The Business Journal’s centerpiece article “Safe Harbor” in the Feb. 6 issue describes the travails that ancillary Port of Los Angeles businesses such as shipyards, fueling barges, repair services and fishing fleets have suffered as the port struggles to make room for more cargo containers. While the article rightly celebrates a few small victories, what is obvious in reading it is that the ports are looking for space in all the wrong places, and that there is a better way.

We suppose it is natural that in Los Angeles, the region that invented sprawl, the ports would consider only adding more acreage to their already sprawling operations. But this is not thinking ahead. Just as Los Angeles has reached physical and financial limits to its horizontal compulsions, so our twin ports must grow up, not out. And, as a member of the GRID Consortium, I’d like to point out that we have already done the work of figuring out how to do that.

GRID stands for Green Rail, Intelligent Development, and while our project has many facets, its heart and soul is the Superdock, a design both revolutionary and evolutionary, that is the port complex’s only chance to stay competitive in a post-Panamax world.

Based in part on a concept developed by steel magnate and shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser in the 1960s, the Superdock is a vertical transloading and container storage facility that can use its integrated cranes not only to load or unload a container ship, but also to store both empty and full containers within itself, sort them internally (moving them along three axes) and load them directly onto dockside trains.

This solves multiple problems faced by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach:

By using its structure to stack containers higher than can be done in dumb storage, it reduces the space used to hold and sort containers by up to 90 percent.

By loading containers directly onto trains bound for the Alameda Corridor or GRID’s dedicated underground electric shuttle trains, it eliminates the need for internal drayage by trucks, which are spatially inefficient, and require a great deal of turnaround room and their own parking lots.

Freeing up space

By eliminating up to 70 percent of truck trips hauling containers, one at a time, to distant railyards and distribution centers in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, it reduces the need for envisioned freeway expansions and feeder roads, thus freeing up more space on the ports’ periphery.

By loading and unloading ships faster than current methods do, GRID incentivizes shipping companies to continue using our ports and perhaps switch their business from other regions’ ports to ours.

Those are direct benefits. Indirect benefits would include:

More room for more containers, if shipping increases as anticipated with the easing of the recession.

More room for port facilities mentioned in the “Safe Harbor” article, providing services that make our port a “one-stop shopping solution” for shipping lines, which could engage in maintenance, repair, and refueling right where they’re dropping off their freight.

Room to diversify the port in previously unconsidered ways, including office, commercial, residential, industrial and community development, giving the complex a resilience to see it through future economic hard times as well as a basis for growth in the coming postpetroleum era.

At the GRID Consortium, we never forget that problems are better referred to as opportunities, and we welcome the chance to work with the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to create a SeaPort 3.0 that will carry our region’s economy into the future.

Richard Risemberg is co-editor of urban sustainability webzine the New Colonist, publisher and editor of bike commuter webzine Bicycle Fixation, and owner of a business in Los Angeles that designs and manufactures clothing for bicycle commuters.

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