transportation planner post-college
May 28, 2010 8:45 PM   Subscribe

what jobs are out there in transportation planning for the liberal artsy type just out of college + wandering back home to Boston?

I'm gradually falling in love with transportation systems. I'm in Tokyo, in awe of the massive&intricate railways, and feel myself wanting to help people, whether daily commuters or special needs students, get where they need to go. And I want to do this work in or near Boston, where family lives.

What entry-level jobs are available in the field? I am less interested in driving or conducting, and far more of a planner/writer type. However, I would be willing to try various things out. My dream criteria for work is that I want to serve a community in some sense, and have an outlet for situated creativity (ie not freelancing poetry, but problem-solving in a way I can feel immersed in and proud of.)

I am currently still an anthropology major in college, and will be done next year. I may intern with a district planning council in my college town in the fall and (hopefully) work on a youth bus project; I also just finished a year internship with a cooperative business planning/education council. Yada yada, resume. But I want to jump out of the interny framework and better understand the spectrum of possibilities in Boston, perhaps in a longterm-career sense. I also would like to avoid becoming an NGO nomad, and instead, work with civic/governmental infrastructure directly.

Any particular types of jobs come to mind? I'm considering grad school but want to give it a little while. If I should think smaller (or about serving chai-mocha-whatevers at Starbucks) for the time being, you can let me know that, too.
posted by elephantsvanish to Work & Money (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For an artsy guy? Probably none. This is something Civil Engineers do. And Civil Engineers run all sorts of complex programs to emulate traffic and passenger capacity etc. This is something specifically taught in several of the Civil Engineering courses I have taken.

You may be able to work your way in some way as a CAD rat that actually designs the things, then maybe move up to something like a planner. But These are state run organizations where people hold jobs for years and years, and moving up depends on them dying.
posted by sanka at 9:12 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A lot of planning is now aimed at getting citizens/neighborhoods/communities involved in planning in a meaningful way. A Portland, OR metropolitan area planner lectured one of my courses the other day about the process of planning a community, Pleasant Valley, within one of Portland's more recent urban growth boundary expansions. The involved municipal agencies worked very closely with the community to create a development that was amenable to the large majority of original inhabitants, featured a number of sustainable/mixed-use/higher density aspects, and met the city's outgrowth needs.

The planner who lectured this week came from a more liberal arts background and actually did an oral history of the Pleasant Valley community for his master's project before joining the metro org and becoming a planner. Two other Portland area planners have guest lectured for this course. One of them started off with a completely non-related degree, spent ten years as an electrician, and is now a senior city planner. The other one, she was a molecular biologist before she got into planning. No kidding.

I attended the recent American Planning Association conference in New Orleans. Based on the sessions I went to, planning agencies across the nation are trying to get communities involved in a more meaningful way. Cities are actually hiring artists to capture and preserve community sentiment or character as part of the master planning process. Cities are hiring people like you to facilitate discussion between planners and communities. Traffic engineers are certainly useful members of the planning process, but the top-down, engineered approach to planning is giving way to something new. There is room for people like you.

I'm getting master's degrees in environmental studies and planning, but now that I'm done with most of my coursework, I spend the bulk of my time learning software development skills to further my master's project, which involves making planning more accessible to citizens through mobile technology. The field of planning seems to be wide open in all directions, at least from this sheltered student's perspective. Obviously, many cities are cutting back on funding right now, but interest in alternative planning is here to stay.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 9:33 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Look into nonprofits. In DC working on federal laws is Transportation for America. Where I live, the Bay Area, there are a couple nonprofits that advocate to make the transportation system, especially public transit, walking, and biking, work better (TransForm) and be more equitable (Urban Habitat). [Disclaimer: I've worked with these groups a fair bit.] Also check out Safe Routes to Schools. I don't know who is working out in Boston.
posted by slidell at 9:59 PM on May 28, 2010

Pre-layoffs, I was a transportation planner for a very large livery/bus company in downtown Boston that cut about half their staff in the past two years. There are a looot of people still out of work scrambling for every available job (I'm going back to school to focus more on hospitality management, so at least you're not fighting me for a job, hee).

But one place I know that some of my former coworkers ended up was MBTA's The Ride, as dispatchers for vans and cars that pick up elderly and handicapped around the metro-Boston area and take them where they need to go. I beleive they're out in Waltham, and I've seen them pop up on Craiglist from time to time. I've also seen others like that, but they require some sort of certification, where The Ride does not. has a whole transportation section - you just have to be patient and weed through the chauffeur listings.

I did love my job. I liked the logistical aspect of trying to fit things together to make them most efficient. Good luck to you!
posted by kpht at 10:47 PM on May 28, 2010

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