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March book of the month: Roadways For People

Updated: Mar 1

Roadways for People: Rethinking Transportation Planning and Engineering

By Lynn Peterson with Elizabeth Doerr

Island Press, 2022


I first heard Lynn Peterson speak in a webinar with Veronica O. Davis (author of Inclusive Transportation: a Manifesto for Repairing Divided Communities, which was the January book of the month). I knew immediately that I wanted to read her book, Roadways for People: Rethinking Transportation Planning and Engineering because, like Davis, she is trained in engineering and planning, has decades of experience in the field, and is open about telling the lessons she’s learned along the way. (She also quotes one of my favorite R.E.M. songs on the inside cover. You had me at hello). It’s a hard truth that we often learn the most from failure, and the book includes a wealth of examples and case studies both successful and not. 



Another reason Peterson caught my interest is that she grew up in Wisconsin and started her career here, first obtaining a degree in civil engineering from UW Madison before working as a traffic engineer for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in the early 1990s. She was tasked with doing a safety analysis of Highway 12 between Madison and the Dells before WisDOT expanded it to four lanes. The project was controversial, highly unpopular with farmers who lost land to the expansion, and opened Peterson’s eyes to the limitations of her training as an engineer when it comes to understanding community needs. Peterson went on to build a career in the Pacific Northwest, most notably serving as the Washington State Secretary of Transportation and Oregon Metro Council President.


On the whole, Roadways for People is best suited for engineers and planners who are looking for practical advice and informative stories from an experienced practitioner in creative problem solving, coalition building, and collaboration. Chapter 4 is even called, “Getting Out of Our Silos.” However, this book could also be useful for advocates and community leaders who want to better understand the perspective of professional engineers and planners and the systems they navigate. Peterson explains engineering concepts and processes and breaks down the jargon. She does not shy away from the constraints and complexity of transportation planning, but she doesn't make excuses, either. She effectively lays out tried and true methods of bringing together technical expertise and community input to come up with solutions that work for everyone. 


Roadways For People should be required reading for everyone who works at WisDOT, MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organizations), and the consultants they hire. This book doesn’t make practical, community-based solutions for transportation planning look easy, but she demonstrates that it is possible. 



Susan Gaeddert is Community Programs Director at 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, where she runs Active Wisconsin, facilitates the Community Transportation Academy, and coordinates the Wisconsin Climate Table.


Every month of 2024 I will post a short review of a book about transportation, land use, conservation, or a related topic. Some are new books and others have been around a while and are worth another read. Have you read any good books lately that I should add to the list? Email me at susan@1kfriends.org 


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