SMART’s Distinguished speakers
Environmental Justice and Equity in Transportation:
The Balance with Economic Development
and Employment Opportunities
Piyushimita (Vonu) ThakuriahUrban Planning and Policy Program
Urban Transportation Center
University of Illinois at Chicago
November 17, 2006
SMART Presentation Summary
The purpose of this presentation was to exchange information on common interests and strengths of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s transportation faculty and staff and the University of Michigan’s SMART group. The presentation focused on key transportation needs of cities in developing countries. Increasing urbanization, changes in the global economy and rapid decentralization of metropolitan areas worldwide has affected the nature of jobs including location of employment relative to residential locations, job start times and work and activity schedules. Given choking traffic conditions in many developing cities, governments are under pressure to develop or improve transportation infrastructure. Several cities worldwide have undertaken mega highway, metro and bus-rapid transit projects as a consequence to these trends in the last few decades. High-speed transportation infrastructure changes traveling costs and commuting habits in the short-term and brings about fundamental changes in land values and use, economic development patterns, the jobs-housing balance and housing settlements in the longer term. Cost-effective infrastructure solutions should be context-sensitive and address conflicts to indigenous transportation modes and use patterns.
Figure 1: Framework for a Economic, Social and Culturally Motivated Systems Approach to Transportation
The figure on the left focuses on the key elements in a systems planning approach to transportation that is motivated by economic, cultural and social considerations. In the context of developing cities, there is a need for
projects that are scalable with the rapidly growing needs of developing economies and the cultural aspects of massive infrastructure development. This includes conflict with indigenous transportation modes and service providers and local manifestations in transportation use. Societal impacts emanating from technology insertion of higher speed transportation modes pose unique challenges in rapidly urbanizing developing cities. The influence of politics with respect to local grassroots organizations and multi-national corporations in this context also needs to be examined. These facts point to the need for a unique framework in the spatial equity versus efficiency debate in developing cities that might be adapted on elements in developed cities but which takes into account the myriad challenges unique to developing cities.
The presentation also synthesized the main strengths of the University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Michigan’s SMART team in the context of transportation planning in developing cities. These are: framing the problem and putting solutions in the right sociocultural and economic context, transportation modeling and analysis of economic, land-use and environmental impacts, equity assessment, applications of advanced technologies to improve traffic congestion and enhance personal mobility, raising awareness of international comparative trends and finally, professional capacity building by bringing in elements of the proposed economic, social and culturally motivated elements geared to undergraduate, graduate and professional education and training programs.
Job accessibility by private automobile (Figure 1) and public transportation (Figure 2) during peak hours in the Chicago metropolitan area (2000 population of 8,091,720 and land-area of 7,212 sq. miles (18,679 km²)).
More information on Dr. Thakuriah
Dr. Piyushimita (Vonu) Thakuriah is currently an Associate Professor in the Urban Planning and Policy Program and Interim Director of the Urban Transportation Center in the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her main research interests are in analyzing the relationships between transportation and accessibility to labor markets and the relationship of transportation to employment opportunities, economic development and productivity. Another part of her work relates to the use of advanced technologies including Intelligent Transportation Systems to improve travel conditions. She uses a variety of transportation modeling and policy analysis methods for these purposes.
Vonu has authored or co-authored close to a hundred journal articles, technical reports and working papers on various issues in surface transportation and has served as P.I. or Co-P.I. on numerous grants. She received a post-doctoral research fellowship from the National Science Foundations’ Division of Mathematical Sciences through the National Institute of Statistical Sciences to conduct basic research on the real-time short-term travel time forecasting problem for Advanced Traveler Information Systems. Her current funded research continues to be in these areas and on the job access needs of low-income workers as well as on general highway and transit planning and operations. She has also consulted for governments in China and Malaysia. Dr. Thakuriah has served as a member of several research and practice-oriented transportation planning committees at the national and local levels.