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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.

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.

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.

streets.jpg

Photo: Cindy Zerger

Across the United States, the Complete Streets movement is becoming more influential in planning, design, and engineering. As part of this movement, a variety of jurisdictions are considering a more comprehensive range of modes and users in their systems.

To help Minnesota practitioners implement Complete Streets in their communities, researchers from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs have published a guidebook filled with insights and best practices. The guidebook—Complete Streets from Policy to Project: The Planning and Implementation of Complete Streets at Multiple Scales—explores what it takes to successfully move Complete Streets from concept to implementation.

The guidebook is based on research funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board. As part of the study, Associate Professor Carissa Schively Slotterback and research fellow Cindy Zerger investigated Complete Streets projects in 11 locations across the nation.

Drawing on documents, site visits, and interviews from each location, the guidebook explores policy, process, design, maintenance, and funding approaches. It includes sections that feature background information, details on the study’s methodology, and six best practice areas that range from project delivery to promotion and education. The guidebook also presents key examples in each best practice category.

This approach ensures that practitioners not only learn about the best practices, but also gain insight into the approaches that might be best for their particular context.

“We hope this guidebook will allow practitioners in Minnesota and other areas to learn from other cities, counties, and regions that are moving from Complete Streets concept to implementation,” says Zerger.

Read the full article in the March issue of Catalyst. 

smartwindow.jpg

Nearly every time a highway or airport expansion is proposed, transportation planners face opposition from residents who fear the increased noise levels in their homes and businesses. Traffic noise is often mitigated with physical noise barriers, but the large, thick walls often draw opposition as well.

A new technology developed by University
 of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor 
Rajesh Rajamani as part of 
a research project funded
 by the National Science
 Foundation could soon
 provide a nearly invisible
 solution for transportation 
noise cancellation—and 
give transportation planners another tool for overcoming project opposition.

Noise enters homes close to airports and highways primarily through windows, and windows can transmit ten times the sound energy as walls can, says Rajamani. With this in mind, researchers set out to reduce the amount of transportation noise transmitted through windows.

To accomplish this goal, researchers created a method of active noise control for windows. Active noise control works by using speakers to generate a sound wave that is a mirror image of the undesirable sound wave. Superimposing an "anti-noise" wave of the same amplitude as the undesirable noise wave results in a reduced decibel level of noise in the environment.

The research team began by designing thin, transparent speaker panels to fit in the empty space between the two panes of a double-pane window. Then, the researchers tested the effectiveness of the new speakers, using them to cancel out undesirable transportation noise from outside the home while preserving the desirable noise from inside the home.

In addition to mitigating traffic noise, this new technology offers other surprising benefits. Researchers have found that the "smart window" speakers can actually be used as home audio speakers without losing any of their noise-control benefits.

Read the full article in the February issue of Catalyst.

streetcars.jpg

New streetcar lines are in the planning stages in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Proponents cite not only the lines’ ability to strengthen the transit system, but also their potential as catalysts for development. Estimating the impacts of streetcars is challenging, however, as most U.S. lines operate in downtown areas with many interrelated factors at play. A recent U of M research project examined the issue through the prism of one city’s experience: post-Katrina New Orleans.

The team—research fellow Andrew Guthrie and Assistant Professor Yingling Fan of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs—analyzed building permits near streetcar stops in the downtown business district and in several urban neighborhoods.

“Hurricane Katrina allowed—or required—more redevelopment to occur at a faster pace than 
normal, potentially allowing existing streetcar lines’ latent development impacts to appear,” Guthrie says. “This created an unfortunate yet rare opportunity for study.”

The researchers estimated how the frequency of commercial and residential permits changed with distance from streetcar stops, controlling for hurricane damage, proximity to existing commercial areas, and pre-Katrina demographics.

They found that throughout the system, building permits strongly reflect the distance to stops—and that commercial and residential permits move in opposite directions within the first 750 feet.

Commercial permits declined the further away the location was from a stop. In residential areas, commercial permits show variation depending on neighborhood characteristics. The number of neighborhood residential permits rose about 24 percent with every 100 feet from a stop.

Based on their results, Guthrie and Fan conclude that traditional streetcar lines can help increase commercial development not just in downtown business districts, but in other urban areas as well. The findings also indicate that streetcars shape development in urban neighborhoods in a fundamentally different fashion than light rail.

Read the full article in the January issue of Catalyst.

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:


Exploring Nice Ride job accessibility and station choice

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niceride2.jpg

Although bike share systems are becoming more popular across the United States, little is known about how people make decisions when integrating these systems into their daily travel.

In a study funded by CTS, researchers from the U of M’s civil engineering department investigated how people use the Nice Ride bike share system in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The researchers examined how Nice Ride affects accessibility to jobs and developed a model to predict station choice.

In the first part of the study, the researchers created maps showing accessibility to jobs by census block for both Nice Ride and walking—as well as the difference between the two—at time thresholds ranging from 5 to 55 minutes.

Overall, in blocks with both Nice Ride and walking job accessibility, Nice Ride provides access to 0.5 to 3.21 times as many jobs as walking.

By comparing Nice Ride to walking, the study demonstrated that walking can successfully be used as a baseline to show how a bike share system improves job accessibility. The results also pinpointed when and where Nice Ride had the strongest accessibility advantage over walking.

“This type of information can be used by bike share system planners to identify where new stations could be built to maximize their impact on job accessibility,” says grad student Jessica Schoner, a member of the research team.

In addition, the team developed a theoretical model for bike share station choice. The model considers users’ choice of a station based on their preference 
for the amount of time spent walking, deviation from the shortest path (the closest station may not be in the direct path of the person’s destination), and station amenities and neighborhood characteristics.

Findings show that people generally prefer to use stations that don’t require long detours to reach, but a station’s surroundings also play an important role. Results also indicate that commuters value shorter trips and tend to choose stations that minimize overall travel time.

According to Schoner, understanding people’s station preference can help provide guidance to planners that want to expand or optimize a bike share system.

Read the full article in the January issue of Catalyst.

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.

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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

E-mail: cts@umn.edu

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