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Transportation as a life – Guest post by Karen Quinn Fung July 26, 2008

Posted by Raul in Blogathon, Blogathon 2008, public policy issues, transportation, Vancouver.
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This post was contributed by Karen Quinn Fung, who blogs at Countably Infinite. Karen recently completed her Honors Thesis and is considered an expert in transportation. She single-handedly organized TransitCamp in Vancouver and was included in Raincity Studio’s 2008 Women in Tech to Watch. She also happens to be a friend of mine ๐Ÿ™‚

Raul and I were talking today when I told him I couldn’t think of something to write about for his blogathon, and he called me an expert in transportation. I, of course, now feel obligated to repay his generous compliment…however, I will do this with a blog post about why I am not an expert in transportation – at least, not the way that most people think of experts, and not in the way that most people think of transportation. (Much of this post is indebted to a book by Fiona Rajรฉ called Negotiating the Transport System. I am currently crafting a blog post for my site with more on this book.)

When people think of transportation, they think of traffic engineers, people designing lane markings and curbs, thinking about where to put stop signs, bike lanes and pedestrian crossings, the headways (i.e. amount of time between buses) on bus routes and the logistics of a complicated transit system like the SkyTrain. Alternately, they may think of transportation planners, who study the number of people going where at what times of day, weighing land use with development goals, who make forecasts in the future about what people will be doing 30 years from now to get around.

In almost all of the above activities, I am, at best, a casual observer. My degree was in Communication, so I am ill-suited to comment on urban growth or community development. Instead, I am much more interested in the intricacies of how the act of getting around shapes what you can do, who you are, and who you can be; and, conversely, how not being able to get you are also keeps you from certain things. And finally, what people or organizations can do quickly and cheaply to overcome those obstacles and do what they want to, in the absence of solutions that might take a long time to implement. Funny enough, a lot of those tools tend to involve providing information to people – hence my hanging-on with the web and mobile communities in Vancouver.

Along this vein, one of the neatest concepts I’ve learned about recently is that of the “forced car.” It is exactly what it sounds like, and everyone knows what it is: it is when public transport is so lacking that people on low incomes have to put their money towards owning and running a car, which diverts valuable resources away from other parts of their lives. I have a friend living this very reality in Winnipeg. Yet as a society, do we collectively – through our representative in municipal or regional governments – take responsibility for precipitating these situations through the design of our cities? It’s hard to take responsibility for something that’s not directly someone’s fault, yet all too often it seems that the forethought that would enable these situations to be avoided is bypassed completely.

I’m certainly not the only one thinking about this sort of thing in Vancouver, either – the Vancouver Public Space Network is doing some great work, and Toronto’s Spacing Magazine is very prolific in bringing these issues to a human and emotional scale. If we think of cities as living, breathing organisms, then our transportation system is like our circulatory system, moving things around to where they are needed. That experience of moving around, perhaps not for the majority but for no small minority of people, is traumatic, wrought with difficulty and frustration, leading to (again with a loosely-defined academic term) social exclusion, that prevents them from taking full advantage of their potential or living their dreams. It’s this human element that I work towards…and I’m feeling
up to the challenge! ๐Ÿ™‚

Now, does anyone know a Master’s Program where I can study this *and* hang out with bloggers and web geeks? ๐Ÿ™‚

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Comments»

1. Cecily - July 26, 2008

Would a Master’s in Public Administration do the job? Especially if you could take a certain number of your courses outside of the department?

2. Karen - July 28, 2008

Cecily,

Thaat’s an awesome suggestion. I’ve considered it more in the guise of “government”, but I like that public administration has more of an on-the-ground feeling.

I think my skillset is what throws me off the most. I’m certainly process oriented, so public administration appeals to me in that way, but I’m also about empowering every person in every part of an organization, and that’s the sort of culture that’s hard to obtain as a bottom-up thing. I’d like to think I’m not choosing uphill battles in *every* decision in my life! ๐Ÿ˜€ And I’m optimistic about the power of research to drive change, but I’m also not sure if I’m patient or lax enough to do a bunch of research that people never take action on.

Well, that’s one question answered: action research it is! ๐Ÿ˜€

I’m slowly getting less and less concerned about what department I do my work in, and just finding the right sort of people to surround myself with. (Also, I think I’m also making “decent transit” part of the requirements in where I move. That will probably narrow the list considerably.)


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