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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.


Whether on a roadside, rest area, park, or lawn, turfgrass diseases can significantly damage turf in the Midwest. As governmental agencies continue to regulate inputs on turfgrass, it is important for managers to know how to meet new turfgrass management challenges—especially concerning diseases.

An online course from the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing Education gives turfgrass managers the expertise necessary for controlling diseases in this challenging environment. The curriculum was created under the guidance of Associate Professor Eric Watkins of the Department of Horticultural Science. He also serves as the course’s content advisor.

The course prepares students to diagnose Upper Midwest turfgrass diseases and then determine control measures using both cultural and chemical methods. It is presented in Moodle, an e-learning platform that uses a number of interactive instructional tools. Cost is $75, and 12 professional development hours (PDHs) may be earned.

New this spring, the course counts as one elective credit in the Minnesota Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) Roads Scholar program. (Minnesota LTAP is a program within CTS.) Aimed at maintenance personnel, the Roads Scholar Program combines a range of training options into a structured curriculum. Graduates earn a valuable professional development credential.

Read the full article in the April issue of Catalyst.

Envision 2050: The Future of Transportation

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With new transportation innovations and issues emerging nearly every day, it's difficult to imagine exactly what transportation will look like in the future. Before delving deeper into the question, Mary Hoff, editor-in-chief of the environmental solutions magazine Ensia, says we must first answer two other questions: What would we like transportation to be like? And what will it take to get it there?

In the first article of a new series called Envision 2050, Ensia, published by the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, asked five experts to share their ideas of what transportation will look like in 2050 and how we'll get there.

These experts described a broad range of innovative ideas, from abandoning oil and petroleum to utilizing telecommunication and cloud computing to reduce transportation emissions.

Read the full article here.

Spring research seminars begin February 6

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The spring series of CTS research seminars kicks off next Thursday, February 6. This year's topics will include bridge scour monitoring technology, roundabout signing and striping, and transit-oriented jobs-housing balance.

Seminars will be held from 3 to 4 p.m. each Thursday during February (except Feb. 20) on the U of M campus in Minneapolis. You can either attend in person or watch the live webcast of each seminar.

Additional information is available on the CTS website.

Seminar schedule:

Resilient Communities Project offers new model for collaboration

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communities.jpgAcross Minnesota and throughout the country, there is a growing interest in new approaches to community sustainability related to a wide range of local issues, including transportation. In the past, many communities have connected with nearby research universities for one-time projects and partnerships.

However, the Resilient Communities Project (RCP), a new program at the University of Minnesota, aims to build the practice of sustainability through deeper and broader community connections.

The RCP was launched in 2012, largely through the grassroots effort of the University of Minnesota Sustainability Faculty Network—a group of more than 60 faculty members from diverse disciplines engaged in sustainability education. Initial support also came from the U’s Institute on the Environment and the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.

In the RCP’s first year, a pilot partnership with the City of Minnetonka yielded several transportation-related projects, including one examining transportation demand management and another looking at transit-oriented development in the suburban environment.

For the 2013-2014 academic year, the RCP is partnering with the City of North St. Paul on 21 community sustainability projects. RCP anticipates matching these projects with more than 30 separate courses throughout the University. Transportation-related projects include building connections within the city’s trail system and implementing the city’s Living Streets plan.

RCP participants anticipate long-lasting benefits for their communities. Perhaps most importantly, this new model for community collaboration will provide far-reaching benefits that extend well beyond the partner communities.

Read the full article in the December issue of Catalyst.

Top three Catalyst stories of 2013

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The CTS Catalyst's most popular stories of 2013 reflected the wide range of transportation research conducted at the University of Minnesota:

Photo courtesy Carissa Schively Slotterback

  1. New Complete Streets materials highlight best practices, assist practitioners

  2. Complete Streets—roads that are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users—offer many benefits, including improved safety, mobility, accessibility, public health, and quality of life. However, much of the work surrounding Complete Streets to date has focused on creating policies and guidelines rather than investigating the processes and action steps needed to successfully implement projects. In an effort to fill this knowledge gap, researchers from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs have conducted a study on the planning and implementation of successful Complete Streets projects. The study includes the development of 11 case studies highlighting best practices and a practitioner-oriented guidebook.

  3. Highly obese truck drivers have higher crash risk, according to new research

  4. Highly obese commercial truck drivers have a much higher crash rate in their first two years on the job than their normal-weight counterparts, according to research from the University of Minnesota Morris. The findings come from a multi-year study led by Stephen Burks, an associate professor of economics and management at Morris and a former truck driver.

  5. New SMART Signal installation helps MnDOT monitor timing plans

  6. Researchers from the U of M recently developed a new version of software for the SMART Signal system, and deployments at more than 50 intersections managed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) are already under way. SMART Signal automatically collects and processes data from traffic signal controllers at multiple intersections and creates performance measures, including information on the times and locations congestion occurs on a roadway. In addition to these new implementations, a new MnDOT-funded study investigated how SMART Signal could be used as part of an integrated corridor management system.

MnDOT using new tool to expand living snow fence program

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In Minnesota winter storms, rural landscapes and strong winds often combine to create large snow drifts and blowing snow that can strand motorists and reduce driver visibility. On average, 11 people die in blowing snow conditions in Minnesota every year.

