The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Graduate Student Henry Mulvey Participates in PVTA Sustainable Transit Project Studio Course

Henry Mulvey

Henry Mulvey

Henry Mulvey, a first-year graduate student in the dual Master of Regional Planning and Master of Science in Civil Engineering (Transportation) degree program, and a self-described “trolley nerd,” was part of a recent graduate course that worked closely with the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA), the largest regional transit authority in Massachusetts.

As part of the Federal Transit Authority’s Helping Obtain Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) Program, in 2020 the PVTA was awarded grant funds for the Pioneer Valley Transit Review and Improvement Planning Study (PV-TRIPS) to conduct an assessment and strategic planning of routes, services and facilities to inform the design of a sustainable transit system to support economic vitality across the Pioneer Valley.

Two of the PVTA’s key partners on the HOPE project include the UMass Amherst Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and the Department of Landscape Architecture & Regional Planning (LARP). Assistant Professor of Regional Planning Camille Barchers serves as PI for the project and worked with the PVTA to specifically support the development of the network design and the stakeholder engagement program. The Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, under the lead of Assistant Professor Jimi Oke, will also partner with the PVTA as part of the two-year project, conducting energy/emissions analysis, modeling, and recommendations.

Barchers also taught the fall 2021 LARP studio course of 18 regional planning graduate students, including Mulvey as the sole engineering student. The students completed a SWOT analysis, scenario planning, analysis of transit best practices, and more. The result was a proposed set of four route alternatives to improve transit outcomes over the next 20 years for riders throughout the Pioneer Valley, with a specific focus on those living in areas that meet the state’s criteria for Environmental Justice Communities (EJCs).

Mulvey found the project especially interesting because he plans to work in the field of transit planning, specifically bus rapid transit, light rail, and commuter rail plans. Mulvey sees one of the biggest challenges to transit planning as involving community buy-in and participation.

“I would say there is a serious disconnect between the literature and what the public thinks over travel lanes, parking, and transit. We as a society, and we as a Valley, need to realize we need to start taking lanes away from automobiles and giving them to transit.”

To fix this gap in understanding, Mulvey suggests that people seeing these projects in action is key to fixing the disconnect, as is partnering with communities and programs to get more people involved—a key part of the PVTA project. “Education is a part of it, but I don't think it's the whole thing. We need to change the culture. But we can't do that by a planner or an engineer lecturing to the public. What will work are things like demonstration projects, which give people a taste of things.”

LARP class