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Nobel prize-winner Richard Alley on trains, human-powered transportation, and community leadership

“Five Questions with…” is a regular Keystone Crossroads feature where we seek to glean wisdom and ideas from some of Pennsylvania’s top urban thinkers and doers. Richard Alley is a professor at Penn State University. He was part of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was recognized with a Nobel Prize in 2007.

Q: Tell us about an amenity or service that you’ve seen in your travels to other places that you wish you could bring back to your city/community?

A: My dear wife Cindy and I were in Cambridge, England this summer, where I was giving a talk and meeting with scientists. We took the train up from London and back. The price was low and the service was prompt and efficient, reminiscent of many experiences available in some parts of the U.S., but not convenient for the rest of us. That ability to jump on a train and go somewhere, without needing to drive your own car, is really nice, and opens the possibility of more people living without the expense of a car.

Q: What’s one urban improvement idea that you could categorize as “nice try but didn’t work”?

A: For the foreseeable future, a lot of people are going to rely on cars to get into, out of, and around cities. But simply building another road often doesn’t help. It takes a lot of often-thankless efforts to develop integrated solutions to move people more efficiently and to give them the option of not moving so much, but such efforts often pay off.


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