“Door to Door”, Transportation, and Automobile Violence

And a list of some other great books on transportation.

May 4, 2016

Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation by Edward Humes

Published in April of 2016.

Have you, or a loved one, ever been in a car accident?

In 2013, 2.3 million people were injured in a car crash.

Each day, about 90 Americans are killed in car accidents - about 33,000 per year.

Car accidents are the leading cause of death for Americans age 1 to 30.

Edwards Humes is a writer with a point of view - and his view is that U.S. transportation system is badly broken.  Not only broken in the sense that our transportation infrastructure falling apart (which it is) - but broken in the sense that our transportation system is literally killing us.

Humes is incensed at all this needless car related carnage.  Why is it, he asks, that in the face one American killed about every 15 minutes in a car accident that this is not a national emergency?  Why haven’t federal, state, and local politicians made reducing automobile violence a priority?

The crazy story of automobile carnage provides the lens that Humes uses to examine the larger U.S. transportation system. He explains why our highways, bridges, and tunnels are disintegrating around us (Congress’ refusal to even consider a raise in the gas tax that no longer adequately funds the Highway Trust Fund) - and what should be done (variable toll pricing).

Some of my favorite chapters in Door to Door are when Humes leaves the highways, and ventures in the world’s of ports, UPS logistics centers, and the long journeys that underlie every pizza we eat and every cup of coffee that we drink.

Door to Door gives the reader a ground level view of how of the goods that we take for granted actually make it into our hands.  Almost all the clothing, shoes, and furniture that we buy originates in Asia, is shipped by container ship to a port (Humes spends lots of time at our busiest ports - the twin L.A. and Long Beach port complex), and is then shipped to a fulfillment warehouse by truck or train (or both).   Each of these steps requires seamless coordination and enormous resources - a logistical infrastructure largely invisible to consumers.  Door to Door peels back the cover on the supply chain - and will change how you think about the modern consumer economy.

Door to Door ends with a plea to speed up advances that may lower automobile deaths.  Hume argues that we have been living for far too long on the last transportation revolution (Eisenhower’s 1950’s initiated Interstate Highway System), and that we are long past due for the next leap forward.

This next transportation leap may come in the form of autonomous cars, dedicated bus and bike lanes, ride sharing, or variable tolling.  What it will not come in is through the building of more highway lanes - as they just increase the amount of traffic on the road.

Humes’ prediction is that by 2040 the US will see move to a safer regime of autonomous automobiles.  He compares driving a car to the history of horses, as within our cultural memory horseback riding has evolved from a mode of transportation to a source of recreation.  He is hopeful that in his lifetime that the vehicle violence will recede into memory.

What are your favorite books on transportation?

I still have not read Rose George’s Ninety Percent of Everything, mostly because it is not yet out as an audiobook.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s 2015 book Move: Putting America's Infrastructure Back in the Lead is an excellent read

I’m also waiting for Henry Petroski’s new book The Road Taken: The History and Future of America's Infrastructure to come out as an audiobook.

When my kids got their drivers licenses I made them read Tom Vanderbilt’s amazing 2009 book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us).

recommend Earl Swift’s The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways.

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson is a classic.

And I loved Pietra Rivoli's The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power and Politics of the World Trade.  

Do you have any other transportation books to recommend?

What are you reading?



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