Nicholas Klein: Transportation Planning as Social Mobility

April 27, 2018

A profile of Nicholas Klein that originally appeared in Ezra magazine as part of the feature story titled "Faculty Profiles: Spring 2018."

"I am passionate about transportation planning," says Nicholas J. Klein '01, assistant professor in the Department of City and Regional. "Not so much the things of transportation — like buses, cars, and transit systems — but the people who use them."

In his research and teaching, Klein examines the ways that transportation is both an influencer and marker of economic outcomes in people's lives. He studies how transportation options affect people over time, in terms of individual lifetimes and generationally, with particular attention to how life events play a role.

Klein's quantitative research has looked closely at both car ownership and access to public transportation as tools for social, economic, and physical mobility.

For example, while there are some neighborhoods with great public transportation where families without cars can achieve the same outcomes as families with cars, unfortunately that is not the case for neighborhoods in most of the country. In most places, access to a car is more likely to lead to gaining a job and moving up the economic ladder as well as shorter commutes. Making and keeping health care appointments is easier, and access to other enrichments is increased.

"The policy solutions are not so clear," says Klein. "How can transportation planning be used as a social mobility tool? That is the real question."

In addition to a bachelor's degree in operations research and industrial engineering from Cornell in 2001, Klein received a master's degree in urban spatial analytics from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. from Rutgers University. Hired in July 2017, Klein says he was pleased to return to Cornell after teaching at Columbia University, Temple University, and Pratt Institute.

"The students here . . . come to the university with a genuine interest in urban issues, problems, and how they can develop solutions," Klein says. He looks forward to engaging with collaborators across the university, particularly in engineering and civil engineering, where there are opportunities for overlap in the area of urban planning and transportation.

By Patti Witten