David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axthausen. Elements of Access. Network Design Lab, 2017.
Access — where can you get to soon? — is, or should be, the core idea of transportation planning. David Levinson has long been one of the leaders in quantifying and analyzing access, and this work kicks off this fine new book. The cover — a 1925 map showing travel times to the centre of Melbourne, Australia — captures the universality of the idea. Access is what I prefer to call freedom: Where you can go determines what you can do, so access is about literally everything that matters to us once we step out our front door.
But that’s just the beginning of this very friendly book. Elements of Access is really a tour of the whole field of transport planning, and its goal is to strike a balance between academic precision and readability. In this, it’s a great success. I’ve never taken more pleasure from reading academic writing about transport. The writing is mostly clear and easy to read, and deftly combines technical ideas with references to everyday life.
The book is also easy to browse. It’s organized in units of 1-2 pages, grouped under six themes. Photos are used well. Footnotes appear in the otherwise white space on each page, so that there’s no flipping to them, and interesting nuggets in them have a chance to catch your eye. The book is also full of internal references, aiming for the structure of a hypertext to the extent that a physical book can.
Do I have gripes? Sure. Inevitably, a book of this breadth rushes past many rich topics, and sometimes — as with transit fares — the treatment is too cursory to be useful. Some explanations are clearer to the average reader than others. And I wish the content had been linked to the concept of access more explicitly throughout.
Of course, one common reason for negative reviews is that the reviewer looked at the bibliography, didn’t see his own book listed, and formed a judgment right there. Well, my book isn’t in the bibliography, but Elements of Access is a good book anyway, whether for reading, browsing, or as a reference. I recommend it.