In August I was asked to temporarily take on the role of Acting Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) as Samer Madanat moved to his new position as Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Samer led ITS for nearly ten years, and his many accomplishments as director include the birth of the Institute’s two newest centers: the Center for Future Urban Transport and the Transportation Sustainability Research Center. He will return in January 2013.
I was honored to be asked to take up the reins, but quickly realized that since coming to Berkeley my academic life revolved around my own area of research, transportation behavior, and on getting tenure. So stepping into Samer’s shoes as a newly-minted associate professor meant, first, asking a lot of questions about this 64-year-old institution.
Over the past month, I have met with the staff and directors of our seven research centers, and I have been truly astonished by the breadth, depth, and quality of the work that is accomplished here. Our research projects extend around the globe, from transit projects in Amman, Jordan and Barcelona, and into the national air space. They encompass advanced corridor management in California as well as pedestrian and bicycle safety around the periphery of the Berkeley campus.
A guiding principle of UC Berkeley is that we do everything—and we do everything well. Forty-eight of our 52 Ph.D. programs are ranked in the top 10 nationally. This is a great asset for transportation, which is about as interdisciplinary as a field can get. Within this campus community, ITS plays the unique and critical role of bringing together a wide variety of scholars to determine the next major challenges in transportation and to work toward innovative solutions.
Past ITS directors have looked into the future to imagine how transportation can best serve society decades down the line. Where they saw a need for a new line of research, they instigated the formation of interdisciplinary collaborations to find new solutions—from more durable pavement (developed in the middle of the last century) to today’s increasing array of sustainable transportation strategies. Once launched, the director keeps a bird's-eye view of different but related transportation research activities to ensure they work synergistically.
ITS also has a critical education component. Our faculty work closely with government agencies such as Caltrans and the Federal Aviation Administration as well as private industry on research projects that provide our students—the next generation of transportation leaders and teachers—the opportunity to think creatively, to work collaboratively, and to find solutions to the transportation problems of the future.
In late August our newest group of undergraduate and graduate students joined our transportation community. They will work closely with some of the most innovative transportation faculty and researchers in the world, including some recently-retired giants in the field, Carlos Daganzo and Adib Kanafani. Fortunately for us, retirement means they are relieved of most administrative duties so they can devote more time to students and research, and they are more energized than ever.
It is an exciting time in the transportation field, and we at ITS have truly unique opportunities to look at transportation problems from different angles and viewpoints—and then find creative solutions to those that are most vexing. As our new students will soon learn, we will put their intelligence, creativity and energy to good use as we look for new ways to move people and goods around the country and around the world.
Read previous Director's Messages.