Transport of Delight:
The Mythical Conception of Rail Transit in
By Jonathan Richmond.
The following review by James Smart appears in Technology and culture, July 2005.
"This book is a study about the failure of thought and its causes," writes Jonathan Richmond in his introduction to Transport of Delight. "It starts with a bizarre decision: to construct a comprehensive rail passenger system in an environment where it appears incapable of providing real benefits."
He finds the explanation for this decision in the power of myth and symbol, image and metaphor, citing extensively from linguistic experts such as Susan Langer, George Lakoff, and Martin Fossand on his first page quoting a passage from Russell Ackoff's The Art of Problem Solving: "We usually try to reduce complex situations to what appear to be one or more simple solvable problems . . . sometimes referred to as 'cutting the problem down to size.' In so doing we often reduce our chances of finding a creative solution to the original problem." This is exactly what
Transport of Delight devotes considerable attention to the political decision-making process that led to passage of Proposition A, the local half-cent tax that funded the return of electric railways, a process ultimately dependent on "availability of a set of symbols, images, and metaphors which come together coherently to create a myth that acts with the power of truth" (p. 6). The human body's circulation system, for example, became a powerful metaphor for transit planners. Likewise valuable was the perception among civic leaders that electric trains were "sexier" than buses, a perception Richmond addresses at length in a section titled "The Train as Symbol of Community Pride: Penis Envy in Los Angeles."
The Blue Line was brought into existence not on the basis of any rational assessment of available choices, but to reward political acumen, particularly that of County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn (now deceased, though his son became mayor of Los Angeles), through whose Fourth District was routed not only the Blue Line but also two other new electric rail lines -- all this in the wake of devastating riots in South Central Los Angeles and repeated recommendations that improved transit would have beneficial social consequences.
The problem was "cut down to size," yes, but
Amazon Book Description
This unusual book develops a novel theory of myth to explain the construction of rail passenger transit in
Transport of Delight is a true interdisciplinary work, and includes a thorough analytical assessment of the Los Angeles rail program, with a focus on the Long Beach Blue Line light rail — the first of the new projects to go ahead. En route, it shows that ridership forecasting for this project was not only biased and statistically invalid, but in fact done to justify decisions made on other grounds.
A political analysis shows how consensus was reached to proceed with the light rail to
About the Author
Jonathan E. D. Richmond has a Ph.D. in transportation planning from MIT, where he was a Fulbright Scholar, has taught at UCLA, the University of Reading and the University of Sydney, held a fellowship at Harvard, served as transportation policy adviser for the Chair of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission and consulted for the World Bank.
This review by Jim Smart, adjunct professor of journalism and public speaking at California State University Fullerton and Cal State San Bernardino. From 1981 until 1998 he served as head of media relations for the Southern California Rapid Transit District and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Permission to reprint a review published here may be obtained only from the reviewer.