University of Minnesota Driven to Discover

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The CTS Conversations blog has a new home! Please visit us at http://blog.cts.umn.edu/.

New guidebook aims to make pedestrian crossings safer

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crosswalk.jpgPedestrian crossings are an important feature of the multimodal transportation system, enabling pedestrians and bicyclists to safely access destinations on either side of streets or highways.

To help Minnesota transportation agencies evaluate pedestrian crossings and determine where improvements are warranted, the Minnesota Local Road Research Board funded the development of a new guidebook for practitioners. The guidebook focuses specifically on uncontrolled pedestrian crossings, which aren’t controlled by a stop sign, yield sign, or traffic signal.

The new guidebook recommends when to install marked crosswalks and other enhancements based on a number of factors, including the average daily vehicle count, number of pedestrians, number of lanes, and average vehicle speed. It helps agencies rate a crossing for pedestrian service, and includes a flow chart and several worksheets to assist in data collection and decision making.

The guidebook is designed around an 11-step evaluation process that engineers can use to evaluate an uncontrolled pedestrian crossing location in a systematic way. Based on the results of the evaluation, users can identify what level of treatment is appropriate for their location, ranging from in-street crossing signs to overhead flashing beacons to traffic calming devices such as curb bump-outs.

The Minnesota Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP), a part of CTS, hosted a workshop based on the guidebook on June 5. The workshop provided attendees with an overview of the step-by-step evaluation process. Attendees included city and county engineers, MnDOT staff, and other transportation professionals.

Read the full article in the July issue of Catalyst or download the guidebook on the Minnesota LTAP website.

changing.jpgThough no one can predict the future, thinking about how today’s changes may shape the future of transportation in our country is more important now than ever before.

“It’s critical that we understand the significance of things that are taking place and prepare for what may come,” said former Utah Department of Transportation CEO John Njord in the opening session of the 25th Annual CTS Transportation Research Conference. “For us to be relevant in the transportation business, at a minimum we have to be adaptable to change, and ideally we want to be leading change in the transportation industry.”

In his current position at Tom Warne and Associates, Njord has gained an in-depth understanding of the trends affecting the future of transportation in the United States while spearheading the Transportation Research Board’s “Foresight” project—part of the organization’s forward-looking NCHRP Report 750 Series. The project addresses a wide range of topics, including: What if the oil-fueled auto era ends and revenue from gas taxes dries up? What if engineering practices must be upgraded to ensure resiliency to natural disasters as global warming continues? What if technology such as self-driving cars eliminates or reduces the need for human drivers? What if tomorrow’s economy requires radically different freight patterns?

Perhaps most significantly, the project explores the possibility that Americans are losing their appetite for driving. Vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) per capita been dropping since 2004, without any signs of recovery. "It’s impossible to know whether that number will start growing again, stay flat, or continue to drop,” Njord said.

Other trends make the future outlook equally complex. In 50 years the United States will likely be home to 100 million more people, so even if VMT per person stays flat or declines, it’s likely total VMT will be larger than it is today. The population is also aging: by 2030, 20 percent of the population will be over 65 and will likely drive less. In addition, Millenials are staying home longer and waiting until later in life to get married and have children—all of which affects their travel behavior.

To help transportation planners consider all possible futures, the Foresight project encourages the use of multiple-scenario planning. “We need to begin considering all the possible scenarios and generating plans that are independent and distinct from one another,” Njord advised. “The act of thinking about these things is fundamentally important, because the shift that is now taking place means we’re going to have to do things much differently in the next 50 years than what we’ve done in the past 50 years.”

Following Njord's presentation, a panel of experts discussed how the the Foresight project could relate to what’s happening in the Twin Cities region. An article summarizing their comments is available in the July issue of Catalyst.

MnDOT launches 'Get Connected' website

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MnDOT has launched a new website, "Get Connected," to help let Minnesota citizens know how and why the agency provides state transportation projects, programs, and services.

