Michael J. Shiffer: Transit Planning Innovation in Chicago, Vancouver, and New York City

Man seated at the controls of a commuter train

Michael J. Shiffer at the controls of a commuter train. photo / provided

Michael J. Shiffer is the vice president for planning at MTA Metro-North Railroad. There, he oversees the long-range, capital, and operations planning functions of one of the nation’s busiest commuter railroads. A Chicago native, Shiffer has developed strong bonds between the public, private, and academic sectors that he started at MIT and continued to build as he worked to reshape planning processes for key transportation organizations in both Chicago and Vancouver. Shiffer was formerly executive vice president for planning, policy, and technology at TransLink in Vancouver, Canada, and vice president for planning and development at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). Prior to his public service, Shiffer was a professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He also served for nine years at MIT as a principal research scientist in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He holds a Ph.D. and master of urban planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.


With constrained resources, the large transit systems of North America face significant challenges. Yet new applications of technology present opportunity for strategic decision support and improved planning processes. This talk describes how transportation agencies can leverage new data sources, multimedia tools, and spatial analysis methods to reshape their approach to planning. These tools assist with the visualization of abstract phenomena (such as traffic flows, environmental noise, and other attributes) that relate to past, present, and future conditions in urban environments. This talk will describe the practical application of these tools with a focus on the field of mass transit. Cases in Chicago, Vancouver, and New York City will be explored. Lessons common to all three application areas include the evolving skill sets for implementation in a sustained manner, the increasing reliance on commonly available tools and the innovation necessary for the application of such systems in highly specialized environments. The resulting application of these tools has effectively supported the distribution of resources across large metro areas to better serve millions of passengers, thereby shaping urban form and leading to the continued development of smarter cities.

Sponsored by the Russell Van Nest Black Lectureship Fund
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