Connecting Point A to Point B

We all remember our basic exposure to geometry and the concept of labeling various points with letters. In pragmatic America, it hasn't taken long for the concept to leak into our language, with "Point A" now synonymous with a departure location and "Point B" meaning our destination.

In the case of a trip involving air travel, Point A should be our house or office or wherever we are when we launch ourselves physically out the door for business or pleasure. Correspondingly, Point B should be grandma's house, a hotel or the boarding ramp of a cruise ship -- wherever our bags are going to be opened next (excluding security searches and customs).

But somewhere along the way, commercial aviation has hijacked these definitions and created instead an artificial world in which Point A and Point B are both at the airport.

It's a "Well, Duh!" statement to say that most of us don't live at airports. In fact, airports are really just transfer points in a journey, a place we change our mode of transportation from a car or bus or van or train to an airplane, and vice versa.

That's what an airport should be. What we've created, however, is something quite different.

It would be easy to say that our European friends have it right. After all, when an American arrives at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and realizes there's a major train station (the TGV high-speed system) literally bisecting the terminals, the concept seems, well, foreign. So, too, does the system at Frankfurt, which flies in the face of American aviation unilateralism: They not only have the effrontery to mix rails and wings, they exacerbate it with a bus station in the terminal.

Of course, while not all of Europe's airfields are multi-modal transportation centers, there are enough examples to make our American preoccupation with the stand-alone airport seem very myopic, if not downright dumb. All that steel, all that concrete, all those shops (and all those public funds) and not a train in sight.

Examining U.S. Airports

The best (or worst) example has to be Denver International.

Built a mere decade ago miles to the east of the overcrowded Stapleton field it replaced, there's little argument a new airport was needed for the area. But, the shortsightedness of using nothing but a highway to connect the city of Denver to their new aerospace Taj Mahal is staggering. The need for a system of light or high-speed rail between the airport and downtown was, and is, painfully obvious, but it was never made a required part of the project -- despite a major investment of our federal tax dollars.

Worse, even though there's a main Amtrak line only six miles south of Denver International, putting a railway station in the basement of the multibillion-dollar facility was never seriously pursued.

You have only to stroll through the beautiful interior of our reborn Union Station in Washington D.C., to understand that a train station can actually feel and operate like a major airport, with shops and services and soaring interiors and irritating PA announcements along with ticket counters and Starbucks. There is no natural law that would cause space-time to collapse if Denver International had an Amtrak station in the basement, or (heaven forbid), a Greyhound bus station.

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