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How Urban Planners and Engineers have it wrong about accessibility

With finals beginning next week, this will be the last Faster Badger of the spring semester. The Faster Badger will begin next Fall in September. Happy Summer everyone!


End of Semester Dinner: Wednesday, May 1st, 6pm (central),


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Wheels on Steel:

Fast Company
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Mass Transit
Railway Age

Irish Times

Down the Tube:

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Up in The Air (or Space):



High-Speed Rail Alliance Luncheon

On April 26th, three members of the WiHST group traveled to Chicago and attended the High-Speed Rail Alliance's first luncheon. The speaker was Chicago's Metro Rail CEO, Jim Derwinski. The presentation included background on the challenges that Metra's faces, especially in terms of bridges that need to be repaired (over 600). However, other highlights were speeding up of some trains to 90 mph, rerouting Amtrak's Lincoln Service along a new route from Joliet to Chicago to decrease travel times by 15 minutes, and plans for battery powered trains that were just purchased in February...which also could include the potential for hydrogen cell trains.

In addition to the High-Speed Rail Luncheon; Kyle, Noah, and Mike toured Chicago Union Station, Ogilvie Transportation Center, Millenium Station, Adler Planetarium, as well as Millenium Park. Probably the biggest shock of the trip was the $60 a day parking rate in the loop. Yikes, $60. Better to take the train than drive.


The Cost of Friction (in Transportation)

James A. Graaskamp was a professor of Real Estate here in the Wisconsin School of Business from 1964 through his passing in 1988.  Today the Graaskamp Center for Real Estate Development is named in his honor, and his research into "Fundamentals of Real Estate Development" investigates the relationship between space producers, space users, and public infrastructure. This research is the foundation for real estate development programs throughout the country.

An interesting theory of Professor Graaskamp’s work is on linkages, specifically the friction of travel. A linkage is defined as the relationship between a household and another point that requires movement of persons, goods, or messages (granted the message part is a bit outdated).  However, the

Mrbobax, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

understanding is that it is not the inherent value of the land that is important. Rather it is the connections between that piece of land and other points.  Then the dollar costs, time, and stress of moving from this piece of land to other points is defined as “friction”.  The more “friction” the less valuable the piece of land is.

The irony is that Professor Graaskamp's theory on linkages and friction is more advanced than most Urban Planning theories. In such textbooks, such as The Geography of Urban Transportation and Transportation Engineering, an introduction (both taught here at UW-Madison); the measure of a parcel's value is in accessibility. Meaning Accessibility is the sum of destinations and certain distances. A = sum: O x D (note this formula is simplified for HTML code). However, the Urban Planning and Engineering textbooks miss the most important value of travel..."friction". After all, if roads are congested with bumper-to-bumper traffic, your travel will be slower, more time-consuming, and more expensive. So, an individual might be only willing to travel to destinations less than 10 miles from a home during the day. However, if travel was reliable, fast, stress-free, and cheap... an individual would be willing to travel 50, or 100 miles in a day. Thus, that person is more productive and able to reach more destinations, and that piece of real estate is more valuable because it is able to reach more destinations. This is the basis of Graaskamp's theories, missed in Urban Planning, but can be easily seen in land values today.

So what does this mean for high-speed rail?

Well, if you are able to reduce the friction (IE: time and stress of travel), the land will become more valuable. Since the piece of land is then more valuable, more is built on the land (traditionally upwards).  That is why we see city centers built around train stations in the 1800s, Miami Central Station & Denver Union Station thrive today, and why we will see high-speed rail stations in the future become the most valuable piece of land in a region…. all because of Graaskamp’s theories on linkages and reduction in friction.


The Faster Badger is produced by students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to help break through the misconceptions of high-speed rail and high-speed transportation. This blog is for educational purposes only and all opinions presented are of the students.

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