Transportation in Cities with Zak Accuardi

The transportation sector poses significant opportunities for and challenges to reducing US greenhouse gas emissions as the Country’s highest-emissions sector. As a result of stay-at-home orders issued in March and April in cities and states across the US, we’ve seen a visible difference in smog in part due to less driving. Streets in cities also comprise more than 30 percent of all land in many cities, and therefore more than 80 percent of public space. Yet for much of the past century, we’ve been designing them to prioritize moving cars quickly, which is neither safe nor efficient. What if we designed streets with different priorities and invested in high-quality public transportation?

In this month’s episode, Kelly and our guest, Zak Accuardi, discuss the attributes of public transit service that make it possible and desirable for people to use transit more, and why this can be so impactful in US cities today.

Episode Guest: Zak Accuardi, NRDC 

Image of Zak Accuardi


Zak Accuardi works in Los Angeles as a Transportation Advisor at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He coordinates with cities across the U.S. to advance transportation policies and projects as part of the American Cities Climate Challenge. Previously, Zak has consulted on transportation policy and climate change mitigation across a variety of organizations and sectors, and worked as a Senior Research Associate at TransitCenter, where he co-authored several national policy reports including 2018’s Inclusive Transit.



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Robb Aldrich | Kelly Westby

Production Team

Heather Breslin | Alex Mirabile | Dylan Martello | Jayd Alvarez

Episode Transcript

Kelly (00:06):

Welcome to buildings and beyond

Robb (00:09):

The podcast that explores how we can create a more sustainable built environment.

Kelly (00:14):

Focusing on efficiency, accessibility, and health.

Robb (00:18):

I’m Robb Aldrich.

Kelly (00:19):

And I’m Kelly Westby.

Kelly (00:22):

My guest on this episode is a former environmental engineering classmate of mine. Zak Accuardi. Zak has an impressive background. He’s a researcher, writer, editor, and strategist dedicated to building sustainable inclusive communities through institutional reform and policy change. He started his career at Gotham 360 an energy consultancy in New York city before getting his master’s in policy and technology. He consulted for the world bank on sustainability indicators and performance tracking and conducted research for project draw down. Then he focused in on sustainable and inclusive transportation at the Transit Center. He now works for the natural resources defense council (NRDC), advising cities on transportation policy and project implementation as part of the American cities climate challenge. We recorded this episode a few months ago and listening back to it now, I realize I missed the opportunity to dig in and discuss the topic of racial equity. While Zak and others in the sustainability community and some of my colleagues here at Steven winter associates have been embedded in a discussion about equity and social justice for their entire careers. I personally, haven’t focused on the connection between my work as it relates to equity and inclusion, but in light of current nationwide discussions and our own internal discussions on racial and social justice and bias, I don’t want to gloss over the link between transportation and equity. Since I didn’t explore the connection in the episode, I wanted to highlight some of Zaks work at the transit center in this intro. Zak Is the author of a 2018 report called Inclusive Transit, which was one of the first national policy reports to summarize and highlight specific opportunities for local transportation agencies to plan and set policies designed to advance racial equity in the U S cities. I wanted to highlight the intro of this report, which says access to high quality public transportation can make cities more inclusive by increasing mobility and opportunity, particularly for people with low incomes and people of color. The role of a community is essential to fair and just transportation planning and decision making processes. This can lead to prioritizing transportation investments that better enable people to meet their day to day needs – getting to work school, the grocery store, the doctor’s office and social and leisure activities, allowing people to meet these needs creates long-term economic opportunities and helps them escape poverty. In addition to transits well-documented environmental and economic benefits, public transportation can be a powerful tool to advance racial equity and social justice in American cities. We’ll link to the full report in the show notes. And as it turns out, transit center has its own podcast called High Frequency. We’ll link to that in the notes as well. Now, turn to jump into my discussion with Zak, which focuses more on the sustainability aspects of his work on transportation.

