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4PVUI"NFSJDB5SBOTQPSUBUJPO.POUIT Reflections on Transportation in South America1













SOUTH AMERICA. TRANSPORTATION. 5 MONTHS. REFLECTIONS ON TRANSPORTATION IN SOUTH AMERICA By Becky Alper, Principal Planner, Minnesota  Department of Transportation, Office of  Transit Before I started a five month sabbatical in South America with my husband Raja I was sure, based on experience in the Dominican Republic, that I would find decaying transportation infrastructure, packed and dirty buses with frequent delays, and few to zero pedestrian amenities. Instead, I came away with a far more nuanced view of these systems. In the course of my travels, I got the chance to witness and experience first hand a variety of transportation modes at very inexpensive prices. They took me from big coastal cities to small mountain villages. With a home base in Buenos Aires, Argentina, we traveled to Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. From high altitude zebras in La Paz, Bolivia to sleeper buses in Argentina, these are some of the transportation related highlights - both good and bad - of my past five months. South America is a diverse region with everything from beaches to mountains, poverty to extreme wealth. Brazil is the continent’s biggest country; it forms the B in BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and is experiencing rapid economic growth. It is also preparing for the 2014 world cup and, as a consequence, while we were in Rio de Janeiro, the military entered the favelas or shanty towns with armored tanks and sophisticated weapons to combat crime and drug violence. Peru, another country we visited, has a rich history with pre-Colombian peoples such as the Inca.


While there, we hiked ancient Inca commercial routes high up in the Andes mountains. Bolivia, often in the news for its citizens’ powerful protests (which thankfully didn’t happen while we were there), made headlines recently as the government attempted to get rid of gasoline subsidies and subsequently backed down amid massive protests. And Argentina, with its posh capitol of Buenos Aires - often called the Paris of South America - has a legacy of great city planning and architecture inspired by Europe. Yet Buenos Aires also has to deal with more mundane issues such as a city-wide coin shortage. As a result, since you need coins to pay for city bus fare, everyone hoards coins.


One of the similarities that I noticed across all the countries we visited was major traffic problems. Vehicular traffic, particularly in Sao Paulo, Brazil is bad - really bad. Sao Paulo is the biggest city in Brazil with over 11 million people within the city boundaries and 20 million in the metropolitan area. Any time of day, in practically any place in the city, there


M obility Matters is a potential for traffic jams and delays. Sao Paulo traffic, in fact, makes all congestion issues in the US seem minuscule.

pushers, official metro employees, herded our group of commuters into the corrals. I clutched our bags with sweat dripping off my nose as we inched towards the airport. As each train finally arrived, the crowd would surge forward, desperately trying to squeeze on the already packed compartments.

A friend told us that Sao Paulo has implemented an everyother-day car ban along particular routes in the city based on even and odd license plates. But instead of encouraging Paulistas (the name for people who live in Sao Paulo) to carpool, economic prosperity has allowed residents to simply buy an extra car! A Times article from 2008 describes how all the extra hours behind the wheel lead to lower productivity levels, aggression and frustration. It also talks about the negative consequences an economic boom can have on quality of life and what the city of Sao Paulo should do to try and improve the situation.

Eventually we made it to the airport, by hopping in a cab instead of the bus as originally planned. But then the cab hit traffic as a crash caused an immense slow down. End result, we arrived at the airport 45 minutes before our flight, missing the one hour cutoff, and had to pay US$100 to take a later flight back to Buenos Aires.


That’s why, when it came time to get to the airport to return to Buenos Aires, we decided to take the metro. I found Sao Paulo’s metro to be clean, extensive and easy to use. At the times when we had taken the metro (after 10am, before 6pm), we had had plenty of space and usually a seat. We even went on a bilingual Portuguese and English tour of Sao Paulo by metro, a program called TourisMetro that the metro system offers. The day we left Sao Paulo to fly back to Buenos Aires we clocked a 2.5 hour trip to the airport. Little did we know that riding the metro between 5:30pm and 7:30pm would be so crowded!

