Jonathan Levine part of interdisciplinary team to capture funding from Provost's Third Century Initiative

Jonathan Levine part of interdisciplinary team to capture funding from Provost’s Third Century Initiative

Jonathan Levine, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, is part of an interdisciplinary team to receive approximately $300,000 funding for a project titled, “Sustainable Transportation for a 3rd Century: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Addressing the Last Mile Problem for Enhanced Accessibility.”

The funding comes from the Third Century Initiative – a plan from the University of Michigan President and Provost to develop innovative, multi-disciplinary approaches to teaching and to address global challenges.


The project looks to address the global challenge of planning sustainable transportation infrastructures. The following content is a summary of the project proposal:

Currently transportation system design is based on improving mobility, or reducing the time-plus-money cost of transportation per mile. This approach has accelerated movement of people over increasing distances as the places and resources they access move farther and farther apart. The amount of energy used to fuel this type of transportation system is huge and people spend more time traveling than ever before.

According to cited sources, 28% of the total energy used in the US is used for transportation and 27% of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from petroleum burned for transportation, making it the second largest sector contributing to GHG emissions.

Apart from its role in exacerbating these problems, the mobility-improvement problem definition described above suffers from a logical flaw: it imagines that the purpose of transportation is movement. Transportation is better understood as a means to access; hence a more appropriate definition of transportation success is improving accessibility, defined as reductions in the time-plus-money cost of transportation per unit value of destination, rather than mile. Accessibility promotion demands simultaneous consideration of the movement of people and the placement of resources they need to access. This project assembles an interdisciplinary team that can address the major aspects of accessibility; namely, technology and deployment (politics, society, economics, and urban planning).

The following faculty will collaborate on the year-long, Phase 1 project:

  • Jeffrey Stein, Professor of Mechanical Engineering
  • Jonathan Levine, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning
  • Ian Hiskens, Vennema Professor of Engineering and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Greg Keoleian, Peter M Wege Endowed Professor of Sustainable Systems, Prof of Sustainable Systems
  • Shobita Parthasarathy, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Gerald R Ford School of Public Policy
  • Owen Wu, Assistant Professor of Technology and Operations, Stephen M Ross School of Business
  • Jarod Kelly, Assistant Research Scientist, School of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Tulga Ersal, Assistant Research Scientist, Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering


If successful, the outcomes from Phase 1 will form the basis of a proposal submitted to a second phase of funding which could award up to $3 million in funding. The Third Century Initiative is a five-year program with $50 million dollars of dedicated funding with goals to creating innovative student learning experiences and developing creative approaches to the world’s greatest challenges and opportunities.

Visit the TCI visit for more information.