Stanford transportation scholar and planner Joseph Kott dies at age 71

Joseph Kott, academic and transportation planner dedicated to sustainability, died on Feb. 14.

Joseph Kott, a Stanford lecturer of transportation planning, died at his home in Oakland, California, on Feb. 14. He was 71.

Joseph Kott

Joseph Kott (Image credit: Coutesy Kott family)

Kott joined Stanford in 2004 as a lecturer in the Urban Studies program, where he taught a course every two years on planning sustainable urban and regional transportation.

“Joe will be remembered at Stanford as a devoted teacher and mentor, an engaging colleague, and a kind soul,” said Michael Kahan, co-director of the Urban Studies program. “He shared his passion for sustainable transportation with scores and scores of Stanford students.”

Transportation planner, academic

Prior to joining Stanford, Kott served as the chief transportation officer for the City of Palo Alto, a position he held from 1999 to 2005. In addition to his teaching responsibilities at Stanford, Kott worked for private planning firms and public agencies in the Bay Area where he managed plans for dealing with transportation demand.

“Joe was a fierce advocate for sustainable transportation alternatives, both in the classroom and in the policy realm, deeply devoted to promoting bicycling, walking and mass transit in our cities,” Kahan said.

When Kahan was interviewing Kott for his Stanford appointment – Kott was still working as the transportation planner in Palo Alto – he recalls asking Kott if he found a parking spot easily. Kott responded with a chuckle: He had not even considered driving a distance as short as the one from downtown Palo Alto to campus. He was passionate about sustainability and biked everywhere, said Kahan, remembering how he would always see Kott carrying his bike helmet and high visibility vest with him around campus.

“Joe lived the values he espoused,” Kahan said.

Advocate and academic

Kott co-founded the nonprofit organization Transportation Choices for Sustainable Communities to promote the idea that sustainable transportation is essential to making communities and cities livable.

“In a place like the Bay Area, cities are really connected,” Kahan said. “Kott’s research and teaching emphasized that for transportation policies to work, they must be regional in scope to effectively improve mobility and decrease carbon emissions.”

Kott authored research papers on a wide variety of issues related to transportation and the environment, including planning for sustainability, traffic calming and the important roles transportation and traffic play in affecting the quality of community life.

In addition to Stanford, Kott taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and San Jose State University. He was also a visiting scholar at Stanford in 2012-13.

Kott received a doctorate in urban and regional transportation from Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia – a degree he obtained later in his career in 2012. He also held a dual master’s degree in transportation planning and traffic engineering from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, as well as a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University in Detroit.

Kott was a charter member of the American Planning Association and maintained certification with the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Sustainability as legacy

Kott was dedicated to mentoring the future generation of urban transportation planners, Kahan said. Even during quarters when Kott was not teaching a class, he responded to questions from students and met with them regularly.

Students appreciated being able to talk with an instructor who was also an active urban planner, Kahan said, noting that Kott helped them see the connections between textbooks and the real world.

Kott was born in Detroit, Michigan, and came from a family of autoworkers. That background shaped his career and informed his research, Kahan said.

“He wanted to help society move away from a solo driver-automobile culture,” Kahan said. “He believed strongly that transportation should be as sustainable as possible to make cities more livable and healthier for the people who live in them.”

Kott is survived by his wife, Katherine Kott, and his children Paul and Amy. His son Andrew predeceased him. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on March 9 at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Piedmont, California. A reception will follow.

Media Contacts

Melissa De Witte, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-9281, mdewitte@stanford.edu