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Bridget Burdett is a New Zealand based civil engineer working in transportation. She is also completing a doctorate in psychology examining the habits of automobile drivers, and studies the linkages between transportation, wellbeing and inclusivity. Bridget has written a treatise on her profession, and its well worth a read. She discusses the fact that Engineering School teaches how to design bridges, beams and foundations, how to make assumptions on data, and how to pick out the best materials. But as Bridget states ” The problem with the engineer’s design method is that it doesn’t work well when your material is a bunch of humans. Civil engineering is useful but only for designing materials with predictable, measurable, consistent properties, like concrete and water.”

“Transportation is about people. Too often what transportation engineers actually focus on is traffic, and cars. We pretend that it’s about people and community, but decisions are based almost exclusively on analysis of traffic volumes, because that’s all the data that we’ve got. What about the trips people don’t make because they don’t have a car, or it’s too expensive, or they get halfway and the footpath is blocked, or because they’re blind and the taxi drivers charge them more than they are supposed to?
Transportation engineers speak volumes about traffic volumes. We know how to find out how many cars and trucks use almost any road in the country. A lot of traffic volume data is publicly accessible, and updated every year. Traffic volume data is only going to get more accessible – google will even tell you how busy roads are, and how busy they typically are at different times of the day and week.”

In exploring the linkages between transportation and engineering, Bridget notes that data needs to be used more by transportation engineers. Statistics on car ownership and low-income can inform where better walking infrastructure can be placed. Correlating hospital admissions data with crash reports, and following up with the health and societal costs of crashes can make better policy decisions on road infrastructure.  Bridget makes an argument that Transportation is a core business,  “but connecting it to wellbeing is nobody’s job. It’s up to the public to demand that connections between transport and wellbeing are stronger, and it’s up to professionals to recognise opportunities to bridge these very important gaps. It’s okay, engineers are good at bridges.”

You can read the whole article here.

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