Fall 2018

Course overview
Transportation systems connect us to the people and things we need to lead a fulfilling life: school, work, food, medical care, friends, and family, to name just a few. But these connections do not come without costs—transportation systems produce profound environmental and social impacts. Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation activities constitute a third of the US total, urban air quality continues to be a problem in many areas of the country, and about 30,000 people die each year due in accidents involving motorized vehicles. Many of these impacts are associated with the automobile. Although automotive technology continues to improve, resulting in cleaner, safer cars, relying on them as our primary mode entails public health implications and the threat of crippling urban congestion.
This course is an introduction to urban passenger transportation policy and planning in the US with a sustainability focus. The course is structured around three components on which we will spend approximately five weeks each:

  1. History, theory, and problem definition
  2. The planning process, and
  3. Solutions

Throughout the semester we will come to understand how our current transportation systems came to be, what a sustainable system would look like, policies and planning approaches that will help is to achieve it, and challenges we’re likely to face. Part of the difficulty arises from the fact that planning is inherently a political as well as technical activity. Determining what the “best” solution is in any given situation is likely to involve the varied needs and desires of elected officials, members of the public, and experts. As engineers and planners (or one who will interact with engineers and planners) you will need to navigate this sometimes fraught landscape to make progress. We will examine the actual transportation planning process at all levels of government, hear from local and regional planners about their work, and learn about the (quantitative and qualitative) methods that planners use to both comply with the law and help inform decision makers. 

Learning objectives
Upon completion of this course, students will have demonstrated mastery of the following concepts through in-class discussion and debate, detailed analysis and thoughtful reflection in assignments, and performance on examinations:

  1. The relationship between transportation and land use, including how and why the current transportation system emerged, and why transportation planning is a vitally important endeavor.
  2. The multifaceted and evolving nature of sustainability and how it is being applied to real-world transportation planning efforts across the United States.
  3. The practice of transportation planning at federal, state, regional, and local levels, including the laws and regulations that planners follow regarding transportation plans, environmental review, air quality conformity, and environmental justice, among others.
  4. The analytical methods employed by transportation planners to assess the performance of existing and future transportation systems (e.g. key concepts related to regional travel demand models, traffic impact assessments, level of service analysis, and parking demand analyses).
  5. Public participation in planning, specifically how members of the public make their views known, formally and informally, in the transportation planning process and how that (sometimes) affects outcomes.
  6. Concrete policies and planning strategies that facilitate sustainable urban transportation systems on both the infrastructure and land use sides. Legal and policy frameworks and initiatives that support the development of such systems.

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