It’s not just Sao Paulo; La Paz, another big city located high up on the Bolivian altiplano in a sheltered mountainous bowl, also has its own fair share of traffic. The foot traffic in La Paz was notable, with pedestrians seeming unwillingly to take their turn at traffic signals. We were witness to a curious sight at the busy intersection of Sagarnaga and Avenida Mariscal Santa Cruz, a .FQPTJOHXJUIUIF[FCSBUSBóDHVBSETJO-B1B[ #PMJWJB huge, noisy expanse of cars, minivans, buses, and motorcycles. We climbed to the roof of San Francisco Church right next to the intersection, where we got a bird’s eye view of the busy La Paz street life below us. As the traffic signals rotated through the cycle from green to red, pedestrians and vehicles traded turns for physical space on the street with the help of people dressed in zebra costumes! This struck me as an amazing idea to encourage pedestrian safety and educate drivers on the rights of pedestrians in traffic crossings. (It also reminded me of the Halloween I dressed up as a zebra - I think I was around 10 years old.)


The zebra crossing guard program also serves as a way to employ city youth; most of these traffic guards are between 16-22 years old (although at the time I just thought they were really short!). They interact with passersby, jump up and down, and carry signs that say “Hasta que tu quieras a tu ciudad” which means “Until you love your city”. From what I understand, this program has been going on for a few years at various high volume intersections in the city.

Our journey took us on three metro lines - the first two were full but not overly crowded. But the third....oh my... On the platform to take our third and final train, there were thousands of people waiting. We joined the crowd anticipating a train every 2-3 minutes but unfortunately, the train was experiencing delays. So as people kept arriving on the platform, soon we were packed in like sardines, with people all around us and no escape route except forward. People



We also went to tiny towns and out of the way places. Experiencing the mountains and remote villages in Peru and the beaches in Northeast Brazil was relaxing and peaceful in comparison with the big cities. In Peru, to get to these places we took a number of minivans - run by private companies, regulated by the government and open to the general public. The two person team included a driver (the chofer) and a conductor (the cobrador). In this system, the cobrador operates the sliding door and frequently hangs out of it while yelling out the vehicle’s destination to all the passersby from the moving vehicle. Both the cobrador and the chofer have some kind of signal, usually banging on the roof to communicate picking up or dropping off a passenger. Although these minivans could get crowded, most of the time I rode them they were comfortable and came with interesting people watching, like the time one woman brought her baby lama on with her!


To travel around these countries we took a lot of intercity buses. Nowhere was it more impressive than on the Argentinian luxury buses. Although the British built a countrywide rail network in Argentina over a century ago, buses have replaced rail as the main form of getting around if you don’t have a car. In fact, Argentina’s private intercity bus companies are thriving. There is so much demand for long distance buses that companies offer high frequency, multiclass service to remote cities and towns. Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world in terms of land mass. While Buenos Aires is far and away the country’s biggest city with a population of 13 million in the metropolitan area, there are many population centers spread out across the country with very sparsely populated areas in between - take for example the region of Patagonia in the far south. Last month, we took one of these long distance buses to Posadas where we transferred buses to go to San Ignacio, a small town on the way to Iguazu Falls. San Ignacio, about 1000 km away from Buenos Aires, is known for its well-preserved Jesuit Mission; it operated between 1632 and 1767, housed a couple of Jesuit priests and thousands of Guarani people, and cultivated mate, the preferred local tea of Argentines. We had bought our tickets beforehand from the Retiro Bus Station. It’s still not completely possible to buy tickets online and this way we got to ask an actual person all the questions we had about departure, service, etc. The bus station is located right next to the Retiro Train Station which still operates suburban trains.


On a remote island beach in Northeast Brazil with no access by car I got to witness something completely different from the minivans. We had arrived at Morro de Sao Paulo by speedboat around noon and were just about to go head off to find a place to stay the night. On the dock waiting for us were taxi drivers ready to help take our luggage to wherever our destination was. These wheelbarrow taxis and their very muscular drivers carry heavy suitcases for tourists up and down the sand pathways on the island (there are no roads). Since we only had daypacks we didn’t need any help, but we saw plenty of these “taxis” throughout our weekend stay at the beach. The most intriguing moment was when we saw an elderly woman acting as the cargo of one of the wheelbarrow taxis.

When we arrived at the station half an hour before our bus left, the energy was palpable. On a Monday at 8pm, the place was hopping with travelers. Cafes, jewelry and trinket shops dotted the departure level while the floor above was completely filled with bus company ticket counters. There were over 100 bus bays and approximately 50% of them were full at any given time. I had chosen cama-suite, the top line in bus travel as I wanted to sleep well on the 12 hour


M obility Matters trip. Wow was I impressed by the quality of service! Not only is a fine dinner meal served while riding, but also in camasuite the chair extends almost completely flat. I arrived well rested and with a lot of energy thanks to a very sugary cafe con leche I was offered at breakfast.


building facades are awe-inspiring, I quickly realized the importance of watching the ground. In Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil, looking down is a must because of frequent holes electrical wires, glass, or other obstacles like randomly parked cars. But in Buenos Aires it was something different all together.


