Student Spotlight: Brendan Irsfeld, University of Oregon
Brendan J. Irsfeld is a second-year graduate student at the University of Oregon enrolled in the Master of Community and Regional Planning program. His primary research focus is sustainable and equitable transportation issues pertaining both to public transit systems and the wider built environment. He currently serves as co-president of UO student group LiveMove, and presented his work on social sustainability as an Eisenhower Fellow at the 2022 annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board (TRB). In addition to transportation, Brendan is active in disaster planning work, exploring the relationships between land-use decisions and the preparedness and resilience of communities in the event of a wildland fire.
Tell us about yourself?
I am a New Englander that arrived in Eugene, Oregon after discovering planning during an assignment at my previous job. After deciding to make a career change to planning, I knew I was most interested in transportation issues. Currently, I study the interactions within transportation systems that manifest inequitable outcomes to better understand the impacts on quality of life from economic, ecological, and social perspectives. I also serve as Co-President for the student organization LiveMove at the University of Oregon. The group promotes active transportation through speaker events, engagement with students on campus, and an annual applied project aimed at adding value and improving the value of active modes of transport in the local community. In addition, I also work in hazard and disaster planning projects, including participating with several graduate students to update the Community Wildfire Protection Plan for Clackamas County.
What (or who) has influenced your career path in transportation?
Two factors influenced my interest in transportation. The first is that I lived near Boston and frequently used public transit any time I visited the city. It was much easier than looking or paying for parking and I formed a fascination with public transit over the years. More importantly though, is reflecting on the experience of my mother. She lives with epilepsy and chose during her college years to give up driving. So, while I grew up with a car in the household, half the time it was a few counties away to support my father’s work and my mother and I would walk, hail a cab, or take whatever public transit would get us to where we needed to go. Those formative years as a child shaped my perspective in understanding my mother’s challenges as a pedestrian reliant on other individuals’ access to automobiles to make trips to her doctor, for groceries, accessing employment, and to see friends. This lived experience motivated me to direct my time and energy to studying transportation issues, examining where the dominant automobile regime fails people and how to address that failure to improve quality of life.
You recently earned an Eisenhower fellowship for your work on a research project, “Social Sustainability Indicators in Transportation.” Tell us about this research?
I am examining transportation policies and projects to understand how they impact sustainability from a social lens. This requires I address two research questions: first, what is the definition of social sustainability within transportation and second, how can decision-makers measure the impacts of transportation policies and projects on social sustainability within the system? I aim to identify a series of indicators that comprehensively measure the degree of social sustainability in transportation systems. I will select recent transportation projects that explicitly cite sustainability as an objective and apply the indicators to evaluate the projects for the impact on social sustainability. I hope to provide a model for transportation professionals to use to proactively assess social risk potential in their projects as well as identify existing aspects of the transportation system that weaken social sustainability.
After graduating, what future work do you envision doing in transportation?
I am interested in continuing opportunities for research in transportation sustainability and equity while also exploring serving as a consultant. Recent experiences that have allowed me to hear from current planning professionals about how they engage their vocation through consultancy. For example, I heard social justice planner and ethnographic artist Monique López describe the model of the firm Pueblo Planning during my first year of graduate study, demonstrating the possibilities of advancing a value-informed planning practice through consultancy. Prior to finding my next role in the planning world, I intend to cap my time in graduate school participating in a 4-week study abroad program in Denmark and the Netherlands to study built environments that incorporate biking as a primary mode of transport. Among all my considerations, I have also thought of returning to school to pursue a doctorate in planning after spending some time in professional practice.
What is the group LiveMove working on this year?
This year, LiveMove is analyzing the potential for developing a Neighborhood Greenway along a stretch of road in Western Eugene and present our design recommendations to the city transportation staff. Neighborhood Greenways redesign roads to become welcoming for all modes of transport, emphasizing walking and biking and lowering vehicle speeds. The potential of this street to include a greenway would provide a connective alternative to a major arterial road that services a high volume of commuter traffic for individuals living in the surrounding neighborhoods. The road is also connected to popular recreational path, which would further integrate active transport connections in this area of the city and introduce an alternative route that would avoid a busy and traffic heavy four-way intersection for bicyclists and pedestrians, especially children attending the nearby schools. Our group will provide updates on our website, livemove.org, throughout the year!
This is an installment in a series of monthly Student Spotlights we're shining on students and alumni that are involved with National Institute for Transportation & Communities (NITC) universities. NITC is a university transportation consortium funded by the U.S. DOT, and is a Portland State-led partnership with the University of Oregon, Oregon Institute of Technology, University of Utah, University of Arizona, and University of Texas at Arlington.
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