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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

ITS-Davis leads national consortium for sustainable transportation

UC Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS-Davis) was chosen by the U.S. Department of Transportation to lead the two year, $11.2 million research consortium.

The center will aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from passenger and freight transportation on the state and federal levels. They will approach this through fuel and vehicle alternatives, environmental and energy policy and community development and outreach.

In a world largely dependent on fossil fuels, vehicular mobility and profit margins, institutional change in the transportation system will be the overarching goal of the National Center for Sustainable Transportation (Transportation Center) now based here at UC Davis.

Operating since 1991 ITS-Davis began as an interdisciplinary approach to “sustainable transportation” between faculty and students even before the term was widely used.

This was a major reason they were chosen to lead the consortium, according to Daniel Sperling, founding director of ITS-Davis and executive director of the Transportation Center.

“From the beginning, we emphasized the environmental, energy and livability aspects of transportation,” Sperling said. “We were one of the first to do that in the U.S. and we have grown and developed that reputation from experience.”

Made up of transportation institutes from the University of Southern California, CSU Long Beach, UC Riverside, University of Vermont and Georgia Institute of Technology, the consortium will attempt to facilitate cooperative change by partnering with influential stakeholders like car and oil companies, local governments and public interest groups.

“Our primary focus is mitigation by reducing carbon emissions and energy use,” Sperling said. “We’re trying to help cities and states develop a more sustainable transportation system and we will provide them with information and assistance to find what the best way forward is.”

Secondary to mitigation, another objective for the center concerns land use and travel behavior for extreme weather patterns that climate change is expected to produce.

“Our research will analyze vehicles, fuels and technological fixes to the problem, but we will also be looking at the infrastructure itself,” said Susan Handy, professor of environmental policy and Director of the Transportation Center. “We will examine how we build roads, how we can operate them in a way that reduces emissions and how we can get people to drive less through how we design our communities.”

The Transportation Center’s plans include mobilizing findings by creating a model curriculum for sustainable transportation students nationwide, hosting weekly online seminars and holding a National Summit on Transportation and Climate Change to discuss the translation between research and policy.

This is often the most difficult step in the process, according to Anthony Eggert, executive director of the UC Davis Policy Institute and partner of ITS-Davis.

“Today people are bombarded from advocates, concerned citizens and industry groups,” Eggert said. “Our primary mission is to penetrate that noisy system by taking technical information and distilling it into a form that is accessible to policy makers to better inform policy and benefit the community.”

According to Eggert, the transfer from academia to application in the private sector will require economic sustainability in terms of affordability and profitability in a market economy. They will be dealing with large vehicle and fuel industries which bring in nearly $1 trillion every year in the U.S. alone.

“Any time you’re trying to change an industry of that size you have to recognize that the only way to make an impact is through scale,” Eggert said. “We can’t just sell a few efficient cars and a few gallons of low carbon fuel. It has to be millions of cars and billions of gallons.”

However, as automakers introduce more efficient, electric and renewable energy models to the market, increased production will likely drive down prices for consumer accessibility.

Eggert also noted that the interdisciplinary approach of the Transportation Center is important for addressing concerns for both private and public sectors.

“What we find in the research is that you cannot change the transportation system with one particular technology or strategy,” Eggert said. “You need a portfolio of strategies which includes fuels, vehicles and land use to reach energy and environmental goals, making sure policies are scientifically, legally, socially and economically sound.”


SEAN GUERRA can be reached at features@theaggie.org.


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