What can we learn from existing travel behavior data [a] about automobile use in Monona Wisconsin? How has the idea of automobile use been constructed by residents of Monona? How has community knowledge on health been a part of the consideration on automobile use? In what ways might the current transportation system in Monona have suffered certain social groups in Monona? The intensity of automobile use has long been recognized as a primary cause of the current unsustainable transportation system. Yet a considerable number of individuals have continued to travel with their private cars and some social groups have continued to be marginalized due to inadequate transportation infrastructures. This dilemma suggests that sustainable transportation has a complex set of problems and requires a robust approach of research in order to understand the complexities of the problems and offer potential solutions to these problems.
This dissertation research proposes a comprehensive transportation study that will focus on the context of how individuals in Monona perceive and behave, in regard to automobile use, in collaboration with The Natural Step Monona (TNS Monona), an all-volunteer grass-roots community organization in the city of Monona that promotes environmental, economic, and social sustainability. Through TNS Monona, community residents in Monona have worked collaboratively to increase environmental awareness and sustainability practices by organizing activities such as study circles, a “Green Tuesdays” film & lecture series, rain barrel sales events, a sustainability fair, and policy initiatives. TNS Monona has learned that transportation is relatively low in term of community engagement. This fact has been confirmed by the recent Monona community survey where transportation was not as important as other community issues such as clean lakes, clean water, clean air, and waste [b]. When asked about this potential dissertation research, TNS Monona considers that the researcher will have to deal with a serious challenge about community engagement in transportation. On the other hand, TNS Monona also see this as an opportunity to adopt an alternative method of community learning.
This dissertation research would focus on five goals.
- First, this research will focus on understanding factors influencing to Monona residents’ automobile use—that is, a study on Monona resident’s travel behavior. City of Monona is a Madison “inburb” considering its close proximity to Madison. This study in Monona will add a unique insight to the relation of transportation and suburbanization, with climate change and health are among the main discussions.
- Second, this research would learn how interdisciplinary research in the field of transportation, particularly in travel behavior study, is executed. Current travel behavior study relies on quantitative methods. However, the comprehensive study of travel behavior requires the insights of both the quantitative and qualitative methods. It allows for the necessary synthesis of travel patterns with the rationales that motivate them. Going beyond demographic information, this research will allow for discussions of attitude and belief systems, the primary components in qualitative behavioral study. Through community engagement, this research will offer richer data about Monona residents’ travel behavior. In the context of sustainable transportation, particularly in automobile use, entering the area of attitudinal study will lead to new strategies in communicating the science of sustainable transportation, which may eventually facilitate continued discussion and feed the decision making process at both local and national policy levels.
- Third, one possible way to develop an effective policy is by engaging the target population of that policy during the development process. This research will allow the local community of Monona to have a rare opportunity to address a local transportation system where they are the real actor (user) of the system [c].
- Fourth, this research will provide a better chance to address automobile dependence and equity—two aspects of sustainable transportation—adequately and uncover the complexities of sustainable transportation. Recall that sustainable transportation is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive understanding in order to come to potential solutions. An interdisciplinary approach of this study will allow automobile dependence and equity to be addressed in at the same time.
- Fifth, this research will allow TNS Monona to design an alternative strategy incommunity engagement and to experience how this strategy might work for communicating an environmental problem as complex as transportation. This strategy could be a pilot project that may be useful for future problems in Monona, or similar complex problems in other communities.
At this point we have only agreed on the basic concepts and goals with TNS Monona. During the proposal development, I would collaboratively design the research with TNS Monona leaders. We would then finalize the research design and implement the project.
[a] The existing data is as recorded by the National Household Travel Survey 2010
[b] The community survey was conducted as part of the Spring 2011 capstone course by the Community Environment Scholars program (CESP) of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, where I was a Teaching Assistant.
[c] City of Monona had recently conducted a Monona Transit Survey. It is my hope that findings from this dissertation research could support any plans by the city in advancing the Monona transit system.
Image source  www.ncpc.gov,  www.sunschools.org