The New E’s of Transportation
It’s time to break down silos and build a values-based approach to creating 21st century streets.
The transportation industry has spent 100 years planning, designing, and building streets that favor one form of travel – the automobile – above all others.
The result is streets that are unsafe and uncomfortable for people walking, biking, and taking the bus; cities that are clogged with traffic and air pollution; and greenhouse gasses that are contributing to climate change.
The conventional approach of relying on engineering, education, and enforcement is no longer enough to ensure that our streets meet the needs of the 21st century. It’s time to change the way we do business. We propose three new words to inspire and guide the transportation profession: ethics, equity, and empathy.
Learn more about the each of these E’s by clicking on them below, or read through the rest of this page for an overview of how we’re incorporating the New E’s into our work, links to our New E’s podcast, and more.
Our transportation system kills 40,000 people a year in crashes (and injures hundreds of thousands more) and is responsible for more than a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. Clearly, our industry has become too reliant on implementing solutions that meet “minimum standards” without sufficiently considering larger impacts of each design decision we make.
We believe that engineers, landscape architects, and planners have an ethical obligation to develop solutions that improve the safety, health, and welfare of the public so that fewer of our roadways are dangerous by design.
Equity means distributing resources to people in a just and impartial way. It’s not giving everyone the same thing, but rather giving everyone what they need today while considering how existing power structures have governed resource distribution in the past.
From redlining to Jim Crow to urban renewal, the built environment has often been ground zero for systems of oppression. As transportation professionals, we face constant opportunities to either dismantle or perpetuate inequities. We must recognize them and act accordingly.
Empathy is the capacity to see, hear, and feel what another person is experiencing, from within their frame of reference. Empathy fuels a better connection with the people we serve, which inspires creative, positive, and community-focused solutions.
As transportation engineers, we have to be sure not to overlook the needs of the people our work is meant to serve. We need a human-centered approach to planning and engineering.
The New E’s Podcast
How did the original three Es shape the world of transportation planning, design, and engineering? What will it take to change the systems we have in place to make better decisions in the future? Gain background, perspective, and insight on the New Es in our podcast:
- Episode 1: Introducing the New Es
How we can break free of professional silos and change the way that transportation professionals think about their work.
- Episode 2: Ethics
What role ethics play (or should play) in the transportation profession.
- Episode 3: Empathy
The importance of empathy in designing transportation systems that serve a community of travelers with different needs and capabilities.
Listen and Subscribe
Beyond Ethics, Empathy, and Equity
These E words are a reflection of the values that must underpin the work we do in the transportation world. But while we believe that ethics, equity, and empathy are essential to changing the status quo, they are not the only Es that could serve this purpose.
To achieve a transportation network based on human-centered design, we must be moved by emotion to ensure that people of all ages and abilities can joyfully experience places built for them. Our concept for the future must start with people’s vision of their own community, not what’s left over after we’ve accommodated the needs of motor vehicle traffic.
There are other words that fit with the “E” theme. Tackling environmental challenges of climate change, energy supply, and pollution is an ethical imperative. The promise of accessing economic opportunities is an essential part of broader equity conversations. And a commitment to engagement is integral to bringing genuine empathy to our professional duties.
Ultimately, the words we use here must reflect the human values that we wish to see in our transportation network. Only then will we be able to plan, design, and engineer change for 21st century streets that serve everyone.
Where did the Three E’s come from?
The transportation profession has been using the Three Es of engineering, education, and enforcement since the early days of the National Safety Council in 1925, when it was adopted from industrial engineering practices to manage the rise of the automobile in city planning and infrastructure investment.