By the time this article goes to press I’ll be back at my desk as a transportation planner in Minnesota. But the chance to observe and experience the cultures, food, and yes, transportation and infrastructure of other places has been invaluable. Who knew when I started a 5-month sabbatical in South America that I would come away so impressed specifically - with public transportation systems and pedestrian infrastructure.


Home in Buenos Aires there were lots of taxis but I found it easier and more interesting to walk. Buenos Aires is a great city for strolling, with wide sidewalks, European architecture, and a sidewalk cafe about every block in case you get tired or just need a little caffeine to keep going. While the soaring


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Chris Smith, Chair of YPT National Thank you once again for selecting me as your Chair for 2010-2011. It is an honor and privilege to serve the members of one of the most exciting and fastest-growing professional networking groups not only in Washington, D.C. but across the country. 

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2011 will be a year of dynamic growth for our organization in the career development arena.  We are looking for creative ideas and initiatives to



The simple answer is yes, a TOD can do that, but they often times do not. There are a plethora of reasons why most TODs do not work, but usually there is a miscommunication and mis-expectation on how to measure the success of a TOD. What is a successful TOD? While one can make arguments on measuring the local economy, people/person counts, cost to lease space, etc. Those measurements do not really capture the true success of the foundation of a TOD project.

By Alan Huynh, Transportation Planner, MK Planning  Consultants This article was adapted for Mobility Matters from a series of blog posts on TOD on Alan Huynh’s blog, The Alan Note: http://

Like a house, the foundation for any project is crucial, but more crucial to TOD project sites. Mainly because TODs are highly political projects, and all politics always involve moving targets.

What is TOD? For most planners it’s a headache. For developers it can be a cash cow. For cities that just started building TOD within the past decade, there’s a high chance it’s a failed investment rather than a shining example of success. For a resident, TOD is usually a confusing montage of people who say this or that, and a transit station with gawdy public art. A TOD project boils down to two things: a massive success or an expensive disappointment. Sadly, these perceptions have split most of the planning world into an either/or group with regards to TOD. Either a planner is all in for TOD projects, or a planner tends to fold and walk away from the table as soon as the three dreaded letters are mentioned. Because let’s be honest, anyone that pronounces TOD, as Todd, is providing reason enough to walk away from the table. I will disclose, however, that I am all about the TOD projects and will allude to greatest two TOD projects ever developed which reign on both ends of the United States. A TOD is bigger than planning, and a TOD project is bigger than any planner or planning department. And the reason for this is because regardless of how great of a planner one may be, a planner cannot define a TOD.

Because of the variety of components needed in order to have a successful TOD project, a parcel, project site, location, can only build/support a TOD in a very limited window of time. The overlap between demographics, existing policy, income, real estate trends, and pricing is central. If one can construct a TOD project when all those characteristics overlap, then there is a very high chance that the project will be immensely successful. But if those components/characteristics fall apart before the station is complete then there will likely be problems.

People define the TOD. People have always given a meaning to things. But planners and developers tend to forget this, and tend to overpromise, which causes elected officials to rush and create and build TOD projects. Especially when the only politically sound comment that can be made are statements such as, “more jobs”, “job retention”, “job creation”, “employment incubator”, etc. It becomes easy for developers and planners to sell any political figure on the promise of TOD. TOD will reduce greenhouse gases, create affordable housing, reduce vehicle miles traveled, create construction jobs, spur local business, spur retail development, create strong pedestrian villages, etc. But can a TOD really do that? Does a TOD really do that?

Historically many planners have unknowingly taken the donut hole approach to planning TOD projects. This happens when, due to cheap right of way, stations are not in the most ideally located areas. But due to the right of way and new transit, developers focus on developing the properties in the area with a ¼ mile radius. Because it’s a new station, the TOD site engages a certain amount of new ridership or modal shift riders (bus riders switching to rail, etc.) But the in between from the urban core, or potential rider population


M obility Matters is blocked from the ¼ mile radius by typically a string of suburban or unattractive land uses for a radius of two of three miles. This serves as a strong obstacle to gain new ridership from stronger potential ridership areas.

somewhere else? Will they want to come back? To see if this is true let’s compare two different TOD station locations.