Zak (03:23):

Yeah. So transportation is, I think, I think has a history of being a little bit neglected among people who care about climate change and energy use. And I think that’s true for a few different reasons. I think it’s, it’s, it’s complicated. Transportation energy use is really complicated, but I think it’s really important and it’s, it’s a big opportunity to to reduce energy use, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a way that really supports a lot of other societaly important goals and priorities. So so I’d say first of all, streets in, especially in, kind of major cities are some of the most important public space that we have. They represent the vast majority of public space, including parks and other things that we kind of more traditionally think about as public space. And yet for, for years, for probably the past five, six, seven decades, we’ve been designing streets with about one singular goal in mind, which is prioritizing moving cars very quickly. And that’s resulted in streets that look very different than they would if we’d designed streets to prioritize making streets and making cities nice places for people to live. The implication is also that energy use is really high, that people drive a lot more than they otherwise would. But there are a bunch of other problems that this creates. So one is that more than 40,000 people die each year in the U S in car crashes. And that includes people who are driving. And that also includes people who are walking or biking. This is an enormous public health crisis, and yet it’s become normalized as this thing that we just that we just think about as kind of an acceptable cost of, of creating a society that really relies on cars, but this isn’t just a problem because people are unsafe. It’s also a problem because owning a car is really expensive and we’ve made car ownership kind of a necessary precondition to having economic opportunity, having the opportunity to get a job that pays well. Where you have a reasonable commute where you can afford to live in a place where you have a commute that, you know, is possible to do every day and that you can afford to do every day. So, you know, there’s this real strong connection between transportation access and housing affordability. And in cities today it’s really, it’s really hard to both afford a great place to live for you and for your family. And to be able to have a commute that doesn’t require a car, which can cost, you know, on average something like $10,000 a year. And if you’re a family that’s living at, or anywhere close to the poverty line, that is a huge percentage of your income.

Kelly (06:43):

Yeah. Great. Those are all excellent points. And I think you’ve already taken us to kind of a much bigger perspective. I think a lot of times when, when I hear things talk to, when I hear transportation discussed kind of from a sustainability perspective we’re talking about, you know, electric vehicles to, for the most part or at least I guess that’s, that’s sort of the buzz thing in, in general space, not necessarily within the industry, but looking at what, how you can make an impact on the entire community for more of a urban planning perspective, I guess it is your take on it, an urban planning perspective of integrating transportation with the community both on the social justice side and on the efficiency side.

Zak (07:30):

Right. Exactly. And I think that, you know, I, I frame it that way because I think that those really are, you know, the most urgent problems that cities are facing that we need to to be working on. But you know, I’ve obviously come to this work from a perspective of reducing energy use, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And, you know, I deeply believe that that, that is also urgent, even though it’s not something that cities themselves feel every day cities are at the forefront of reducing energy use, reducing emissions. So it’s also, I think, important to say that the transportation, as of, I think 2017 is the sector of the U S economy that represents the biggest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions. I think it’s 29% of us greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Most of that coming from driving from personal car use this obviously means that that’s a huge part of the climate story in the U S it also is a huge public health concern. One thing that’s been, been really stark the last few days in LA, since the state issued the safer at home directive is how clear the air is just from people driving less.

Kelly (09:02):

Well, yeah, and you, you definitely have a different perspective of it in, in LA or I guess a very, maybe an exacerbated perspective.

Zak (09:11):

Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s right. I mean, the air quality and, and smog here is is, is, is famous or infamous maybe. And, and the difference is so stark. And obviously, you know, we don’t want to like turn, turn off driving in LA overnight, because again, that would mean that people couldn’t get to their job. People couldn’t get to, to see their friends, couldn’t get to their school, et cetera. But we need to provide viable alternatives for people where people feel safe. People feel that it’s, it’s convenient enough to walk, to bike, to take public transit to the things the places and the people that they, that they want to that they want to be seeing.

Kelly (09:56):

Yeah, that’s an excellent point. And I think giving those kind of multiple layers of importance to the issue, there’s sort of the immediacy of things like smog and health in, in urban centers. And then there’s obviously the global impact of climate change from greenhouse gas emissions over time. So thinking about multiple scales under which this transportation issue is incredibly important.

