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  • Writer's pictureMark Reiner, PhD, PE

From RABID to the Smart Appian Way

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

The term ‘infrastructure’ could be used to describe an old town movie theater or a thermo-nuclear powerplant. For effective urban infrastructure policy, there is a need to better define the characteristic hazards and vulnerabilities of each transition and paradigm along the way from natural resource extraction to end-use consumption. For city distribution infrastructure, RABID defines the hazards of collocation, the decay of inaccessibility, and disruption. After all, urban roads are only as ‘smart’ as the paradigm that the road is located within.

The term ‘smart city’ is an umbrella concept that contains a number of subthemes such as smart urbanism, smart economy, sustainable and smart environment, smart technology, smart energy, smart mobility, smart health, and so on [1]. But consider the overwhelming focus on information technology (IT) that dominates many of the subthemes of a smart city. For example, the American Planning Association (APA) defines a smart city as one that “… use information and technology to engage citizens, deliver city services, and enhance urban systems. The use of Smart City technologies results in cost efficiencies, resilient infrastructure, and an improved urban experience.” [2]. This definition assumes that a city already has reliable infrastructure, free of vulnerabilities [3], and that technology will make urban infrastructure more efficient.

The vision of a smart city has truly air-brushed out the omnipresent road construction, potholes, and decaying infrastructure. No doubt that IT provides critical services for managing and engaging a smart city, but IT will not reverse the decay of infrastructure or correct the physical configuration of the RABID paradigm. In Ben Green’s book – Smart Enough Cities – he states that technology will have little impact unless it is thoughtfully embedded into municipal structures [4]. The path to the smart city begins by questioning if smart technologies will make the RABID paradigm economically efficient, and, if not, what paradigm is the best foundation for a smart/resilient city.

Defining Disruption-Free Zones in a City

As roads are the arteries of a city, any closures due to maintenance, repair, operations, and failures (MROF) of the underlying foundational infrastructure [5] will cause changes in commuting, business, and even additional accidents. However, cities need to characterize where and when MROF would actually be considered as 'disruptive' at a city-level scale. A road/lane closed in a quiet residential area is not the same as an unexpected water main break under a critical commuting corridor during rush hour. While all cities have areas that can be viewed as more critical than others, urban planners generally do not classify areas where road closures would be the most disruptive. Nor are there readily available uniform classifications to facilitate the ranking of economic or commuter corridors by importance where failure would be most disruptive [6]. And, as all cities are unique, a customized approach to determine such areas can be based on existing data sources, analyzed by existing city staff, such as [6]:

  • sales tax (commercial) as a portion of the city’s gross domestic product (GDP);

  • primary employer use tax (PEUT) that crosses the industrial and commercial sectors;

  • vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as a percent of the city’s total transportation model;

  • residential, commercial, and industrial density areas by block;

  • historical and tourism districts;

  • key public transit infrastructure; and

  • specific socioeconomic and demographic characteristics to better characterize a city.

Yang and Peng similarly suggested areas in the urban environment that should not be disrupted [7]:

  • Central Business District, and other areas of high-density commercial centers

  • Areas with high speed railway, airport, port and other major infrastructure;

  • Urban roads with high traffic flow or intensive underground utilities;

  • Areas where subway, underground road, urban underground complex is constructed;

  • Combined with urban renewal, road reconstruction, river and use of underground space;

  • Combined with the construction of subway system, underground road, BRT system, etc.

The above data sources could provide pre-defined areas (before a failure occurs) where a city should not be disrupted, i.e. 'disruption-free zones', and other customized weighting criteria could be applied [6]. Figure 1 is a reminder that cities have built their economic engines above RABID. A smart/resilient city would have an infrastructure paradigm in such areas that maintains a disruption-free zone of city-life.

Figure 1: Direct Contact of RABID to the Transit Required for a Functioning City


This blog concludes where it began in Part 1 with a quote from Donella Meadows that focuses on the paradigm before individual systems: “…the places to intervene in a system begin with understanding the goals of the system and the paradigm out of which the goals, rules, feedback structure arise”. [8]. Discussing individual sectors, e.g. ‘smart water’ or ‘smart energy’, without addressing the paradigm that each sector resides within, ignores the constraints that reduce the adaptive flexibility [9] required to realize any stated goals.

Cities can either invest in smart technology that supports the known conclusion that RABID is a dumb paradigm, or we can change to a smart paradigm and use dumb technology – detect leaks with our eyes. By placing utilities in tunnels that are designed for easy access, and HS-20 live loading, cities could protect critical urban corridors from disruption. But also, a utility tunnel as an environment for a new paradigm provides the adaptive flexibility for additional sector goals:

  • reduced right-of-way requirements [10];

  • eliminating most of the indirect life-cycle city costs discussed in Part 4;

  • implement technologies that make a smart paradigm more efficient;

  • design ultra-longevity/pothole free roads; and,

  • embed technology beneficial to the deployment of EVs/AVs.