The website includes video clips and interactive features that provide answers to commonly asked questions such as: Where does the money come from?; Where does the money go?; What are the agency’s goals?; What progress is MnDOT making toward these goals?; and How are projects selected? 

Check it out at http://www.dot.state.mn.us/getconnected/.

Sidewalk replacement contributes to Minneapolis tree loss

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sidewalk.jpgLast June a windstorm toppled about 1,800 trees in Minneapolis. Many of the fallen trees were in boulevards (the area between sidewalks and streets) rather than in yards. This raised concerns that recent sidewalk replacement—and resulting severed tree roots—had been a factor.

To better understand the higher-than-normal losses, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) turned to the U’s Urban Forestry Outreach, Research and Extension lab. “The MPRB Forestry Department has partnered with the University of Minnesota for years,” says Ralph Sievert, MPRB forestry director. “When this study presented itself, we did not hesitate to ask the lab to participate.”

Led by forestry department professor Gary Johnson, the lab studied damaged and undamaged trees along the storm’s path. The data set included 3,076 trees, of which 367 were total failures (tipped or partially tipped) due to the storm.

“The major finding is that replacing the sidewalk increased the odds of root failure by 2.24 times,” Johnson says. For example, when no replacement work was done, the average linden had a 10.6 percent chance of root failure; with sidewalk replacement, this increased to 21.0 percent.

When combined with replacement work, tree species was also a significant factor. Linden trees were most likely to fail, followed by ash, maple, and elm. “Essentially, when replacement work was done near any one of these trees, the rate of failures more than doubled,” Johnson says.

“Now we have a great opportunity to make improvements,” Sievert says. “I’m anticipating this leading to safer, healthier trees with fewer instances of infrastructure damage.”

Read the full article in the June issue of Catalyst.

Envision 2050: The future of cities

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By 2050, 70 percent of the people on Earth will be living in cities. Will these urban environments feature driverless cars in hyperconnected "smart cities," or endless traffic jams and overwhelming pollution?

In part two of its Envision 2050 series, Ensia—published by the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota—conducted interviews with five visionary urban planners, designers, and architects. These individuals offer their thoughts on what cities might be like in 2050 and what it would take to get there.

Read the full article on the Ensia website.

Primary seat belt law continues to save lives, money

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seatbelt.jpgMinnesota’s primary seat belt law continues to save lives and reduce serious injuries more than four years after being passed, according to a study by researchers at the U of M’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

The study examined Minnesota crash data collected from June 2009 (when the law was implemented) through June 2013 and compared it to expected data based on crash trends over time. Findings indicate that there were at least 132 fewer deaths, 434 fewer severe injuries, and 1,270 fewer moderate injuries than expected during this time.

According to the researchers, the safety benefits of the law translate into a savings of at least $67 million in avoided hospital charges, including nearly $16 million in taxpayer dollars that would have paid for Medicare and Medicaid charges.

The study was sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and led by Humphrey School research fellow Frank Douma and Nebiyou Tilahun, a U of M graduate now on the faculty at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The researchers also examined seat belt use data and survey results that measured support for the law. Findings show that support increased from 62 percent just before the law was passed to more than 70 percent in 2013, while the percentage of Minnesotans buckling up was at an all-time high of nearly 95 percent in 2013. This shows that some people are wearing their seat belts even though they don’t support the law.

When this increased seat belt use is combined with the reduction in fatalities and injuries, it further demonstrates that people are surviving—and even walking away from—crashes that may have had different results if the primary seat belt law had not been in effect.

Read the full article in the June issue of CTS Catalyst.
UAS.jpg
In late 2013, Amazon.com announced that it plans to someday use unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) to deliver packages. Amazon is not alone in considering these systems—the list of potential uses for this technology is rapidly expanding. Where is this technology headed, and what does it mean for the region, and for transportation?

State and national experts discussed these issues at an April 30 forum hosted by the Airport Technical Assistance Program (AirTAP), a part of CTS.