This winter, a MnDOT office in south-central Minnesota is taking action to prevent blowing and drifting snow with the help of a new snow fence payment calculator tool developed by U of M researchers. Living snow fences are plantings of trees, shrubs, grasses, or crops used as windbreaks to control high winds and control drifting snow before it reaches the roadway.

The tool is designed to analyze the benefits and savings of creating living snow fences—such as standing corn rows—in specific locations and compare that with the cost of managing blowing and drifting snow on the roadway 

Using the new web-based version of the snow fence payment calculator, highway officials can easily plug in values such as labor and material costs for treating a specific stretch of roadway, site-specific crash statistics, and the current price of corn. The payment calculator takes those inputs and creates a cost-benefit analysis report that can be used to help set reimbursement rates to landowners for the creation of living snow fences.

This winter, MnDOT will use the payment calculator tool to determine where to add standing corn row snow fences in the area surrounding Gaylord, Minnesota—especially along the State Highway 19, 22, and 111 corridors, where blowing and drifting snow is a frequent problem.

In the future, researchers plan to make this payment calculator available to local Minnesota transportation agencies, as well as transportation agencies in other states and even other countries. 

Read the full article in the November issue of Catalyst.


Imagine replacing the derivatives of crude oil needed to produce conventional asphalt with renewable, cost-competitive, regionally produced, and high-performing materials derived from non-food biomass such as switchgrass, hybrid poplar, or cornstover. The idea portends a whole new world of possibilities and likely could stand the traditional petroleum-based economy on its head.

Researchers at Iowa State University are doing just that, producing bio-oil and bio-char through a process called fast pyrolysis. New bio-oil fractionation technologies also developed at ISU separate the bio-oil into different fractions—some of which appear to be ideal materials for asphalt.

In addition to developing thermoplastic elastomers (polymers) from vegetable oils—which offer many transportation-related applications—ISU researchers are examining and exploring the "bioeconomy," from all phases of the production process to product development and diversification opportunities.

Such collaborative opportunities involving transportation and the bioeconomy were featured during a half-day TERRA Innovation Series event in August at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

A bioeconomy makes use of biorenewable resources, including biomass, for the production of chemicals, fuels, materials, and energy to sustain economic growth and prosperity. Iowa State's bioeconomy research is cross-disciplinary and includes research groups from the areas of agriculture, plant sciences, agricultural engineering, agricultural economics, mechanical engineering, chemical and biological engineering, civil engineering, and numerous others.

Read the full article in the October issue of TERRA E-News.

A conversation with the new head of civil engineering

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Joe Labuz

Earlier this year Professor Joe Labuz accepted a five-year appointment as head of the Department of Civil Engineering. Labuz served as interim department head since July 2012 and as a member of the faculty since 1987. He has conducted more than 20 transportation-related research projects in the areas of pavements, soils, and structures and has also served students as the director of both undergraduate and graduate studies. Below he shares his vision and directions for the department.


I am very much looking forward to my tenure for a number of reasons: the faculty are among the world leaders in their fields; our students more than ever are focused on developing skills that can be used to serve society; and the college is committed to supporting and rewarding cutting-edge research and quality instruction.

I should first acknowledge the previous head, Professor Roberto Ballarini. Through his leadership, the department experienced growth in research expenditures and student satisfaction. His vision was one of excellence in all that we do.

I will try to continue his legacy of excellence, while striving for my vision of building—building progressive educational programs in civil engineering, environmental engineering, and geoengineering; building research thrusts that are aligned with regional and state priorities; and building a vibrant, cohesive department where faculty and students are recognized nationally and internationally for distinguished academic achievement.


One of my first priorities is to build a state-of-the-art measurements laboratory for hands-on learning and instruction. Just as numerical modeling has become a common thread of engineering analysis and design, so too should sensing be a component of our core programs.

New degree program

Furthermore, the department is proposing a new degree program, the first in Minnesota: bachelor of environmental engineering (BEnvE). This reflects the extensive interests of our faculty and students in forwarding environmental issues within a civil and geoengineering paradigm. Our interests span from clean energy to water treatment, from hazardous waste to groundwater remediation, to name a few. The introduction of this program aligns us with many other leading civil engineering departments nationwide.

Name change

Perhaps the most exciting news is the name change to Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering. The proposed name will better reflect the character of the department and readily identify our degree programs. Note that the name will be unique in the U.S. The name change, when approved by the Regents, will be official on July 1, 2014.


On the research side, several initiatives are focused on issues important to the region and nation. Measurement and analysis of transportation infrastructure, environmental restoration of lakes and streams, and renewable energy such as wind and biofuels have substantial funding in the department, and resources such as faculty hires and laboratory space are being dedicated to these thrust areas.

CE building and labs

Finally, the building itself is being renovated and some laboratories are being remodeled, as is the second floor student lounge, through the generous support of WSB & Associates and the College of Science & Engineering. The unique underground structure received the 1983 outstanding civil engineering achievement award from ASCE. I look forward to inviting the community to visit sometime in December 2013 to celebrate the 30-year anniversary.

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Center for Transportation Studies

University of Minnesota

200 Transportation & Safety Building

511 Washington Ave SE

Minneapolis, MN 55455

Phone: 612-626-1077

Fax: 612-625-6381


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