Del Mar Gold Line Station – Pasadena, CA Figure 2: Del Mar Gold Line Station (Pasadena, CA) Figure 1: Irvine Metrolink Station

The Del Mar Station is a TOD site, where housing is actually part of the station site. Residents can literally walk downstairs to the station stop. Also located on the station site is a restaurant, La Grande Orange, and a couple of food court type concessions. Across the street is Pasadena Central Park, which is empty most of the time. On the southern end of the station there is a strip mall that contains a comic book store, bicycle shop, and other restaurants. And to the east is a Houston’s Steakhouse and a gas station. Del Mar Street in Pasadena is labeled a multimodal corridor that gives preference to bicyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles. However, there are too many cars on the road preventing many bicyclists from utilizing the road.

Rather than plan for ¼ to ½ mile radius of a station site for TOD projects, the sites should typically plan for up to a 5 mile radius of the station site. As well, the study area and preliminary studies for station sites should examine a 5-7 mile radius rather than a ¼ mile to ½ mile radius. Figure 1 displays how there is a focus of development within the central vicinity of the transit station, however, instead of connecting the transit station with other development, it is isolated by an orange layer of parks, industrial land, or no development. All of this makes it harder to connect the developed areas to the station site and allow for the station to actually mature into a TOD. As a result the donut TOD archetype strikes again.

Most shockingly, is that the closest coffee shop and McDonalds is four blocks away and requires waiting through two 8-phase intersections. If an individual is able to get walking prioritization and not have to wait for signals, they can reach the coffee shop in 2 minutes. Once at the coffee shop there are no complimentary land uses.

What does all this discussion of ¼ mile radius, ½ mile radius really mean? How does this discussion lead us to understand the meaning of the space? What the value is of the TOD? Quite frankly it doesn’t. Hence, even the TOD projects that have been built have done very little done to measure their own success.

Coffee shops are a good measure of the walkability of an area. Starbucks has intrinsic data measuring the effectiveness of the walk-in coffee versus the drive through coffee shop, and has created many more walk-in coffee stores rather than the drive through coffee shops. By measuring the walking distance and time that exists between the closest coffee shop and station site, we can measure the walkability of the station. While although there are many ideal complimentary land uses that rest along the station site, the station still lacks any meaning as there are not enough people who utilize the station enough to give it any “meaning.” With that, although the Del Mar station holds a lot of potential to

Most likely, the most important measure for any TOD site is walkability. What’s the first thing someone does when they get off transit? Walk. You have to walk to a destination. This requires businesses or events to serve the emerging markets of these destinations. There is also a requirement for adequate landscaping, design, lighting in order for people to feel safe and be encouraged to walk. Developers should ask themselves is there an incentive for people walk there? Can they get what they need by walking easier than driving? Once they are done walking in the area can they easily get


M obility Matters become a very strong TOD station site, its attraction it will remain underutilized.

encourage walking? Is it easy to walk at the station?

Hawthorn Farm – Hillsboro, OR Figure 3: Hawthorn Farm Blue Line Station (Hillsboro, OR)

Hawthorn Farm is one of two station sites for the Orenco Station community located in Hillsboro, OR. Hillsboro, is a strict suburb in every sense of the word but was able to establish a strong TOD campus. The Hawthorn Farm site is located near a hospital, gym, housing, office (Intel, Yahoo, etc.), and strip malls containing popular fast food and moderate priced restaurants. Due to the suburban setting and the early master plan for the community there are no signaled intersections within the area that extend the commute time for pedestrians. Rather than having many of the amenities closely knit like the Del Mar Station (apartments and restaurants directly on the station site) the Hawthorn Farm station emphasizes having some walking distance between the amenities. Activity remains constant as the hospital, gym, and housing is located all near the station which allows for a variety of uses, giving a perception of activity during all hours of the day.

Connectivity – How well does the station site connect itself to the community? How well does TOD connect to other forms of transit? How well do the various modes transition from each other?


Mobility – How mobile are the riders and users of the TOD for that area? Can pedestrians easily access other transit to increase their travel range?


Synergy – How well do the businesses around the station site work with the TOD? How well does the land uses and other characteristics of the station site play with each other?


Activity – How bustling is the station area? Is it busy during all days, commute rush hours? Is the station site area safe enough or perceive t be safe enough for users and riders to use during all times of the day.

