A “far” take on transportation planning


As a boy, Eric Plosky ’99, MCP ’00, rode the New York subway with his grandmother to every attraction on the town map. “Whenever someone asks me how I get into transportation, I always ask them,‘ How did you get out of this? ’” He said. “Every little kid seems to love trains and subways and buses. and cars and planes, and for some reason they ‘got out of it.’ I really couldn’t. ”

Now, as chief of transportation planning at the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Kendall Square, Plosky and his team put their fantasies to action exploring what transportation could be. “It’s not just steel and concrete. They are people, decision -making, history and culture, ”he said.

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At MIT, Plosky earned two degrees in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning; he also took humanities courses and wrote for The Tech. An internship at the Volpe Center grew into a 20 -year career.

While it is part of the U.S. department of transportation, Volpe is fully funded through direct consulting projects with other agencies and private entities that seek unconventional solutions to complex problems. His team’s recent projects include autonomous-vehicle systems at Yellowstone National Park and Wright Brothers National Memorial; an analysis of the national agricultural-freight highway network; and a number of efforts, funded by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, to facilitate complex urban transportation systems in places such as Kenya and Sri Lanka. “Whenever someone talks about a strange, remote transportation project that we don’t know anything about, that’s when we can get involved,” Plosky said.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Plosky spent months in Louisiana working with affected communities. The outcomes instruction document he wrote has already become part of the National Disaster Recovery Framework, which has helped guide covid-19 recovery efforts. “If you just put things back in the past, just put that back; True healing calls for something different, ”he said.

After work, Plosky taught an enduring transportation class at Harvard Extension School, served as a judge for the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, and coached first-year MIT Terrascope students. He also writes, posting a daily series of short stories on Infrequent.com.

Plosky said he is pleased with the growing momentum at the federal level to address the infrastructure challenges that exacerbate racial inequality and climate change. He said, “I really hope we can find a transportation system that meets the needs of today and tomorrow rather than the perceived needs of yesterday.”



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