UConn researchers measure the sustainability of transportation
Published: Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 00:09
A new index for measuring the sustainability of transportation systems in cities has been developed by researchers from UConn’s geography and civil and environmental engineering departments.
The Transportation Index for Sustainable Places, or TISP, looks beyond simply measuring vehicle miles travelled and congestion levels and takes into account a range of data from environmental, social and economic perspectives.
“Transportation affects so many aspects of how we live, so when you just focus on congestion, you miss out on all those other areas,” said Norman Garrick, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at UConn. “We wanted to develop a quantitative approach to things which are not usually considered quantitative.”
The TISP can help cities determine the implications of the transportation system that they have decided on and give them a starting point for how to improve. It has been used at a state level across the United States and has found that automobile orientated transport systems are highly unsustainable. “That is a surprise because when people critique the automobile structure, they critique it in terms of the environment, but what we found was that it is highly unsustainable from an economic perspective as well,” said Garrick.
However, Timothy Garceau, a UConn Ph.D student in transportation planning, said that the most sustainable city is one with a diversity of transportation systems. “The message that people get most of the time is that cars are bad. They’re not. They serve a purpose and the reality is that we need to provide as much transportation diversity as possible as humans have a huge diversity of purposes in daily life.”
“We just can’t afford to fund the system we have already built and along with the energy crisis, we are being pushed to consider another approach,” said Garrick.
This automobile dependency across the country was intensified after World War II when people began driving more often, therefore the government dedicated a lot of spending to road infrastructure.
Garceau said that this spending on roads only leads to a positive feedback loop where more road infrastructure causes an increase in car usage, which in turn creates more demand for infrastructure. “So what we are trying to push for is planning of transportation systems which takes a more holistic approach”.
Garrick said that the TISP could improve further attempts at making UConn greener, especially after the university was ranked the “greenest campus” by the Sierra Club this year. He said that, “the concept of being able to conceptualize sustainability applies very strongly to maintaining such ratings”.
However, Carol Atkinson-Palombo, assistant professor of geography at UConn said that there is still much room for improving the sustainability of the university’s transport systems. She said that there are few options for people to travel to Storrs from surrounding areas and many are forced to drive.
Although implementing large scale public transportation such as rail is not yet economically viable for the area surrounding Storrs, Atkinson-Palombo suggests implementing a “park and ride” system where people can park their cars in a large parking lot off campus and catch a shuttle bus in. She also suggests a car-pooling system, which could potentially run through an application so that students could easily find others who are commuting from the same area.
The Transportation Index for Sustainable Places is a part of a special July themed issue of the journal of Research in Transportation Business and Management, titled “Valuing Transportation,” of which Garrick, Garceau and Atkinson-Palombo were contributing editors.