Research: Are Transportation Planning Views Shared by Engineering Students and the Public?

Transportation reform is often achingly slow, fraught with political tension and disagreement. At times, planners seem to square off against engineers about the purpose of transportation and the appropriate response to pressing issues like congestion and safety. At other times, planner-endorsed transportation reforms fail to garner strong public support.

In a new article, “Are Transportation Planning Views Shared by Engineering Students and the Public?” (Journal of Planning Education and Research, June 2022), Bloustein School associate professor Kelcie Ralph and co-authors Nicholas J. Klein (Cornell University), Calvin Thigpen (Lime, San Francisco, CA), and Anne Brown ( University of Oregon) compared the policy preferences of transportation planning students, engineering students, and the public to identify points of consensus and divergence within and between the groups. This work is essential because all three groups play unique roles in shaping transportation outcomes.

The authors surveyed transportation students and the U.S. public to explore consensus and divergence in policy preferences, finding considerable agreement among planning students, which may be a strength—it is easier to pursue shared goals—or a weakness—too much consensus can lead to echo chambers and disconnection.

Engineering students and the public shared some planner-preferred views (like expanding transit) but disagreed with planning students about the role of transportation and appropriate policy tools, especially road widening.

The results suggest that diverging policy preferences are, at least in part, a reflection of planning’s signature pedagogy.