Sue Zielinski, a former transportation planner for the city of Toronto, used to have a 45-minute bike ride to work every morning. In her new hometown of Boston, however, she longs for the days when she’d commute to work by bike, which she described as a highly efficient and accessible mode of transportation commonly overlooked by Americans.

Speakers from all over the country laid out the problems with American transport. They gathered at the University’s Art and Architecture Building Friday for a symposium on sustainable transportation called “From Mobility to Accessibility.”

The five speakers — professionals in the field of transportation planning — discussed topics such as traffic congestion, public transit and the development of alternative modes of transportation.

Douglas Kelbaugh, dean of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, said the topic of more accessible transportation, such as better road systems and mass transit, is “a pressing and complex issue that U-M’s interdisciplinary strengths can begin to address.”

Literature available distributed at the symposium explained the current dilemma in which urban transportation planning considers only travel convenience and speed, particularly for motorists. Such narrow views disregard alternative travel modes that could allow residents to get around in more efficient and less costly ways, the speakers said.

“From Mobility to Accessibility” aims to bring these modes back into the planning process. The pamphlet stated that “the purpose (of sustainable transportation) is not to eliminate the use of private cars as much as to enable other forms of accessing desired places,” for example, “by using public transit, biking or walking, and enabling shorter trips by whatever mode.”

Kelbaugh said a goal of hosting the symposium was to discover and then frame some of the most promising research questions in the field.

Zielinski, whose speech was titled “Toward Integrated Mobility Solutions,” said a common belief among Americans that because transportation is necessary and cars are the only means of transportation for them, cars must be indispensable. Instead of sticking to this belief — which Zielinski said is unfavorable to American mobility — she proposed integrating different modes of transportation.

She showed an example of her ideal system with a video that documented transportation in Bremen, Germany, where a mix of biking, walking, public transportation — such as buses and trains — and a car-sharing program. The video portrayed the German city as being more efficient and having more space because of this integration strategy.

The other speakers included Hank Dittmar, president and chief executive officer of The Great American Station Foundation, an organization that attempts to revitalize communities by building and restoring train stations; Anthony Downs, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Susan Handy, an environmental science professor at the University of California at Davis; and John Pucher, a planning and public policy professor at Rutgers University.

Kelbaugh noted that the symposium attracted a variety of people from industry, government, nonprofit organizations and academia from Michigan and neighboring states.

 

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