Although his work at Berkeley was focused on how innovation and technological change occurs in the field of transportation, he was well known earlier in his career for leading the so-called “quantitative revolution” in geography.
“Bill moved from geography to transportation in the 1970s. He was particularly interested in innovation and how technological change occurs,” said David Levinson, a former student of Garrison’s who now serves on the faculty of the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering at the University of Minnesota.
“He strongly believed that we should be seeking new development pathways, rather than remaining stuck perfecting existing systems—what he called the ‘polished present’.”
Another former student, Barry Wellar commented in 2007 at the 2007 Anderson Distinguished Lecture in Applied Geography that Garrison “had a way of looking at things that were way outside the box years before that notion was popularized, and even his so-called ‘easy reads’ contained nuances about relationships and processes that would be missed by the casual reader.”
Garrison was born in 1924 and raised in Tennessee. Following his service in World War II during which he did meteorological work for the US Army, he received his PhD in Geography from Northwestern University in 1950.
A few years later, as a young faculty member at the University of Washington, he led the way to revitalizing the field of geography through the use of greater scientific thinking and methods. That led to an increased use of computerized statistical techniques such as multivariate analysis in geographical research. Garrison and his students used such historic computing systems as the IBM 604 and IBM 650. Many of those students would later go on to revolutionize geographic science and geographic information systems.
In recent years, the biennial William L. Garrison Award for Best Dissertation in Computational Geography was created to recognize Garrison’s outstanding research and educational contributions. The award is intended to arouse a more general and deeper understanding of the important role that advanced computation can play in resolving the complex problems of space–time analysis that are at the core of geographic science.
In addition to the University of Washington, Garrison taught at Northwestern University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Illinois, University of Pittsburgh, before he arrived at UC Berkeley in 1973 as Professor in the Civil Engineering Department, and ITTE Director.
By then his interests had shifted to transportation. He made invaluable contributions to the Transportation Engineering Program in the department, expanding and strengthening the planning and policy elements of the curriculum. Likewise, when he took at the helm at ITTE he set out to expand and broaden the scope beyond transportation and traffic engineering.
“Bill steered the insitute into a broad based center for the study of transportation. He expanded its agenda and broadened the community of faculty affiliates to encompass many departments on the campus including City and Regional Planning, Economics, Geography, Public Policy and Sociology,” said Adib Kanafani, CEE Professor of the Graduate School. Kanafani succeeded Garrison as ITS Director in 1983.
“Bill’s leadership was reflected in the institute’s name change as ITTE became the “Institute of Transportation Studies.”
Garrison served on numerous national committees, and served as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Transportation Research Board in 1973. In the late 1980s he spent time in Austria examining growth trajectories of various transportation technologies. Much of that work is what forms the nucleus of The Transportation Experience first published by Oxford University Press in 2006, then revised and published in a second edition in 2014. His co-author was David Levinson.
“He was one of the few people to take a macro-view of transportation and who tried to understand the long-term dynamics of systems,” said Levinson.
In 2007, Garrison gave the Anderson Distinguished lecture in Applied Geography at the Association of American Geographers in Washington, DC.
In his address, he said:
“About fifty years ago I began to teach a course on transportation geography, and at about that same time I began working with others on highway improvement and financing in Washington State and nationwide telephone communications as a civil defense matter. In subsequent decades I have worked to understand transportation systems of many types as well as engineered systems such as sanitary systems. This work raised many questions of a ‘why do systems and actors do what they do’ sort. To comment on those questions I will refer to constraints formed by networks and institutional structures.”
Systems are birthed when actors combine old or new building blocks and produce services aligned with markets. Early on, there is flexibility as the marriage of systems and markets is forged.
The early decades of the railroads provide a sweeping example. Created by mixing and matching building blocks from tramways, steam engines, canal and toll road construction techniques and pricing protocols and management and financing techniques from military, church and industry they molded themselves like clay. Discovery was a key theme—discovering a workable mix of hard and soft technologies and, equally important, discovering markets. Discovery extended to finding improvements in technologies to respond to social innovations, such as those asking for expanded passenger transportation. Railroads adjusted themselves to circumstances of market density, raw materials for fuel and construction, and styles of national governance. They were flexible.
The flexible period ran from about 1830 to 1860. Afterwards, deployment and growth ruled, and network and organizational inflexibilities began to exert themselves, along with those imposed by those striving to control development using standards, regulations, and other tools. Flexibility became more and more restrained…
I recognize that our legacy infrastructure systems have enormous value. They serve as inputs for all that we do, and shape social and economic structures. They form a record of learning and social and economic actions and achievements. But at the same time, their inflexibilities are costly now and place serious limits on options for the future.”
William Louis Garrison is survived by his wife Marcia Garrison and their four children, Deborah Churich, James Garrison, Jane Garrison Grimaldi, and John Garrison; his three children, Sara Garrison, Ann Darrin, and Helen Saxenian from his first wife Mary Margaret Garrison (who predeceased him); 16 grandchildren, and one great grandchild.
Memorial services will be private at the request of the family.