Volume 11, Number 18 May 14, 2004

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PROFILE

Geography PhD student hopes model will help public transportation planners

By Amie Lynn Shirkie

Graduate student Chris Fullerton
Graduate student Chris Fullerton.
Photo by Amie Lynn Shirkie

It looks like a “lifelong interest in geography, cities and urban planning” is paying off for Chris Fullerton. The PhD student’s research has led to developments intended to help city planners break the cycle of automotive dependence and make sustainable public transportation a reality.

Fullerton completed his BA in Geography at Nipissing University and his Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MPI) at Queen’s. He began his doctoral work in Geography at the U of S in September 1999.

Under the supervision of Prof. Abraham Akkerman, Fullerton evaluated public transit accessibility in urban areas. He says his project “relates to the idea of sustainable transportation, a concept that has been starting to guide urban planning policies over the last few years.” “What we’re seeing is a lot of Canadian cities that want to break the cycle of automobile dependence, and are adopting policies to encourage people to travel by other means.”

Fullerton says before these policies can be implemented, city planners need to understand and evaluate current public transportation situations. His first step was to develop a “comprehensive definition” of public transit commuter needs in order to aid city planners in this task. The definition, says Fullerton, is “effectively, a general list of facilities, infrastructure and services that have to be in place if public transit is going to be a viable option.”

In order to arrive at this definition, Fullerton conducted an extensive review of literature on previous transit research. He found the needs of public transit users had been investigated thoroughly, but no one had yet synthesized this information into a useful package. He also went to Ottawa and distributed survey questionnaires to employees in three offices about public transportation, and met with representatives from three sustainable transportation advocacy groups to get input.

This definition became the foundation for Fullerton’s “public transit commuter accessibility audit.” He says this is a tool planners can use to evaluate conditions of accessibility between specific neighbourhoods and employment areas. Urban planners will be able to collect information from transit agencies about routes, schedules, and the built environment, including details like the quality of sidewalks and the availability of crosswalks. By piecing this information together, Fullerton believes planners should be able to determine ease of travel by public transit, and evaluate its viability or need for improvement.

In developing this audit, Fullerton looked at previous attempts to evaluate the quality of public transit. “Although all had merits, none had fully captured users’ experiences.” He tried to build on the strengths of the previous studies and improve them. His audit is “strongly qualitative, rather than quantitative, which is the approach usually used to measure accessibility.”

Fullerton says he chose this approach “because many factors that influence whether people are willing or able to use public transit can’t be quantified – for example, factors such as the attractiveness of the neighbourhood through which people must walk in order to catch a bus, or feelings of security experienced while waiting at a transit stop.”

Fullerton began his field work in the summer of 2001 in Ottawa, where he conducted two case studies. He tested his audit and found it worked “quite well” at identifying obstacles to public transit and commuting.

He says he would like to put his models into the hands of actual urban planners in order to find out if they are indeed usable, or if they may need revisions. “I am hoping this will be very useful to planners as they strive to achieve sustainable public transit objectives.”

Fullerton has been teaching for three years in the Department of Geography at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. He says he loves teaching: “It’s definitely the career for me.” After his thesis defence, he plans to return to St. Catharines to be with his wife Sheryl and his 17-month-old daughter Grace.

Amie Lynn Shirkie writes graduate student profiles for the College of Graduate Studies & Research.


Amie Lynn Shirkie writes graduate student profiles for the College of Graduate Studies & Research.


For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca


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