The Importance of Field Work

By Ryan Sclar, MURP ’16 & Fellow to Center for Environmental Planning & Technology University

Part of my job here is to research what planners are writing about BRT and try to make sense of how we can use others’ experiences to improve the system here. I’ve been sifting through dozens of papers, several of which actually reference Janmarg, our local BRT network. International transportation scholars tend to note Janmarg as a success story – an illustration of “BRT done right.” They laud the swiftness of its construction, the simple station design, the high-tech intersection priority signals, and even the political bipartisanship which helped create the system. On paper Ahmedabad’s BRT looks fantastic.

One of the awesome things about interning here, however, is that I can observe more than just how Janmarg looks on paper. The BRT connects to my office and goes right past my house; I use it all the time. And just one ride on the BRT makes it quite obvious that reality doesn’t match the legendry Janmarg I heard about in the articles. Yes, the BRT has its own right of ways, but they are full of unauthorized vehicles, jay-walkers, and livestock. Yes, the BRT has a smart-card payment system, but most people don’t have a card and the card readers are frequently broken. Yes, the BRT is handicap accessible, but getting to the stations is impossible for people with disabilities. Yes, the BRT has a signal priority system, but traffic consistently ignores all the signals. Don’t get me wrong, I like Janmarg, I take it every day. I’ simply saying that being on the ground can tell you a lot that reading an article cannot.

I’m starting to think that several, perhaps almost all, of these articles were written without the authors setting foot in Ahmedabad. If there is one thing I have learned from this internship, it’s the importance of field work. A saying that I have heard several times before seems to resonate particularly well given my experiences here; if you want to be outstanding in your field, you have to be out, standing, in your field. This internship is giving me the opportunity to do just that.

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