Del Mar Hawthorn Farm
















"= High != Moderate

O= Low

The Del Mar station holds significant potential to become a stellar TOD station site. There are lots of strong foundational pillars that can be refined and capitalized upon, such as increasing the walkability of the area. Situating developments closer to the station site would increase the convenience and attractiveness to users, greatly improving ridership. Increased mobility could also be provided through stronger design that better connects the local bus transit services to the station site. Finally, upgrading the existing businesses to better attract pedestrians and carfree individuals rather than keep businesses that tie their success with individuals who drive cars.

The closest coffee shop is less than 500 feet away. This encourages individuals to come to the station a little bit earlier knowing that coffee is conveniently located near the station. There is a certain level of pedestrian design built into the master plan encouraging riders and users to walk to and around the campus rather than isolate themselves.

While the Hawthorn Farm station site is far from perfect, it has done a better job at trying to maintain or enhance the walkability of the site so that it can serve as a TOD station site. Everything from the land use and businesses that are located near the station site, and the emphasis on spacing businesses far enough away that encourages walking without allowing users to fear long walking distances. As successful as the Hawthorn Farm station site has been at trying to create strong pedestrian linkages it can still further improve itself as a TOD by providing extended mobility for pedestrians by having betting bus transit connectivity to the station site rather than having pedestrians rely exclusively


To sum up the differences between these two station sites and their effectiveness as a TOD, the following table will judge each of the following categories. t


Walkability – Coffee shop measure. Does the station


M obility Matters on the light rail line. Finally, due to its location in the suburbs and that most families are staying indoors after dark, the TOD station site can do a better job at finding more business that can increase the stagger time and have more pedestrian activity during all times.

truly successful, policies that work well for TODs, different TOD perspectives. Throughout the these pieces there will be discussion on why some areas are ripe for TOD construction and why some areas regardless of transit are not yet ready to benefit from TOD.

Now that I have framed a new argument for TOD station sites and how planners can begin to look at them the next articles in the series will start discussing why some TODs are

To read future installments in this series on TOD visit Alan’s blog at: The Alan Note:


major ports, like Houston, New Orleans and Tampa. Ports are also only as good as their access to other modes of transit, Flores noted, saying his department will take an active role in new projects to make sure any potential freight issues are incorporated into the planning and engineering.

Juan Flores, Director, Office of Freight, Mississippi  Department of Transportation  The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) has promoted Juan Flores to be the next director of the agency’s Freight Division, which works with the state’s ports, rail carriers, air freight carriers and trucking companies to promote the efficient movement of freight throughout Mississippi and the region.

“The more opportunities you give a logistics manager the more attractive the state will be to industry,” Flores said. “Take a port, we’ll promote it from every aspect including rail connections and proximity to major highways. Assets like those make communities attractive for economic development.” Flores also pointed to several events on the horizon that will further lead to increased freight activity in the state. The auto industry is migrating south, the Panama Canal is being expanded and Cuba may soon re-open for trade, Flores said. “We have 28 short line railroads in the state, five class ones (major carriers), and 16 ports,” he said. “That makes Mississippi transportation rich.”

Flores, who previously served as a freight policy advisor, said he will work to make Freight a central component of transportation projects around the state, because freight plays such a central and growing role in the transportation industry. Flores said that while most motorists don’t think of freight issues on a daily basis they are very important for two reasons. “If you don’t want to see more and more trucks on the road, we have to have an efficient intermodal system that can move freight by other modes,” Flores explained. “Also, we live in a consumer society, and if we’re going to keep products from all over the world on the shelves, we’re going to have to be ready to move freight around the country and globally.”

The west coast ports are at capacity and the northeast has union labor issues, so growth is primed for the Southeast, according to Flores. “We’re in a unique situation. We have the opportunity to do freight transportation properly. Instead of just focusing on interstates, we’re focusing on good port and rail access, which is the future of freight transit. Every project the state looks at will go through the Freight Division to address multi-modal freight opportunities.” Flores is a native of Laredo, Texas, and holds degrees from Purdue University, George Mason University and Mississippi College. Before coming to MDOT, Flores worked for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in Washington D.C., where he was Freight Program Manager.

Water transit is both the cheapest and greenest mode for moving freight over long distances, Flores said, noting that Mississippi is blessed to have the Gulf Coast, Mississippi River and Tenn-Tom Waterway, which are all valuable for transporting freight. Mississippi has 16 ports to transport freight and is located in the crossroads of several other


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