STRIDE E-Newsletter, Fall 2012
STRIDE Brings Together Southeast Region Researchers to Improve Pedestrian, Bicycle and Transit Facilities
Ray LaHood, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, has described livability as “being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or Post Office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids at the park - all without having to get in your car.” It is well-known that cities offering the public the ability to walk, bike or take public transportation from one destination to the next contribute to the overall well-being of that community. It is also known that non-motorized forms of travel, such as walking and biking, offer health benefits such as decreases in obesity, heart-disease, and cancer. And public transportation offers environmental and health benefits, too. When people take a bus or train to a doctor’s appointment, to the shopping mall or to the grocery store, fewer cars occupy the streets, therefore reducing fuel consumption, congestion and pollution. According to the Federal Transit Administration, public transportation results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than private vehicles. Transit users also walk more than non-users. Thus, there are health, environmental and equity reasons that justify investments in maintenance and expansion of facilities that support livability.
Concerns about livability and transportation are of particular concern in the southeast U.S. Transit use in the southeast is generally low. Additionally, several southern states have very high pedestrian and bicycle death rates: Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi - all members of the STRIDE consortium. Furthermore, in the 2011 Death by Design report published by Transportation for America, nine of the top 20 most dangerous urban areas in the U.S. for pedestrians are in the STRIDE member states. To address these issues, the STRIDE Center has actively pursued a research and education agenda to tackle this issue.
Four STRIDE projects and their teams are currently working to address livability as it relates to pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation. These projects include a total of six universities. A true collaboration across state border lines is occurring here, and that's a win-win for the region. Principal investigators are Bastian Schroeder of North Carolina State University (NCSU), Daniel Rodriguez of the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, and Randall Guensler and Kari Watson from Georgia Tech.
For example, Bastian Schroeder at NCSU is collaborating with Lily Elefteriadou from the University of Florida and Virginia Sisiopiku from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, to create a standalone model of driver yielding and pedestrian and gap acceptance behaviors at unsignalized pedestrian crossings. Data will be gathered from field observation in various STRIDE states and used to prototype algorithms, which will be incorporated and tested in CORSIM, a traffic micro-simulation tool.
Schroeder said his research team expects to gain a better understanding of the behavioral interaction between pedestrians and drivers at unsignalized crossings, including studying ways that elderly pedestrians and those with mobility impairments cross the street.
“The products of our research will give engineers the ability to evaluate pedestrian crossing performance in a simulation environment and use analysis results to inform their decision-making,” Schroeder said.
An interdisciplinary team at Georgia Tech comprised of students and researchers in environmental engineering, transportation planning, city and regional planning, and computer science, will work under the direction of Randall Guensler to implement a low-cost automated system that will collect sidewalk quality data. The tablet-based system mounts to a wheelchair to create an inventory of sidewalks to help in the identification of those requiring maintenance and identification of those that do not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) design. The researchers are hoping this will lead to improvements in the mobility of pedestrians, reduce risks to pedestrians and help to improve the general quality of life in a city. In addition to involving graduate students on the research team, the project will bring together local government, neighborhood organizations and advocacy groups to participate in the data collection. The size and portability of the tablet allows just about any user to collect the data.
At UNC Chapel Hill, Daniel Rodriguez says there is a need for more transportation and planning courses that cover pedestrian and bicyclists at the undergraduate and graduate levels. These topics are simply not covered in regular transportation courses, and with the growing body of evidence that walking and biking are important in a community, he says that training the next generation of planners and engineers to consider pedestrian and bicyclist needs is critical to addressing safety and livability concerns.
"With increasing concerns about the sustainability of our fossil fuel-based mobility, it is important to train and retrain our future workforce on the importance of considering planning, engineering, and design options for pedestrians and bicyclists,” Rodriguez said. “The course modules we are developing provide an introduction to the topic that can be followed up with semester-long courses."
Semester-long courses on pedestrians and bicycles are starting to become popular in curriculums, but there are limitations. Adding a new course to a university curriculum entails a sometimes lengthy approval process that can, at times, be contentious, and then there are the staffing and financial considerations to be made. However, Rodriguez and his multi-institutional team believe that by developing education material and creating modules or “mini-courses,” these can be inserted into an existing course and be adopted as part of an introductory class in planning or transportation. The modules will be developed at UNC and tested in an undergraduate class in the Department of Civil Engineering at Auburn University. The interdisciplinary research team also includes the areas of civil engineering, planning, epidemiology, health, and public policy.
Kari Edison Watkins of Georgia Tech and Jeffrey LaMondia from Auburn University are developing a course for public transportation education. The researchers say that even though the U.S. Department of Transportation has listed “provide more transportation choices” as first among the six livability principles, this topic is not widely covered in engineering transportation programs in the U.S.
“Public transportation is a key component of livable and sustainable transportation systems,” Watkins said. “It is therefore critical that both undergraduate and graduate-level civil engineering students have a better understanding of the planning, design and operation of public transportation systems.
The materials that Watkins and LaMondia are in the process of creating can be used by educators having limited experience in the transit industry, and they anticipate its use in universities throughout the southeast region, and the nation, for that matter.
At MSU, Leslie Strawderman is working to help undergraduate engineering students understand the vulnerabilities of road users, among them pedestrians and bicyclists, by developing an educational module in transportation safety. Although her research project has a stronger focus on safety, Strawderman said that undergraduate engineering students are rarely exposed to this topic, and she hopes the module will become an effective tool for getting students to learn about these specific types of road users.
“In our lab module, students will be looking specifically at in-vehicle technology that has been designed to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety,” Strawderman said. “It is by allowing our students a greater understanding of multiple modes, and how they must work together, that we will be able to achieve improved transportation systems.”
In the next issue of the STRIDE E-Newsletter, we will be looking at safety as it relates to livability. We will have more on Dr. Strawderman’s safety educational module, including other STRIDE-funded projects on this topic.
All STRIDE projects contain a technology transfer or educational component. All final reports, materials, course modules, workshops, and webinars as a result of the projects above, will be posted at /complete-projects
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