Building sustainable and equitable transportation systems in Toronto

Guest blog written by Judy Farvolden

I am passionate about vibrant, equitable, sustainable urban life. My journey began in Paris when, as a 17-year-old living for a year in the City of Light, I wondered at the difference between living in a place where every day-to-day thing I needed was on my own block and my familiar and comfortable North American suburban life. I decided that the difference was the extensive subway system that made it possible for me to get anywhere in the city in 30 minutes, cheaply and safely, even as a teenage girl. That led me to study transportation engineering, and in particular systems design, because I believed the answer was to be found in mathematically optimizing transportation networks.

In the 30 years I’ve lived in Toronto, Canada I’ve watched the city grow from – not much – into North America’s fourth largest and fastest growing metropolitan region, with North America’s worst traffic congestion. About 10 years ago, after three engineering degrees and two decades in network optimization and mathematical finance, I realized that more math was not the “answer” to our transportation problems, and the real problem must be getting it done in policy. I decided to see if I could come back around and contribute to addressing the issues that had so motivated me but that I’d never actually engaged in.

I found that opportunity at the University of Toronto where, earlier this year, our proposed Mobility Lab was designated an Institutional Strategic Initiative and granted three years of seed funding on the promise that it would create a multidisciplinary network of researchers that would drive innovation in urban policy, thereby addressing the global challenge for cities to evolve into more sustainable, equitable, and resilient urban forms and mobility systems. The question was, how?

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