As stated throughout each of the five parts to this blog, a new paradigm is not created by a single technology. Rather it will be defined by how collocated systems, and the city that depends on them, are viewed as a whole. This blog is also not intended to show schematics of tunnels that separate wet from dry sectors, nor discuss the materials that would lead to ultra-longevity roads. Rather, I have trust that if the ancient Romans successfully built roads that lasted millennia, we certainly could develop this Smart Appian Way (SAW) paradigm of disruption-free critical corridors in our cities. Consider how SAW would also change the future of resilience planning if the vulnerabilities of existing urban infrastructure could be addressed at the intersection level. From Part 2, how would the average grade of an intersection in a critical corridor change in SAW where a 130-year-old cast iron water main was in a utility tunnel, rather than just below the surface of a freshly paved road. Rather than failing the freshly-paved road above the water main, the water would be directed away and safely discharged by the tunnel.


The inaccessibility to maintain urban infrastructure in RABID and the motive to patch failures, rather than proactively replace decaying assets, is leaving behind a pattern of weak-links across our cities (discussed in Part 4). And, as cities cannot effectively budget for the indirect costs of unplanned infrastructure failures, i.e. TED (Part 4), it is important to take a proactive approach that removes the need for constant reactive repurposing of city resources. By proactively (pre-failure) defining what is ‘disruptive’ using city staff and data, a case can be made how this creates the foundation for a smart/resilient city. Compare this proactive approach to the reactive approach that is best defined in Michael Lewis’ recent book, The Fifth Risk, where the definition of Fifth Risk is stated as “…the risk a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions.” [11]. And while the average citizen in the United States has heard that we have an aging infrastructure crisis, the assumption remains that the government will eventually resolve the issue. It takes proactive city-leadership with a paradigm perspective of urban infrastructure to change.

While there are certainly no supporters of the RABID paradigm, city leadership cannot underestimate the power of the “that’s how it’s always been done” argument from each individual utility. As stated by Oregon Governor Kate Brown – “Resistance to understanding a threat grows with proximity.” [11] Moving from RABID to SAW has to be city-driven, founded on life-cycle cost savings, and led by city leadership who envisions a more holistic approach to resilience and smart city initiatives.

For those that read all 5 parts of this blog, thank you. More to come.

Acknowledgements for the conversations and input that went into these blogs:

Steve Brooks, Bob Allen, Michelle Stephens, Enessa Janes, Andrew Irvine, Gerrit Slater,

Jeni Cross, Stephen Fisher, Andrew Fang, Neil Grigg, and Ross Corotis for the "D"!

The five part blog includes:

Follow-up 4 Part Series


[1] Trindade, E., Hinnig, M., da Costa, E., Marques, J., Bastos, R., & Yigitcanlar, T. (2017). Sustainable development of smart cities: a systematic review of the literature. Journal Of Open Innovation: Technology, Market, And Complexity, 3(1). doi: 10.1186/s40852-017-0063-2

[2] American Planning Association, 2019. Retrieved from

[3] Reiner, M.; Rouse, D. Dependency model: Reliable infrastructure and the resilient, sustainable, and livable city. Sustain. Resilient Infrastruct. 2017, 9689, 1–6.

[4] Green, B. (2019). The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in Its Place to Reclaim Our Urban Future. Cambridge, Mass: MIT.

[5] Reiner, M., & McElvaney, L. (2017). Foundational infrastructure framework for city resilience. Sustainable And Resilient Infrastructure, 2(1), 1-7. doi: 10.1080/23789689.2017.1278994

[6] Reiner, M., Fisher, S., Fang, A. Total Economic Disruption of Failed Infrastructure as an Urban Key Performance Indicator. Upcoming 3 part series of blogs at

[7] Yang, C., & Peng, F. (2016). Discussion on the Development of Underground Utility Tunnels in China. Procedia Engineering, 165, 540-548. doi: 10.1016/j.proeng.2016.11.698

[9] Chester, M. V., & Allenby, B. (2017). Towards Adaptive Infrastructure: Flexibility and Agility in a Non-Stationarity Age. Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure.

[10] In Colorado at least, horizontal separation of buried assets are design criteria developed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) – not regulations. This has led to a conception that there is a State requirement for minimum separations of 10’ from outside of pipe between water, sewer and storm. Resulting in a typical street with a 12” sewer, 24” storm and 12” water, that is 24’, assuming 1’-2’ clear from outside of utility and now the utility box is approaching 30’ wide – where many streets are just 28’-30’ wide. However, the air matrix in a tunnel would eliminate these requirements.

[12] Lewis, M. (2018). The fifth risk

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