Sunday, February 12, 2012

Backtracking

When I became involved in traffic and transport research, much attention was paid to get people out of their cars and into public transport. In my opinion we were actually comparing two modes of transport, that had very different characteristics. As I already assumed, and what became evident from British research, people tend to think in terms of travel time, when regarding their home to work trips, not in terms of miles to cover or even costs. 
So, I started thinking of a method to analyze this phenomenon more precisely. As our faculty was a foremost developer in the field of GIS, I went for a completely different approach to the problem. The idea sprang from listening to the pilots of planes that had landed on the runway of Juliana Airport St. Maarten. After landing, and coming to a standstill, the pilots informed the control power, that they were ready to backtrack, i.e. returming on the same runway to the terminal platform. I discussed this with two students, who had to conceive their final thesis. They were willing to pursue this new approach on the important circle group of cities in Holland, called Randstad by KLM-founder Plesman. This entrepreneur argued that because of environmental reasons related to the advent of jet planes, a new airport had to be located in the central area of Holland, and not close to Amsterdam. Although politics did not comply, the name Randstad survived.
Realizing, that on the one hand work opportunities were rather concentrated (in regional space), such as in ports, airports and city centers, it was evident, that contrariwise, living had more and more deconcentrated in sprawled suburban areas. I pursued a GIS-based travel time analysis, which started at the work concentrations, to backtrack to the housing areas, along the existing infrastructure. The students collected data on the amount of jobs in the work areas, also establishing establishing their relative importance. Furthermore, a mean ultimate travel time of 37 minutes had already been concluded from previous research, so this limit was used to eventually coin the outer boundaries of the analysis. 
Especially, the living area covered by public transport was (as expected) much smaller, than that by car, but (far more importantly) well-defined on the map by now. It proved to be an eye-opener to regional planners as well as planners of public transport. No need to say, that by computer all kinds of analysis could be performed to analyze different policies on infrastructure and urban developments. Once, I happened to see a professor seeking through the trash can for a copy of my map, I just had discarded. Not stupid though, as the Minister herself thanked me personnally for the analysis I sent her.
How did I manage to keep up the necessary speed of my research work? I worked more or less in isolation with my assistants and students, and did not react to silly remarrks. Often also working outside office hours, starting at 7 (and 10') o'├žlock, when the door of the building was unlocked, staying late, and working in the weekend. Nevertheless, I have been accused of laziness. Yet, my schedule consisted of a tight program, with many external obligations and deadlines. That left no time and will to consider gossip issues.
To prevent false conclusions, I should stress that my daily work environment was very efficient and pleasant, consisting for the most part of hard working posittive juniors outside the 'policy realm'. The newest and best apparatus was always at hand. It was an energetic faculty, stll growing in contrast to most other faculties of the university. However, in the past I used to be paid for what I produced, and expected a university to do the same. The fact that this did not happen (leaving me permanently on a junior scale level) left a feeling of shame of course, but I had no time and willingness to nourish that.