Zak (10:23):

Yeah, it is. And I guess the last thing for the thing, I’ll say, you know, this is transportation is an issue where all of these things intersect and they all kind of point in the same direction, which is that it’s really important to invest in, in transportation options besides driving alone, to make those options possible, to align kind of land use and housing policies with that goal as well. And, you know, I mentioned that transportation has become the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U S that’s happening for two reasons. One is that in building energy use, we’ve actually done a reasonably good job so far at starting to kind of bend the curve and start to shift the trajectory of of the growth in energy use and the carbon intensity of energy use in the electricity sector. And otherwise, obviously we have a tremendous amount more work to do, but in transportation we’re going the exact opposite direction. People are driving more and more over time. And setting aside electric vehicles and electrification for a moment, you know, the, the amount that we’re driving, continuing to increase is it’s a really hard problem to solve because transportation system is so, so complex. And so there’s a lot more work to be done before we’re ready to to really start shifting that trajectory.

Kelly (12:04):

Great. And that’s an excellent point. I think sometimes I have a bit of a skewed view during all of the discussion in New York city, where buildings are 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions taking a wider view across the entire country is really important when we try to say, you know, what, what across the country and what globally do we need to be thinking about and looking at, and buildings are certainly a much smaller percentage overall across the country.

Zak (12:36):

I should say, at least one or one or more of your listeners would call me out on this. I’ll say transportation is only the biggest sector if you define commercial and residential buildings as separate sectors, if you combine them together, they’re still bigger than transportation. So for your audience, I should definitely be clear about that. The reason that transportation energy use in New York is so small is because the subway exists and because the New York city bus system exists. And because collectively people take you know, close to, when there’s not a coronavirus epidemic, there are eight and a half million trips taken on the New York city transit system every day between the bus and the subway. So you know, that that’s the scale of public transit use in New York is the thing which makes it necessary to focus on buildings in New York, because transportation is already on this, you know, dramatically more sustainable trajectory than in any other U S city.

Kelly (13:46):

We know it’s a big deal. Now, our listeners are convinced you, you make a good point on, on all of the levels of concern, what are what’s something a city can do about it? And I’m not sure if it’s best to take the perspective of an existing city like LA that has a lot of driving or a perspective of if you’re building a new kind of town center or city center. Can you speak to kind of, what are the, maybe top three things that you should consider designing?

Zak (14:15):

Yeah. Yeah. It’s I give this a little bit of thought before, before this conversation. I think there’s, my first answer is kind of a cop out answer, which is that it’s not just one thing. It’s not just three things. It really is about focusing on how we design both streets and our built environment to support people, not having to drive everywhere. It’s also about electric vehicles. So I don’t wanna, I don’t want to minimize that, but it’s also electric vehicles are also less of my expertise, so I have less intelligent things to say about them. So it’s really kind of making that making that kind of jump from the kind of planning, the kind of design that kind of policy-making that we have done for a long time into kind of systematically prioritizing investments that help people make the choice to walk, bike, take transit, et cetera. But I will also provide a real answer to your question, and I’m going to focus the focus, the kind of three examples on things that the interact with the built environment.

Kelly (15:40):

And I think just to point out, as you were saying that we had a universal design episode and we talked, we alluded to this a little bit and our building codes are going towards a more performance based metric. I think we talked about universal design as, as like being a performance based code. Like I think this again is a, is more of a performance based mandate. What you’re, what you’re talking about, you know, can we design smartly, not specific prescriptive requirements necessarily, although we can get into those, but can we design in a smart way that encourages the kind of behavior that we’re looking for?

Zak (16:17):