Often referred to as drones, modern UASs can be used for a broad range of activities, from aerial photography, surveying, precision agriculture, and communications to disaster response, wildlife research, and infrastructure protection.

A hurdle to broader use is the lack of rules and regulations. Last November the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its first annual roadmap outlining policies, regulations, technologies, and procedures needed to safely integrate UASs into U.S. airspace; it plans to issue regulations by 2015.

“The greatest challenge is integrating UASs into the National Airspace System,” said Brigadier General Alan Palmer, director of the Center for UAS Research, Education, and Training at the University of North Dakota. “We want to do this safely, we want to do no harm, and we want to be sure not to violate somebody’s personal space. We do not have any regulations for standards, training, certification, or anything like them. But we will get there.”

Other concerns include privacy issues and the existing aviation/navigation infrastructure, which did not account for a future including UASs when it was built 50 years ago.

To learn more about the forum, read the full article in the June issue of Catalyst. In addition, a proceedings from the event will be available on the AirTAP website this summer.

The Metro Transit Green Line LRT opens on Saturday, June 14th. This $957 million transit project, which began in 2010, runs from Target Field in Minneapolis through the heart of the University of Minnesota campus to Union Depot in St. Paul. The U of M is a major destination along the new line. Along with several new construction and redevelopment projects, Washington Avenue on the East Bank has been transformed into a transit-pedestrian mall reserved for trains, buses, pedestrians, and cyclists.

The following University of Minnesota researchers are available to provide a variety of perspectives on this major transit project and what it means for the Twin Cities:

  • Transit and economic development: Yingling Fan, assistant professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and a leading researcher for the Transitway Impacts Research Program
  • Transit and accessibility: Andrew Owen, director of the Accessibility Observatory
  • Transit and traffic flow: John Hourdos, director of the Minnesota Traffic Observatory
  • Transit and multimodal travel: Greg Lindsey, professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs

To schedule an interview with any of these experts, please contact: Michael McCarthy, Center for Transportation Studies, mpmccarthy@umn.edu, 612-624-3645.

stopsign.jpg

When it comes to crashes, right-angle collisions are among the most dangerous for vehicle occupants. These crashes often occur at stop-controlled intersections when drivers fail to stop, and traffic engineers are increasingly installing flashing LED stop signs—normal octagonal stop signs with flashing lights mounted on the corners—in an attempt to improve intersection safety.

A study by researchers from the U’s civil engineering department and Minnesota Traffic Observatory aims to give traffic engineers a clearer picture of the safety benefits of flashing LED stop signs. The research team conducted a two-pronged investigation of the signs’ safety effects: a statistical study to estimate crash reduction and a field study looking at drivers’ behavior changes after the installation of a flashing LED stop sign.

For the statistical study, the team compared the frequency of crashes after the installation of flashing LED stop signs at 15 intersections with a prediction of what the crash frequency would have been without the signs. Findings estimate that the installations reduced right-angle crashes by about 42 percent.

For the field study, researchers collected video data before and after the installation of a flashing LED stop sign in Chisago County, Minnesota. They then analyzed the video to determine driver stopping behavior and vehicle deceleration rates.

According to principal investigator Professor Gary Davis, there was no change in the proportion of clear stops to clear non-stops when drivers didn’t encounter opposing traffic. However, the proportion of clear stops increased after installation of the sign when opposing traffic was present.

The team used their findings to create a decision-support tool that can help traffic engineers decide where to place flashing LED stop signs. The tool can be used to determine whether right-angle crashes are a problem at a selected intersection and to predict the crash reduction expected from installing the flashing sign.

Read the full article in the May issue of Catalyst.

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Center for Transportation Studies

University of Minnesota

200 Transportation & Safety Building

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Minneapolis, MN 55455

Phone: 612-626-1077

Fax: 612-625-6381

E-mail: cts@umn.edu

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