SubEx: Moving Small Package Freight Under City Streets

An Example of Sustainable Resiliency® Thinking

As a strategy for urging the sharing of underground infrastructure geospatial data in the 1990s, Urban Logic began researching the street franchises permitting utilities to run high- and low-tension electrical, gas, telephone and steam distribution networks. With Tim Reason a Columbia University graduate student, the research revived the City’s memory of rights long-thought lost to demand data from its franchisees, Empire City Subway (a Verizon subsidiary) and Con Edison, that resulted in access to elements of the companies’ geographic information systems’ data, ”free”.NYC Subway Beach Station

The underground franchise research led Urban Logic to advocate reviving proposals from the early 1900s for delivering small packages throughout the City by subway, a project called SubEx. As proposed to the Transit Authority, SubEx would reduce the freight carrying demands by courier vans and trucks on the City’s surface streets, and thereby reduce congestion, pollution and vehicular accidents, while simultaneously adding freight-based revenues to the subway system that could fund overdue Americans with Disabilities Act elevator and other capital improvements. SubEx was proposed as a franchise to be operated by a consortium of freight logistics companies, leveraging and providing synergies with their existing and future bar code and other package tracking technologies.

ChicagoUndergroundFreightNYT12301923SubEx was a finalist in the Buckminster Fuller Institute Challenge. SubEx is a practical example of the application of Urban Logic’s sustainable resiliency underwriting principles to municipal finance, as it simultaneously would reduce energy demands within the City (gas-powered trucks) while strengthening mass transit system capital infrastructure, safety and revenues. As a City exposes to pothole lawsuits, under-grounding small package freight would reduce surface wear on City streets and thereby the incidents of “slip and fall” liability to the City and other drivers from courier van operations. NYSERDA had previously studied a similar proposal for pneumatic tube freight.

Bruce Cahan

Bruce Cahan is CEO and co-founder of Urban Logic, a nonprofit that harnesses finance and technology to change how systems think, act and feel. He is an Ashoka Fellow, an Adjunct Professor at Stanford University's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, a Distinguished Scholar at Stanford mediaX and a former CodeX Fellow at Stanford's Center for Legal Informatics. Bruce was trained as an international finance lawyer at Weil Gotshal & Manges in NYC (10 years) and as merchant banker at Asian Oceanic in Hong Kong (2 years). Bruce graduated The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (B.S. Economics 1976) and Temple Law School (J.D. 1979). Bruce has been licensed to practice law in California (2006), New York (1980) and Pennsylvania (1980).

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