Absolutely. And there are actually some good examples in a kind of a growing list of examples in cities around the country who are taking kind of a performance, performance driven approach to looking at transportation transportation behaviors in the built environment. So I think that’s a good segue into these, into these three policies and that the connect transportation to, to the built environment. So one is, one is looking at kind of the development review process. So for for a new building, or like a substantial renovation for a building, thinking about how we in in, in evaluating kind of a development proposal, look at what the transportation impacts of a project are. And historically that’s, that’s done by looking just at what is the adverse impact to traffic. So literally how, how fast do cars move on the adjacent streets to, to a new development project. And that turns out to, without going into all of the details that turns out to be like the exact opposite of measuring, whether a project supports kind of sustainable equitable transportation investments. It’s just about moving cars more quickly. It’s antithetical to safety goals, it’s antithetical to greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. And what we actually want to do is ask in the development review process, is this new building, this new development going to enable people to get to the building through a diversity of transportation options. So that can mean like looking at kind of a menu of different things that a development can do which include, might include building less parking, providing amenities for people who I can bike, making sure that there are like great there’s, there’s great sidewalk infrastructure, not just on the development, but, but maybe nearby. And so that kind of development review process is a really important, important lever. A second one is looking at what you might call commuter benefits programs. So the building itself and how you construct it is one part, but then there’s, how do people use the building and how do you keep track of whether the employers or the other tenants in the building are actually achieving the kind of goals that are, that are built into the development itself? So this would be things like making sure that employers are are providing employees, not just with free parking or the opportunity to, to have free parking, but also kind of equivalent benefits that will allow them to, or, or support them taking transit, riding bikes walking, et cetera. So it, it, this is solving a problem, which is pretty common where an employer will offer free parking, but actually not even offer a subsidized transit pass which might be uncommon in New York, but it is very common, common in in cities around the country.

Zak (19:49):

And that just creates a bad incentive. So it’s basically saying we, we, we support you as an employee if you drive, but but if you’re going to do something else, then you have to forego this, this benefit. And then the third one, the third one is is related to the first but a little bit, but a little bit more broad, which is focused on focused on parking specifically. And I think there are a variety of really important parking reforms that cities the cities can undertake, but the most simple and the most, perhaps the most powerful is eliminating parking minimums in new development. So in in a new development, most cities, well, the overwhelming majority of cities require some minimum amount of parking to be built. And that raises development costs, which in turn, you know, the average parking space cost tens of thousands of dollars to construct. So in a residential building, that means that you’re adding tens of thousands of dollars to every unit’s costs. So you’re exacerbating housing affordability, but it also means, again that you’re providing a strong incentive for people to drive by just making it as easy as possible for them to do so. And so eliminating those parking minimums is good for housing affordability, but it also makes it easier for developers to align good transportation incentives with the, the, the built environment.

Kelly (21:27):

So you mentioned in the beginning a little bit about getting involved in the American cities, climate change, climate challenge, sorry, project, what are the goals of that? And can you describe it a little bit? And I think we’d love to hear if you’re seeing a tangible impact or not from, from that.

Zak (21:46):

Absolutely. So the American cities climate challenge is a project spearheaded by Bloomberg philanthropies and led on a day to day basis by my organization, the natural resources defense council, and another organization called delivery associates. So our two organizations co lead this project whose goals are helping mayors and city governments go further, faster in achieving their Paris climate emissions reduction goals. So, right right now, in this, in this moment in the U S where federal leadership on climate is, is absent or, or in many cases going in the wrong direction cities have really stepped up to the challenge and have, have taken on ambitious goals to to kind of fill that void of federal leadership. And so cities were participating in the American cities climate challenge applied to the program and were awarded basically a suite of different types of technical support. So from our, our two organizations that I’ve already mentioned, but also over a dozen additional kind of best in class national organizations who provide technical support and other subject matter expertise across the spectrum from land use transportation policy and from electric vehicles kind of many, many different transportation from many different forms of support for cities working on transportation. Although we also have a similar kind of package of support for cities working on reducing energy use in buildings and reducing the carbon intensity of the electric grid. It’s pretty, pretty, pretty comprehensive. Each city has, has identified about four kind of priority projects that are getting support on both the transportation side and the buildings side. And so we work hand in hand with city staff on each of those projects across 25 cities to help them implement them. The project started last year. It runs through the end of this year. So it’s kind of a two year sprint to get as many of these projects implemented and producing greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.

Kelly (24:31):

Wow, great. And what what was something you’ve already made progress on a specific example?

