One of the great things about the D-Lab is the ability to engage with students and researchers from different backgrounds and learn from their approaches to doing research and answering interesting questions.  A project I’m quite excited in growing with the D-Lab community to include broader perspectives is one related to transportation in cities.


Why I find this interesting?

According to the World Health Organization, more than 7 million deaths occur every year from exposure to fine particles contained in polluted air. Sources tend to come from different sectors: residential, industrial, agricultural, and transportation. Transportation sources, specifically, have recently gained significant attention under an urban context as cities have grown and are expected to host 70% of the world’s population by 2050. This growth coupled with transportation needs and associated air quality degradation is therefore a call for sustainable interventions.

Interventions in transportation at the city level can come from different angles: financial, technical, and social. These interventions are aimed at providing access to a clean, efficient, and –in theory– equitable transportation infrastructure for better connectivity and improved air quality. However, upon a closer inspection at how people and pollutants are distributed in cities, elements of environmental injustice, where some segments of the population are disproportionally burdened by sources of pollution, can be observed in some instances.


The Project

Our team, comprised of researchers from UC Berkeley (Goldman School of Public Policy and California Institute for Energy & Environment through the Berkeley-Mexico Energy & Climate Change Initiative), with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Ecología y Cambio Climático, INECC (National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change), is working in adapting an index that highlights the areas with higher pollution burden in cities across Mexico, with a particular focus on transportation-related variables.

This work is inspired by California’s CalEnviroScreen screening tool, developed by CA Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), which identifies communities vulnerable to multiple sources of pollution at a census tract level. We are, however, adapting the index to focus mostly on transportation-related variables, and improving the traffic input attributes. Ultimately, this compendium of spatially disaggregated variables is expected to serve as a data-driven framework to identify city regions where transportation interventions could be prioritized to as tools for beginning to address environmental injustices.


Data resources and how the D-Lab can help?

Although the data in this case has been mostly obtained from open-source databases in Mexico, analysis of this kind can be constructed for many cities in the US and world at large with sources such as the ones facilitated by the D-Lab through its Data Resources portal, which includes the UC DATA archive of digitized social science data and statistics, and the Berkeley Federal Statistical Research Data Center, which is a partnership between UC Berkeley and the Census Bureau.

Through our research we have had the chance of troubleshoot and consult with the staff at the DLab on general python-related issues. They have also been helpful with spatial analysis with geographical information systems (GIS) tools such as ArcGIS, QGIS, as well as python-based GIS packages (e.g., geopandas).

Sometimes, downloading publicly available data can become quite tedious, especially if the webpage does not have an application programming interface (API). Fortunately, packages can be used to help in this process. Popular packages in python include Selenium and BeautifulSoup, to name a few.

Lastly, SimplyAnalytics is a pretty amazing resource that was unknown to me until I found out about it through the DLab and the Business Library. The resource is accessible only within Berkeley’s network, and contains an extraordinary amount of data at high resolution.


If you’d like to chat about any of the elements I wrote about above, please reach out to me or any of my colleagues for some consulting time.


Sergio Castellanos Rodriguez

Sergio is a researcher at the California Institute for Energy & Environment and the Energy and Resources Group, with a background in mechanical engineering (Ph.D.). His research interests are in energy systems modelling, sustainable transportation, energy justice, and analysis of integrated techno-economic models for policy making.