Institute for Transport Studies (ITS)

USA Country Profile

By Jonny Rotheram, MSc Transport Planning and the Environment (2008)

Jonny Rotheram

Currently I am working for a transport consultancy as a transport planner/consultant in Steer Davies Gleave’s Denver (USA) office. I’m here to support our sustainable transport work, currently involving transport demand management initiatives in Colorado and California. My work also includes producing marketing materials, attending and speaking at conferences. I also lead some proposal development and client facing initiatives. I’ve been developing our cycling services; this has included new auditing and mapping to support infrastructure and network development.

The USA is not a socialist country. This makes passing legislation and getting large scale investment in transport infrastructure very difficult. Each State can operate independently from other States, which creates a fragmented national transport network with only two public transport options to get around large distances, by plane or Greyhound bus. A country that has been built on capitalism does not lend itself to public transport or sustainable modes, and convincing the public and decision makers that sustainability is the only way to support growth into the future is a key challenge for the transport sector here. However views are starting to change, with some commentators suggesting that the US has ‘lost its edge’ and as the US looks on to India and China, and to a certain extent Europe, they see countries investing in large scale transport infrastructure, and some are concerned that the US will be left behind.

It is difficult to mention nationwide transport schemes, as there are very few, however there are some common themes emerging from the separate states. Many US states are looking into high speed rail as a future solution to their long distance needs, however as many Americans have never ridden a train, the concept becomes difficult to get across. There is also a significant ‘not in my back yard’ mentality that runs through large swathes of land. There are tentative moves towards cycling as a real mode of transport, the rise of shared bicycles in cities throughout the USA indicates that this mode does have potential to become more widespread, but only if there is political will to make it so.

Transport Demand Management is a key new area that many States are beginning to embrace; this involves producing a package of measures to diversify the modal split from the private car to other modes such as:

  • Car pooling
  • Public transport
  • Walking
  • Bike sharing
  • Cycling
  • Light Rail Transit

Although I am currently at the beginning of my career in the USA I have already participated in a high speed rail study consultation.  I’m also working hard to improve cycling accessibility and permeability throughout and within cities in the USA. I’d like to get involved in citywide cycle strategies and projects, as well as their integration with other modes. This is also a good opportunity to diversify into other projects, such as rail feasibility, environmental analysis and alternative mode analysis. This will also be a steep learning curve into how projects are managed and delivered in the USA.

ITS graduates can bring significant global experience to the country, this is important to the USA as it strives to keep its standing as the global superpower. The US needs different opinions, and alternative knowledge bases that have been developed outside the country. Diversifying the transport planning workforce will only improve the collective experience in the USA, specifically in sustainable transport.

My advice to other people considering a job in this country would be to consider carefully what area of the country you’d like to be based in; it is huge and thinking of it as group of separate countries rather than one will give you a better understanding of moving to the USA. It is different than Europe, the capitalism culture is very much different than the more socialist European culture and this will become evident very quickly (depending on what State you live in). Don’t expect to be able to travel as freely without a private car as you can in Europe.

It is a beautiful country, and on the whole people are exceptionally friendly to newcomers, expect to make friends quickly (as long as you, yourself are open to making new friends). My favourite fact about this country is that the State of Florida is bigger than the country of England.