Zak (24:39):

I work with several cities. I’m actually going to give an example from from a city that I don’t work with, but, but where I grew up, which is, which is Portland, Oregon they came into the climate challenge planning to implement a couple of kind of pilot bus only lanes. So they wanted to expand the, the number of places in the city where where buses are kind of treated, treated like royalty and like and where the, the capacity of the bus to move, you know 40, 70, you know, lots of people at once in one vehicle to make sure that, that, that, that kind of efficiency is recognized by, by helping the buses move, move more quickly through traffic or kind of avoid traffic altogether. So we were able to work with the, with the city of Portland to not just identify two or three places where, where bus priority could be improved, but the city actually decided to increase their ambition, where, to the degree where they’re now improving. They’re, they’re now planning to implement bus priority treatments, street treatments and I think 24 locations throughout the city. So they’ve really kind of up the ante in how ambitious they are ready to be, to really make sure that buses, which are the most, most efficient way to move people on kind of scarce city street space. Not just in a couple of places here and there in the city, but really through a comprehensive program.

Kelly (26:27):

That’s great. And so I assume that does the two fold – one, it makes traveling by car less attractive, but it also makes traveling by bus move quicker and, and make it more attractive.

Zak (26:39):

Right. And we, you know, it’s, it’s fair to fair to frame it that way because city street space is pretty scarce. You know, it’s, it’s really hard when, when you have, you know, 40 feet of street space every foot that you use for one thing you can’t use for another. And again, going back to the very beginning of this conversation, we have for a long time allocated the overwhelming majority of our streets to the single purpose of moving single occupancy vehicles as fast as possible. So that means that everything else, including bus lanes and other kinds of street design elements that help buses move quickly, but also including sidewalks also, including bike lanes that make it comfortable for people of all ages to ride a bike, everything else in this kind of zero sum game of allocating street space has has cut in the short end of the stick. So cities cities are working kind of one, one step one street at a time to kind of reclaim some of that space and restore some, some more balance to just to the streets.

Kelly (27:56):

Great. And I assume there’s some research behind how many people then start transferring to buses, if you provide the space and the buses can move more efficiently. People are either convinced because they don’t want to sit in their car stuck in more traffic, or they’re convinced because the bus has moved quickly, but what kind of research has been done or what are your recommendations based on, I don’t know if you know any of the specifics offhand or or if you can point us to additional resources/

Zak (28:31):

Totally. So my former employer transit center has done some really great research kind of synthesizing. What are the things about about a public transit system or about public transit service that make it possible and desirable for people to use them? Many, many, much more research has been done in the past by a variety of other institutions and organizations. But I think transit center has, has done a really nice synthesis. So what they find is that that people use public transit when it is fast, frequent, reliable and walkable. So when you have a S a safe, comfortable walk to a bus or a train stop when you can walk to it and feel confident that there will be a bus or a train arriving very soon. So you don’t soon enough that you don’t have to check a schedule beforehand. That means at least every 15 minutes, but obviously the more frequent the service the better. And you want to be, be confident that the, that the best of train is actually gonna arrive on that timetable. So even if it’s scheduled to come every 10 minutes, if it’s not reliable, if it’s pretty common for for there to be a gap of 20 minutes or more, then that’s gonna make you less likely to use it. And then of course in terms of speed, if, if the bus is coming every three minutes, but it moves at a snail’s pace, then that’s not going to do you much good either. So, so you’re totally right when you implement a bus lane as an example, you actually solve for fast frequent and reliable, when there’s a bus lane, it makes it really easy to run a lot of buses because they’re not stuck in traffic. So they move faster, which means that you’re actually getting more financial efficiency from every bus because the driver is covering more ground in, in any given minute. It also means that you can be more confident because traffic both slows things down, but also introduces a lot of uncertainty in travel times. You can be more confident about how long the the trip is going to take, because without, without a bunch of cars clogging up a lane, you just, you just, it’s just more predictable. And then there’s no better enticement for drive somebody who’s driving, who is stuck in traffic to start taking transit, then seeing a bus whiz by at twice or three times the speed while they’re waiting for waiting for the next light. And so that makes a huge difference when people can really see see that taking the bus is gonna save them time. And so that’s definitely a place where we see a lot of a lot of good healthy behavior change.

Kelly (31:47):

One thing I wanted to circle back to on something that you’ve been working on, I’m curious to know with the American cities climate challenge, was there anything that you ran into that you were surprised that didn’t go as well as you thought it would, or maybe the uptake would be easy and either the local mayor said that’s a terrible idea, or the people were resistant or it just took longer any kind of challenges like that.

