Do you like to walk or bike? Do you want to encourage more people to live healthier lives and reduce our impact on the environment by walking or biking? Did you know you could turn these interests into a rewarding career in transportation?
Check out our videos featuring Portland State University’s Tara Goddard and the University of Colorado Denver’s Nick Ferenchak. Both Tara and Nick received the Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship to conduct research on bicycle and pedestrian safety. Both are passionate about encouraging people to choose active transportation and making it safer for those people when they travel around the city.
“Biking and walking are really great ways to move people,” Tara said. “It takes up less space in our cities and our crowded urban areas. It’s better for the environment and biking and walking are more sustainable modes in the long term. But I’m also really interested in people being safe.”
Tara explained that her doctoral research is on drivers’ attitudes and behaviors toward bicyclists. For example, are drivers aggressive when they pass a bicyclist in the road? Do they frequently have a hard time seeing bicyclists?
“Drivers are the ones who have the biggest effect on bicyclist safety. Most bicyclists that get hurt or killed on the road, it’s not from a single bike crash, it’s from getting hit by a motor vehicle,” Tara said.
She hopes that by better understanding the way drivers perceive and behave around bicyclists, she and other researchers can develop new ways to improve safety.
“When you combine my interests in safety and making people safer, but also being able to do things that are fun and offer you more choices to get around, that’s how I ended up in transportation and biking and walking in particular,” she said.
Nick said he hopes to encourage more young people to start walking or biking as a normal way of getting around. But first, he wants to make sure improvements are made to prevent people from getting hurt.
“I specifically focus on active transportation—walking and biking—because those modes are healthy for people. And if we can get them to use those modes safely, then they’re going to be healthy and safe,” he said. He went on to explain that his focus is on child pedestrian and bicycle safety because that the leading cause of death for children from the age of four through twenty-four in America. His goal is to figure out the how to get children to safely walk and bike to and from their destination.
Nick said his doctoral research focuses on pinpointing places where pedestrians and bicyclists are typically struck by automobiles. With this knowledge, roadway designers and lawmakers can take steps to improve safety at those locations.
He said, “First I want to identify [using data technology] where fatalities and injuries are happening in our cities. …Then, once we identify the problem, I will try to come up with a solution. So, looking at different design treatments: is adding crosswalks going to help? Or adding signage or blinking lights? What’s going to help the problem? Then the last piece will try to be to implement that with policy. So, how do we get our lawmakers to actually sign a law that says we’re going to have to do this and make our streets safer?”
Both Tara and Nick studied civil engineering in college, which taught them how transportation systems are designed and how they operate. Now, Tara is getting her doctoral degree in urban studies and planning, while Nick is in the civil engineering doctoral degree program. Students who want to study bicycle or pedestrian safety should definitely consider either of these degree paths as potential options. Check out this Wikipedia article to learn more about what civil engineers do, and this article to learn more about transportation planning. You can also learn more about civil engineering and transportation planning by checking out these Fast Forward issues on public and active transportation: Volume 2 Issue 3 and Volume 3 Issue 4.
Be sure to check out Tara and Nick’s video to hear more clips from their interview and keep following Fast Forward for more news and info on careers in transportation!