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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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With freight traffic increasing on U.S. roadways, commercial truck drivers often struggle to find safe and legal places to park. If parking spaces are not available at a nearby rest area or truck stop, drivers may be forced to pull over in unsafe locations or continue driving and become dangerously fatigued. Drivers may also risk violating federal hours-of-service rules, which require them to rest after 11 hours of driving.

In response to this issue, a team from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), University of Minnesota, and American Transportation Research Institute
 is developing a system that can identify available truck parking spaces and communicate the information to drivers—helping them determine when and where to stop. System benefits include improved safety, reduced driver fatigue, and better trip management.

The system uses a network of digital cameras suspended above a parking area to monitor space availability. Image processing software developed by researchers at the U of M’s computer science and engineering (CS&E) department analyzes the video frames and determines the number of available spaces.

As part of a demonstration project funded by MnDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, the project team is installing the system at three MnDOT rest areas and one private truck stop on I-94 west and northwest of the Twin Cities.

The U of M research team first installed the system in late 2012 at the the Elm Creek Rest Area, two miles north of Interstate 494 on I-94. As of early 2014, the system has been installed at an additional rest area, and a third site is in progress. 

Next steps for the project include implementing several mechanisms that will communicate parking information to truck drivers. First, the team plans to install variable message signs along I-94 this spring. Also in the works are an in-cab messaging system and a website.

Overall results of the demonstration project will help the team determine whether this technology holds promise for use in other corridors throughout the nation.

Read the full article in the February issue of Catalyst.

Roundabout study provides guidance for improving safety

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Roundabouts are a fairly recent addition to road systems in the United States, and their relative newness has made them a topic of discussion and debate. While roundabouts dramatically reduce the incidence of fatal and severe-injury crashes compared to traditional signalized intersections, drivers continue to misunderstand the rules of the roundabout, resulting in improper use and avoidable collisions.

In a recent study, Researchers in the Minnesota Traffic Observatory (MTO) at the U of M examined driving behavior and safety before and after signing and striping changes were applied at a two-lane roundabout in Richfield, Minnesota.

This roundabout, built in 2008, exhibited an abnormal number of crashes after its completion. In response, local engineers experimented with changes in the roundabout’s signs and striping.

Researchers analyzed crash records and examined hundreds of hours of video to compare the crash rates and number of violations committed by drivers before and after the changes.

The findings indicate that the changes in signing and striping have made the Richfield roundabout safer. In particular, extending the solid line leading up to the intersection approach from 50 feet to 250 feet seems to have reinforced the message to drivers that they must select the correct lane before approaching the roundabout entrance. This reduces the occurrence of drivers turning improperly and the need for a driver to change lanes within the roundabout.

Another important finding was that the traditional fish-hook-style roundabout signs and complex striping patterns often cause confusion among drivers.

Immediately after the changes, the occurrence of improper turns decreased by 48 percent and incorrect lane choice was reduced by 53 percent. One year after the changes, the safety improvements were still significant.

Read the full article in the January issue of Catalyst.


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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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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.

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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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