Zak (32:16):

Yeah. I’d say there’s some challenges that you expect. And some, some that are surprising, I would say with the cities and the mayors that we’re working with across these 25 cities the, the mayors tend to be really supportive, really game to try new things. They want to lead, that’s why they applied to be part of the program. And so, you know, we’ve had really positive experiences working with city leaders to make this stuff happen. So that’s been I think that that’s always a source of of strength and an optimism for me. And you expect to get opposition from from communities when you’re doing really anything that threatens on street parking, for example, which is a kind of the, the proverbial third rail of of urban street design. People feel deeply that they that they need to have ubiquitous free access to on street parking. And that is something that they’ve been they have been kind of conditioned to feel, because again, that’s, that’s how we’ve been designing streets for a long time. And I think one of the interesting challenges that cities are equal or eager to solve, and that we, I think have done some some healthy thinking around it is how to help us the agency implement a kind of project that they haven’t done before for the first time, how to build capacity in a city agency that hasn’t existed before and which, you know, we hope in which they hope they’ll be able to, to, to leverage, to continue doing good work. So I’ll give a concrete example, which is which is building which is building kind of quick build a bus or, or it could be a bike lane. So there are kind of, full-scale what you would call it, a capital jacked on, on a street where you’re pouring concrete, you’re ripping up the asphalt, your kind of totally tearing the street apart and rebuilding it from scratch. And those are super expensive projects. They take many years of planning and design and engineering. And those, you know, those will be projects that costs millions of dollars, tens of millions of dollars to, to plan and implement over their lifetime. So there’s another way of doing projects, which requires a lot lighter weight materials, much less expensive doesn’t require tearing the street apart where you can make quick changes. You throw some paint onto the street to kind of demarcate different areas where different types of people in your go, you see this in New York, a lot, New York has been one of the pioneers of this approach where in, in New York paint, that’s kind of a tan, a tan color indicates that that’s a place where people can walk. That’s an extension of the sidewalk and where you might use kind of flexible posts to to protect that space. Or you might use planters or some other kind of big immovable object and designing a project like that gives a lot of traffic engineers heartburn because it kind of goes against a lot of what the what they’ve been taught over the course of their careers. But but these kinds of projects at the same time have like very clearly demonstrated safety benefits and they allow cities to make changes at a much more rapid pace. But it still requires a lot of learning and a lot of kind of experimentation for any given city to figure out how to do projects like this, which will ultimately allow them to transform and re-imagine streets at a much faster pace. And so that, that tends to be, that’s like a kind of different kind of challenge than getting getting city leadership or departmental leadership bought into these kinds of changes is really helping cities learn the skills and their kind of core competencies that are necessary to implement the kinds of projects we know we need at scale.

Kelly (36:58):

And the program brings a resource. I always think back to developing the energy code in, in New York, or just participating in the advisory committee. I didn’t develop it, but looking at what other cities are implementing and not just staying within your own bubble to try to find solutions that have worked in the past is a really successful way. And so having you as the, not you specifically, but your team, of course, as the go between to try to translate this information and how does or does it not apply to another area? Is there anything around that, something that maybe worked in one city and you thought this is a great idea. And then in another city, it just fell flat.

Zak (37:43):

I think there are, I mean, there’s some easy examples. Like there are some cities who are talking about and who are actively working on implementing congestion pricing, which is a live conversation and then a major project in New York, but also several other cities around the country. And that’s, you know, that’s a policy solution that that really wouldn’t be appropriate or wouldn’t be like a priority in in a smaller, medium sized city where traffic congestion is like not not anywhere close to the top of the list of problems that cities face. So there, there are things like that that are that are kind of obvious. And then I guess there are, there are less, there are less obvious ones give an example of like land use, land use policy. So we work with a couple of cities on on land use policy reform in relation to our transportation work and its land use policies are just so wrapped up in local history, like how, like what are building setback requirements and potentially minimum unit sizes. And that’s an area where where you can’t, you really can’t use like a cookie cutter approach. You have to look at like the specifics of what’s there. What’s in the existing zoning code. Before you before you start to figure out what are the kind of specific policy change opportunities that’ll help us achieve its goals.

