As a child, Eric Plosky ’99, MCP ’00, took the New York subway with his grandmother to get to all of the city’s attractions on the map. “Whenever someone asks me how I got into transport, I always ask them, ‘How did you get out of this? “, He said. “Every little kid seems to love trains, subways, buses, cars and planes, and for some reason they ‘get out of them.’ I have never done.”
Now, as the head of transportation planning at the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Kendall Square, Plosky and his team have put their imaginations to work to rethink what transportation can be. “It’s not just steel and concrete. It’s the people, it’s the decision-making, it’s history and culture, ”he says.
At MIT, Plosky earned two degrees in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning; he also took humanities courses and wrote for The Tech. An internship at the Volpe Center turned into a 20-year career.
Although part of the US Department of Transportation, Volpe is fully funded through direct consulting projects with other agencies and private entities that seek unconventional solutions to complex problems. His team’s recent projects have included autonomous vehicle systems at Yellowstone National Park and the Wright Brothers National Memorial; an analysis of the national agricultural goods road network; and a number of efforts, funded by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, to streamline complex urban transport systems in places like Kenya and Sri Lanka. “Whenever someone talks about a weird, distant transport project that no one knows anything about, that’s when we get involved,” Plosky explains.
After Hurricane Katrina, Plosky spent months in Louisiana working with affected communities. The resulting guidance documents he wrote have since become part of the national disaster recovery framework, which has helped guide covid-19 recovery efforts. “If you just put it back as it was, it’s just restoration; true recovery requires something different, ”he says.
After work, Plosky teaches a sustainable transportation class at Harvard Extension School, is a judge for the Lemelson-MIT Student Award, and mentors freshmen at MIT Terrascope. He also writes, posting a daily news series on Infrequent.com.
Plosky says he’s encouraged by the growing momentum at the federal level to address infrastructure challenges that exacerbate racial inequalities and climate change. He says, “I really hope we can deliver a transportation system that meets the needs of today and tomorrow rather than the perceived needs of yesterday.