As a boy, Eric Plosky ’99, MCP ’00 and his grandmother took the New York subway to each city spot on the map. “Whenever someone asks me how to enter the transportation industry, I always ask them,’How did you get rid of it?'” he said. “Every child seems to like trains, subways, buses, cars, and airplanes, and for some reason they’grow up’ from them. I’ve never done it.”
Now, as the head of transportation planning at the Volpe National Transportation System Center in Kendall Square, Plosky and his team use their imagination to reimagine the possibilities of transportation. “It’s not just steel and concrete. It’s people, decision-making, history and culture,” he said.
At MIT, Plosky earned two degrees in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning; he also took humanities courses and wrote for The Tech. The internship at the Volpe Center developed into a 20-year career.
Although it is part of the US Department of Transportation, Volpe’s funding comes entirely from direct consulting projects with other agencies and private entities that seek unconventional solutions to complex problems. His team’s recent projects include self-driving car systems in Yellowstone National Park and the Wright Brothers National Memorial; analysis of the national agricultural and freight road network; and a series of efforts funded by Millennium Challenge to simplify complex cities in places such as Kenya and Sri Lanka. traffic system. “Whenever someone talks about some weird, distant transportation project that no one knows about, we get involved,” Plosky said.
After Hurricane Katrina, Plosky spent months in Louisiana working with the affected communities. The guidance document he wrote has become part of the national disaster recovery framework, which helps guide covid-19 recovery efforts. “If you just put things back to how they were, it’s just recovery; real recovery requires something different,” he said.
After get off work, Plosky taught sustainable transportation courses at Harvard Extension School, served as a judge for the Lemelson-MIT Student Award, and mentored first-year MIT Terrascope students. He also writes and publishes a series of short stories on Infrequent.com every day.
Plosky said he was encouraged by the growing momentum at the federal level to respond to infrastructure challenges that exacerbated racial inequality and climate change. He said: “I really hope that we can propose a transportation system that meets today’s and tomorrow’s needs, not just yesterday’s needs.”