop, to go to church, to visit the multiplex or video store. Transport enables us to carry out all these activities. One can see how geography influences transport and transport enables us to cope with geography.

Transport has other ties to the study of geography. A major portion of the field of geography has as its focus human interactions with the environment. Transport is one of the major ways in which humans impact their environment. The atmospheric impacts are among the best known of these; they include air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, acid deposition, and ozone layer destruction. However, there are many other ways in which transport impacts the environment. It is capable of altering soils, geomorphology, waters, and plant and animal life. Although these impacts are primarily negative, it goes without saying that transport brings many good things to our lives as well.

Many years ago transport geographer Edward L. Ullman (1954a) published a paper entitled "Geography as Spatial Interaction." Ullman saw the field of transport geography as the definitive center of the field of geography. He believed that it was the manner in which humans interact with their world-their spatial interaction-that defined the field. Some might not go so far today, but Ullman's views are illustrative of the importance of this field to the overall discipline of geography.

Geographers do not have a monopoly on the spatial approach or the examination of spatial relationships. Engineers and other social scientists contributed to the development of the more scientific aspects of the field recognized here as transport geography. One of the earliest contributions focusing on the importance of transport and transport costs is an 1826 work by J. H. von Thunen (1875), Der Isolietre Staat. In this study the author clearly shows the manner in which distance and transport costs affect land rents. Dunn (1955) made many of these ideas available to geographers.

Another early contribution to this field came from the work of Leon Lalanne (1863), a French civil engineer. His paper sought to point out certain fundamental relationships between the distribution of places, their sizes, and the number of transport routes serving them. These ideas were to be advanced further during the 20th century with the work of the geographer Walter Christaller (1933). Another engineer who made a fundamental contribution to our understanding of transport network development was A. M. Wellington (1887). Wellington's concern was, which places should be connected to a railroad route that was to pass between two known end points. He recognized a financial desire to pick up additional traffic, if any was to be had, but not if deviations from a least cost route were excessive.

Of course, one should not overlook the work of historians in advancing our understanding of transport development. In order to understand the development of transport routes and networks, one must take a historical approach. Much of what we know today about transport route location is the result of research by historians and historical geographers; moreover, many of the academic mistakes made in modeling are attributable to ignoring the work of these scholars. The works of Ringwalt (1888) and Dunbar (1915) are critical to understanding transport development in the United States. Vance (1986) prepared a more recent treatment of transport development in the United States and Europe. In the case of British road transport, one should be aware of the works of Anderson (1932) and Parnell (1838). Construction of the National Road in the United States used the ideas and plans of Thomas Telford, an engineer who designed many of the roads in England during the first and second decade of the 1800s, which were available (Gibb, 1935). Of course, a thorough understanding of world transport history, even for a single mode, would consume an entire career, but an awareness of at least some of this literature is advisable for any transport researcher.

Systematic treatments of what could be called transport geography are difficult to come by prior to the middle of the 20th century. Among the few notable pieces is Mark Jefferson's (1928) "The Civilizing Rails," a cartographic study of world railroad development. One can only imagine the time and effort it took for Jefferson to prepare the maps of that study in comparison to the use of geographic information systems (GIS) and transport databases today that could prepare the same in only minutes (or less). Pearcy and Alexander's (1951, 1953) work on airline development is also notable for its completeness on a subject that was still evolving at the time their work was completed.

Ullman's (1957) American Commodity Flow represents the first systematic attempt to explain what was happening with commodity movement in the United States. It is proper to view it as the beginning of scientific treatment of the subject in the United States.

Ullman, with Harold Mayer (1954b), surveyed the field of transportation geography in their volume American Geography: Inventory and Prospect. Their paper on transportation geography examined the field and identified 11 areas of interest to transport geographers at the time. These were:

1. Examination and mapping of transportation as a measure of relations between areas.

2. The study of ports, their traffic, and hinterlands. 3. Comparisons of transportation systems and the identification of criteria for such comparisons.

4. The patterns and selection of transportation routes.

5. The problem of securing adequate data on flows.

6. Estimating and forecasting the demand for transportation.

7. Examination of existing or given traffic flows and evaluation of their efficiency.

8. Analysis of the components of freight rates.

9. Studies of the relationship between transport routes and environmental conditions.

10. Studies of the impact of technology on transport costs and flows.

11. The gravity model and social physics.

This volume examines most of these topics. It does not examine port cities with their facilities, traffic, and hinterlands as such, since these seem to be more of interest to urban geographers today. It will, however, examine ports as nodes of a network that both produce and attract flows from other areas.


