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Salvucci, Frederick, and Joseph Coughlin, 1.253J Transportation Policy and Environmental Limits, Spring 2004. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 08 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Transportation Policy and Environmental Limits

Spring 2004

Heavy traffic near 12 Mile Road, outside Detroit, Michigan. (Image courtesy of the US Department of Transportation.)

Course Highlights

This course features a full set of lecture notes, as well as useful Web links from the class in the related resources section.

Course Description

Through a combination of lectures, cases, and class discussions this subject examines the economic and political conflict between transportation and the environment. It investigates the role of government regulation, green business and transportation policy as facilitators of economic development and environmental sustainability. It analyzes a variety of international policy problems including government-business relations; the role of interest groups, non-governmental organizations, and the public and media in the regulation of the automobile; sustainable development; global warming; the politics of risk and siting of transport facilities; environmental justice; equity; and transportation and public health in the urban metropolis. It provides students with an opportunity to apply transportation and planning methods to developing policy alternatives in the context of environmental politics.


Course Purpose

This course examines transportation policymaking and its relationship to environmental politics. Students will develop an understanding of the transportation policy process, principal issues, institutions and stakeholders as they are related to balancing transport and environmental policy. The course theme focuses on the tension between traditional transportation policy values of individual mobility, system efficiency and economic growth with those of environmentalism and how policy decisions are made in this uncertain and politicized context.

Readings, lectures, role simulation and active discussion around specific case studies addressing environmental justice, sustainability, auto regulation, travel demand management, airport noise and mega-project construction will be used to explore transport and environmental problems. Each case will examine the efficacy and political feasibility of available strategies including: infrastructure development and land use regulation, market pricing, behavioral and technological alternatives, e.g., congestion pricing and taxation, car pooling and transit, ITS and new generation vehicles. Class work will include three brief policy papers.

Course Requirements

Each class meeting will be divided into two parts - beginning with a lecture and concluding with a group discussion. Class discussion during the second half of the session will integrate lectures, readings and cases.

Students are expected to attend all classes and meaningfully contribute to group discussions. Students are required to complete three policy papers.

The Final Project will count as 25% of the class grade. Each paper will be 8-10 pages and count as 20 percent of the class grade. The papers will provide analysis and policy guidance to a senior transportation or environment official regarding a specific policy problem. The case will be provided in class. Papers must reflect an understanding and an integration of the readings, lectures and class discussions. Grades will be based on technical command of the material and concepts, their integration, analysis of the case, and the quality of written presentation and argument.

Attendance and the quality of class participation will be another 15 percent and will be taken into account in borderline cases. Students are expected to read the New York Times and the Boston Globe daily to keep informed on current transportation and environmental issues.


week # TOPICS discussions key dates
1 Introduction and Overview    
2 The Role of Government in Managing a Sustainable Transportation System: The Tragedy of the Concrete Commons How are common or pooled resources, such as transport infrastructure and the environment, governed in a free market?  
3 Managed Conflict: Transportation and Environmental Politics Class will develop positions and policy justifications for action on Connecticut's building of the Super 7 highway - is growth and community/regional integrity possible? What are the constraints on government action? Is transport-environmental policy innovation possible or is progress a process of 'muddling through'? Policy problem 1 assigned: Building the Super 7 Highway
4 Energy and Clean Air Policy: Who to Regulate? Car, Driver or Mandate Technological Innovation What are the trade-offs, practical, economic and political feasibility of regulating individual behavior or mandating technological standards? How does government determine who or what to target when implementing a policy solution - and, what difference does it make?  
5 Taxing for Change: Is Pricing a Policy Alternative or Political Suicide Can a price be placed on the environment? How much is the individual willing to pay?  
6 Building the Super 7 Highway Class Simulation   Policy problem 1 due

Policy problem 2 assigned: Unocal Corp.'s SCRAP: Crushing Old Cars for Credit Class Simulation
7 Transportation at the Eye of the Storm Infrastructure investment; highways, VMT and congestion; transit ridership; bicycle and walking. How does the policy process balance and integrate energy, vehicle and infrastructure to achieve a 'sustainable' outcome?  
8 Public Participation and Entrepreneurship: Policy Innovation in Managing Transportation and the Environment How does policy change occur - Interest group mobilization or entrepreneurship? Contrasting experiences of Boston and Curitiba, Brazil Policy problem 2 due: Unocal Corp.'s SCRAP: Crushing Old Cars for Credit Class Simulation

Policy problem 3 assigned: CAFE Standards, ZEV; ULEV and Hydrogen Cars
9 Noise, NIMBY and NOPE: Airport Expansion and its Alternatives KSG Case Study, Regulating Airport Noise  
10 Environmental Justice: The Equitable Distribution of Transportation Costs and Benefits How does transportation policymaking affect the distribution of environmental costs across race, class and communities - and can such costs be equitably distributed? Policy problem 3 due: CAFE Standards, ZEV; ULEV and Hydrogen Cars

Final paper assigned: Logan Runway Expansion
11 Discuss Paper 3: CAFE, ZEV and Hydrogen Cars Class will discuss the appropriate role and responsibility of industry in environmental protection. Can private markets introduce innovations to address environmental costs and fairly distribute them between firms, groups and individuals?  
12 Global Climate Change and Global Equity Class Simulation How do nations craft a global policy regime that balances transportation-related growth with the threat of climate change - while remaining responsive to the equity issues that separate developed and developing economies?  
13 Sustainable Transportation in the 21st Century What might the range of technically and politically viable mobility strategies include in a world with environmental limits? Final paper due: Logan Runway Expansion   Tell A Friend