Cluster 10 -- Sustainable Transportation


A sustainable transportation system meets society’s needs for movement while minimizing environmental harms, fostering healthy and equitable communities, and supporting economic growth.  This cluster considers the science behind sustainable transportation and examines sustainability in three areas:  system design, vehicle technology, and micro-mobility. A fourth course focuses on methods for assessing the environmental impacts of transportation. In all four courses, we will consider the ways that science can inform policy.  Lectures and projects will draw on multiple disciplines, including physics, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, environmental engineering, economics, and statistics. 

Core Courses

System Design

California has nearly 400,000 miles of roads, enough to circle the earth 16 times. Engineers are looking for strategies that make better use of existing roads and avert the need for more roads. Questions in this course include:  What models can planners use to forecast the volume of driving in the future? What strategies can be used to manage traffic, and what is their effect on greenhouse gas emissions?  How does freight transportation differ from passenger transportation, and what happens when the two systems interact?  You will get hands-on experience in this course with simulation software used by practitioners around the globe.

Vehicle Technology

In the vehicle technology section, we will investigate critical components of current and future vehicle technologies and the science behind them.  We will address questions such as:  How do internal combustion engine vehicles work? What is an electric vehicle, and how is it operationally different from a gas car?  What are the energy implications of driving with alternative fuels?  How do autonomous vehicles work, and what will their impacts be on travel, the environment, and health?  How does shared mobility (Uber, Lyft) fit into the system?  How will automation, electrification, and shared mobility affect the freight system?


Bicycles have been an important component of the transportation system for well over a century.  New technologies are expanding the usefulness of bicycles, including electric-assist bicycles and bike-sharing systems, and electric skateboards and scooters are expanding travel options yet further.  This course focuses on ”micro-mobility” and examines questions such as What are the operating characteristics of these different modes?  What are their infrastructure needs?  How can streets be designed to accommodate this mix of modes?  What role should these modes play in the larger transportation system?  How do these modes support as well as compete with transit?

Environmental Impacts of Transportation

Life cycle assessment is a method for estimating the total impact of a technology or product, and accounts for impacts “from cradle to grave.”  Some transportation technologies have obvious pollution impacts (like exhaust coming out of a tailpipe), while others cause impacts far away from where they are operated (like electricity generation for an electric vehicle).  Questions in this course include: What can life cycle assessment tell us about the best technologies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions?  What are the most effective strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from on-road transport? You will get a chance to conduct a life cycle assessment for electric and gasoline vehicles using real data and technology information.