Most of the other areas of interest in the 1954 Ullman and Mayer survey continue to be of concern today, although major changes in both transportation research and geographical research have altered them since that time. Geography underwent some major methodological and philosophical changes during the 1950s. Transportation geography proved to be a focus of much of this change. Exactly when the effects of this change were felt in transportation geography is difficult to determine, but, based on the literature, it occurred between 1956 and 1960. The prime innovators of change were E. L. Ullman, W. L. Garrison and W. Bunge, all of whom were colleagues at the University of Washington at the time.

Ullman's primary contributions were his review of the field (1954b) and his monograph on American Commodity Flow (1957). Although a review is rarely recognized as a contribution, this one was in that it pointed out several areas where research was needed. In his subsequent monograph Ullman succinctly specified the three basic determinants of trade and spatial interaction: complementarity, intervening opportunities, and transferability -all of which are discussed later in this book. In addition, Ullman was one of the first geographers to suggest that the gravity model should be applicable to the analysis of flows between regions.

Bunge's (1966) Theoretical Geography with its emphasis on spatial variables and location helped to fill a partial void in transportation geography research created by a paucity of studies concerned with the location of transport routes and networks. A possible explanation for this lack of development was that locations of these facilities were examined only if they affected the pattern of circulation (movement). Bunge suggested that the location patterns of the facilities were worth examining in and of themselves, and he ventured outside the geographical literature in his search for theory relevant to the locations of these facilities as well as for theory that would increase our understanding of movement and spatial interaction.

Garrison's influence on transportation geography began in the late 1950s with the publication of three review papers on the spatial structure of the economy (Garrison, 1959a, 1959b, 1960a). The first two papers concerned location theory and transportation costs as a determinant of the optimal location of production. The third paper in the series noted the importance of the direct study of transportation networks as a research area rather than as an explanatory variable in the study of spatial interaction. At about the same time, Garrison, often working alone and often with Ullman and Brian Berry, tested the gravity model in an attempt to verify the concepts of interaction (Garrison, 1956b), and made research contributions in the area of network impact and network enlargement that are regarded as classics today (Garrison & Berry, 1957; Garrison & Marble, 1958; Garrison, Berry, Marble, Nystuen, & Morrill, 1959).

The association of Garrison and Marble (1965) also resulted in the Prolegomenon to the Forecasting of Transportation Development. This research report and the preliminary papers from which it was formed had a significant impact on the scope and methods utilized in transportation geography for more than two decades, and, it continues to be a frequently cited source in any discussion of the network approach to transport geography. Of equal importance at the time was Haggett's (1966) Locational Analysis in Human Geography, which was followed a couple years later by Haggett and Chorley's (1969) Network Analysis in Geography. These were major textbooks that promoted and spread new methods into all areas of the discipline that were known only to a small group of scholars before this time. An excellent summary of the network literature will be found in Leinbach (1976).


In addition to the work of the individuals discussed so far, several external factors influenced the direction that transportation geography research in the last half of the 20th century would take. There were three major stimuli. One of the most significant was the post-World War II recognition by city planners, governments, and so on of the transportation problems facing urban areas. Initially, geographers avoided these problems primarily because the field was very descriptive at the time and had not developed ways to analyze them. But they couldn't avoid them forever, because the problems were inherently geographical in nature. The problems had to do with areal variation in traffic produced in subareas of a city (trip generation); the examination and prediction of flows between subareas (trip distribution or spatial interaction); and the identification of minimum distance or time paths for these flows over a network (trip assignment). Perhaps no other subfield of geography has problems that are so inherently geographical.

A second external influence was the development of research technologies capable of handling the complex problems encountered in transportation research. High-speed computer hardware and the development of linear programming are prime examples of these technological changes.


Excerpted from Transportation by William R. Black Copyright © 2003 by The Guilford Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

William R. Black is Professor of Geography and Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Bloomington. During his career at Indiana University he has directed 16 transportation research projects for state and federal transportation agencies and published more than 200 research papers and reports. He served on the activation task force that created the Consolidated Rail Corporation in the 1970s and was the first director of the Indiana Department of Transportation in 1980. He has served as chair of the Transportation Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) and as North American Associate Editor of the Journal of Transport Geography. He is the recipient of the AAG's 1995 Ullman Award for contributions to transportation geography. In 2000 he presented the Fleming lecture in transport geography at the annual AAG meeting. He is active in the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Research Council where he served as Chairman of the Committee on Social and Economic Factors in Transportation, and continues to serve as a member of several other committees and project panels. He received a Distinguished Service Award from the TRB in 2002. He is currently coordinator of STAR, a sustainable transport analysis and research thematic network funded by the National Science Foundation.

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