Kelly (39:33):

Great. That’s awesome Point. I want to circle back to one other thing you said that I’m curious about, you mentioned the number of people that die per year in car crashes. I’m curious if how that relates to, like, is there sort of a per capita per rider mile comparison to deaths by public transit? This is just out of my own curiosity.

Zak (40:00):

Yes, there is. I don’t know that I don’t know the data off hand, but I do know the kind of top line conclusion, which is that that public transit places with more public transit have safer streets. And the more people who ride public transit, you know, the, the, the safer the streets will be. And there are a couple of reasons for that. One is that there’s kind of like a virtuous cycle between having safe walking streets and having people ride rough ride transit more. And that’s, I think going back to your earlier question about what gets people to ride transit that’s like it’s kind of a chicken egg thing. Like you need safe streets in order to get people to ride transit. And the more people who ride transit, the more safer streets are going to be, there are a couple of reasons why that’s the case. So one is that the, the, the core of the transit workforce is the people who actually drive buses and who drive trains. Those are, those people are working one of the hardest, highest stress jobs in the country. There are people who have done studies on that, looking at job stress and, and driving a bus is, is, as you might imagine, when you start thinking about it is deeply stressful. You’re, you’re in traffic, you’re driving this huge vehicle. You’ve got people boarding, the bus are, who are paying you, and you’re supposed to like give them a ticket and you have all this, all of these things going on and people are asking you questions. They want to know where to get off the bus. Bus drivers play this really, really crucial role, which is both customer service, but also making sure that everyone stays safe, which is all to say that in order to be a bus driver, you have to be like a very well trained professional. Like your whole job is being a really good driver in a really stressful situation. That’s very different from, you know, the licensing and training process that the average driver gets, which is like, you might go to driver’s ed, or you might not, and you take a driver’s test in one state, which you never have to retake in any other state. So, and state testing requirements vary as do licensing requirements. And so who knows how much training anyone has, and even the most stringent licensing requirements for a driver’s license in the U S are pretty lax. There’s almost zero retesting at any point. So, which is, I’ll just say that, like the average driver in the U S is probably a pretty bad driver. And the average bus driver is going to be a really excellent driver. And so that, that pays a lot of benefits in terms of how safe people are going to be walking or driving on the street.

Kelly (43:00):

Great. Those are all good points. Yeah. Thanks for, for all your thoughtful answers. We like to end a little bit in a longer look ahead direction. So looking towards the future, what do you think we’re going to be talking about when we have you back on the podcast in five years?

Zak (43:20):

In five years, there will be a new list of American cities who have really kind of rewritten the rule book for how urban transportation systems look. They will have taken systematic approaches to prioritizing kind of more human transportation options, enabling people to walk and bike in ways that allow them to feel safe, creating significant new investments in public transit that make public transit, you know, the, the best option for for longer trips in, in urban centers. And they’ve rethought the built environment as we talked about in the context of, of parking in the context of of, of land use housing affordability, more density to create built environments and create the conditions for healthy built environments that allow people to make healthier, more, equitable, more sustainable transportation choices.

Kelly (44:51):

Wow. So really setting the bar low for the future for the future of the industry.

Zak (44:56):

Its a high bar, it should be.

Kelly (44:56):

that’s awesome. Yeah. And and if any of you mayors out there of cities that aren’t involved in the challenge yet are getting excited, hearing hearing Zak talk about the future of buildings. Then now’s the time to get started if you want your city to look like that a couple of years,

Zak (45:17):

Time to start is, is yesterday.

Kelly (45:20):

Yeah. well, that’s awesome, Zak, thank you so much for coming and being on the podcast.

Zak (45:26):

Thanks so much for having me. It’s great conversation.

Kelly (45:29):

Thank you for listening to buildings and beyond to learn more about transportation and inclusive cities. Check out our show notes at Buildings and beyond is brought to you by Steven winter associates. We believe our world is not as sustainable, healthy, safe, equitable, or inclusive as it needs to be. We continually strive to develop and implement innovative solutions to improve the built environment. If you want to join us in our mission visit, a big shout out to our production team, Jayd Alvarez, Dylan Martello, Alex Mirabile and Heather Breslin, as well as my cohost. Robb Aldrich. We thank you for listening, and we will see you next time.

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