As the world becomes more and more populated, transportation becomes ever more challenging. Locals know that driving from Orange County to Los Angeles is a nightmare at virtually any time of the day or night, but thousands of miles away, in the abundantly more crowded city of Delhi, India, steps are being taken to ease traffic congestion and make mobility more bearable. These changes and those who oppose them have piqued the interest of anthropology graduate student Cheryl Deutsch, whose dissertation research on the subject has recently earned her a $17,010 National Science Foundation Fellowship.

By combining her training as a transportation planner with her cultural anthropology experience, Deutsch hopes to uncover how Delhi’s shifting transportation infrastructure—specifically the battle between car owners and policy-makers over the expansion of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors—is reshaping the future of the city.

Though the BRT system (which allots lanes for public bus use only) has received positive reviews from users and ultimately looked like it would help with overall road congestion in one of India’s most crowded cities, plans for expansion are being enthusiastically opposed by car owners who don’t wish to give up the lanes. Deutsch believes that this opposition is a reflection of the rise of consumer culture throughout the city.

Through participant observation, interviews with city planners and BRT opponents, go-alongs and statistical data analysis, she aims to shed light on how increased middle-class mobility with BRT would shape the infrastructure of the city. Deutsch’s research may help future transportation planners understand the importance of cultural assumptions in their plans by filling gaps in knowledge regarding the relationship between city planners’ study of travel behaviors and the anthropological study of mobility.

Deutsch will begin her research in India in June. The NSF grant will help fund her studies through September 2016.

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