Transportation Technology and Policy Grad Students Launch UC Davis Studies with “Mobility Quest”

What better way to begin your enrollment as a UC Davis Transportation and Technology Policy (TTP) graduate student than on a transportation adventure with your fellow students?

This year’s entering students joined their upper-level classmates in the first ever “Mobility Quest,” a five-day, student-led trip through various progressive transportation and energy locations on the West Coast. This year’s event was held just before the start of the fall quarter.

Mobility Quest is designed as an off-campus orientation and travel experience to introduce entering graduate students to the region’s wide variety of transportation, environmental, economic and policy issues. Students are able to see firsthand the challenges that government agencies and businesses face when implementing sustainable transportation practices in a real world context. This is also an excellent time for fellow graduate students to get to know one another, whether they are newly enrolled or veterans of ITS-Davis transportation-related programs.

In this year’s inaugural Mobility Quest, the ITS-Davis group visited the California Air Resources Board and the Siemens USA light rail manufacturing facility in Sacramento, Crater Lake National Park, various locales in Portland, and Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico.

As part of the Climate Friendly Parks Program, Crater Lake stands as one of the prime examples of implementing transportation infrastructure reform. During their visit, the group viewed many progressive transportation planning changes in action. Led by park management assistant Scott Burch, they learned about the park’s considerations for the impact of vehicle emissions. Through alternative mobility options like trollies, a robust system of buses, and bike paths, park management has deemphasized reliance on driving conventional vehicles. Also contributing to this new way of thinking are structural changes, like closing roads off to traffic and implementing single-way lanes instead of traditional two-way lanes. Crater Lake’s success in maintaining the delicate balance of great accessibility within the park while transitioning to a more sustainable set of transportation infrastructure and policies made the visit a scenic and relevant learning experience.

The Mobility Quest group continued their trip further north to Portland, Oregon. As one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation, Portland incorporates many different aspects to city planning and policy implementation. The team met with Mia Birk, vice president of Alta Bicycle Share, an urban mobility company dedicated to improving bike sharing systems in urban environments.

“In California, we tend to think more of bike infrastructure planning rather than bike share plans. Coming to Portland allowed us to view and consider different avenues and takes on the situation that we don’t normally see,” said ITS-Davis Ph.D. candidate and lead Mobility Quest coordinator, Jeff Kessler.

The group met with Tara Goddard, Ph.D. student/researcher at Portland State University, and former bike and pedestrian coordinator for the City of Davis. Together with Goddard, the group biked throughout the city of Portland, viewing the innovative bike infrastructure that the city has implemented, such as a new “Intelligent Transportation System” sensor. A blue light signals to bike riders that they’ve been detected by the system, saving them from having to manually press a crosswalk switch, and allowing for safer navigation through intersections for cars, bikes, and pedestrians.

Before returning to Davis, the group made a stop at Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico. Known for its emphasis on sustainable, low-footprint operations, Sierra Nevada leads by example through its commitment to zero-waste action. Students toured the facility, viewing a variety of the brewery’s innovative efficiency initiatives. Home to one of the largest privately owned solar arrays in the U.S, and the only brewery to house hydrogen fuel cells for energy, Sierra Nevada is a prime example of eco-friendly business practices. “Small businesses like Sierra Nevada are innovators that are voluntarily addressing sustainability endeavors, becoming leading examples for others,” said ITS-Davis Ph.D. candidate Christina Zapata.

On a post-trip survey, 100 percent of the students responded positively, saying it served as a valuable learning and bonding experience. With the positive feedback in mind, Kessler is now turning his attention to next year’s event.

Although Mobility Quest is a brand new initiative, Kessler hopes it will become an annually recurring event that energizes and engages new TTP students as they begin their graduate academic career.

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Would you like to contribute to a future Mobility Quest through Friends of ITS-Davis? Click here.

For further information about Mobility Quest—or if you are interested in having TTP students visit your institution to talk about the graduate program— contact Jeff Kessler at jkessler@ucdavis.edu.

For an overview of the TTP graduate program, and an online application and contact information, click here.