Author Archives: Lillian Tan

Ralph Buehler (VT) Contributes to UN Habitat and European Commission Report

Ralph Buehler, Associate Professor at Virginia Tech, was an expert contributing content to the transport chapter of the newly released UN Habitat and the European Commission report ‘The State of European Cities 2016: Cities leading the way to a better future‘. The report will also be presented at Habitat III in Quito and at the Eurocities 2016 Annual Event in Milan. Here is a link to the report website (download is at the bottom of the website):

Register for our Fall 2016 Careers in Transportation webinar series!

On the fourth Tuesday of each month (Sept 27, Oct 25, Nov 15) at 4:00 pm, MATS UTC will host a one-hour webinar to provide some insight on careers in transportation. All are invited to attend, but we especially encourage students to come and learn from three professionals who will share their career paths and advice.

Tuesday, September 27, 4:00 pm will feature Jose Gomez of UVA (and formerly Virginia DOT)
Tuesday, October 25, 4:00 pm will feature Camelia Ravanbakht of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization
Tuesday, November 15, 4:00 pm will feature Donny Williams of West Virginia DOT

Please register here for all three webinars to get reminder notices!  Alternatively please follow this link to join the webinar room at 4pm on the fourth Tuesday:

Materials from the presentations will be available on this page, including the archived recordings, following the events.


Faculty Spotlight: Celeste Chavis, Ph.D., Morgan State University

For Celeste Chavis, it’s always been about using engineering to solve social problems. Starting out as a mechanical engineering major at Ohio State University, she had the opportunity to intern at the Ohio Department of Transportation. Seeing the effects of traffic congestion on the everyday lives of people changed the trajectory of her career.

Now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Transportation and Urban Infrastructure Studies at Morgan State University (MS), Chavis continues to seek out ways to improve the lives of people, particularly in minority communities and underserved areas, through innovative transportation solutions. Her research interests include public transportation systems, bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, policy and regulatory decisions, multimodal transportation network modeling, informal transportation systems and equity of transportation systems.

Several of these interests come together in her MATS UTC-funded project, Quantifying the Impact of On-Street Parking Information on Congestion Mitigation. Together with colleagues Mansoureh Jeihani, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Transportation and Urban Infrastructure Studies, Morgan State University, and Hesham Rekha, Ph.D., Samuel Reynolds Pritchard Professor of Engineering, Virginia Tech, the team is investigating innovative parking management strategies to decrease congestion. Working closely with the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT), one of the country’s leading agencies in on-street parking management innovation, the researchers are implementing a pilot test using parking meter data in the Chinatown area of Washington, DC.

Using a driving simulator with the study area modeled, the project will position 100 test subjects in different traffic conditions, with different parking availabilities, pricing and parking availability information. The results are expected to provide a clearer understanding of how parking information can improve congestion in urban areas. A poster on the work was presented at the MATS UTC Annual Meeting held in August 2016.

Chavis’ interests in the social impacts of public transportation have resulted in a partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools to address absenteeism. “The majority of middle and high school students in the district rely on public transportation to attend school,” stated Chavis. “Their limited access to convenient routes and timely schedules is a disincentive to attend school on a regular basis.”

Chavis is exploring options for improving access, including proposing alternative routes that better serve residential communities and providing evidence to support supplemental transportation services.

“I’m very interested in understanding how transportation affects different segments of the population,” said Chavis. These interests have taken her far afield, including research in Nairobi, Kenya, last summer to better understand roundabout efficiency. Roundabouts are circular intersections where traffic flows in one direction with entering traffic yielding to traffic already in the flow. In Nairobi, these intersections are controlled by traffic police. Working with IBM Research Africa, Chavis used data collected from sensors on public vehicles to analyze the traffic flow along roundabouts. She found that current control allows for high vehicle flows; however, coordination between roundabouts is important in order to prevent queues from impacting neighboring roundabouts.

In addition to her research, Chavis keeps busy teaching three classes each semester. “The transportation program at Morgan State is unique,” explained Chavis. “In addition to studying traditional civil engineering topics, students in the Morgan State program focus specifically on transportation coursework. As a result, I teach a range of courses such as traffic engineering as well as a general education class on the social impact of transportation systems for planning and public policy decisions.”

Chavis is a member of the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Paratransit Committee of the Transportation Research Board. She received a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Ohio State, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Berkley.

Contact Dr. Chavis at

Transportation Infrastructure Flooding: Sensing Water Levels and Rerouting Traffic Out of Danger

Flooding in the Oceanview area of Norfolk during Tropical Storm Hermine. Credit: Wavy–TV, Aaron/Kurtz

Flooding in the Oceanview area of Norfolk during Tropical Storm Hermine. Credit: WAVY–TV, Aaron/Kurtz

Many coastal urban areas are prone to flooding due to inadequate stormwater management infrastructure, rising sea levels, tidal effects, and intense precipitation. These events can have significant impacts on a region’s transportation systems and economic vitality. In heavily populated areas, such as Virginia Beach and Norfolk, there is a critical need to forecast the magnitude of floods and high tide events within a short time frame to plan proper protective measures and to mitigate the danger to drivers and vehicle-related property damage.

Building on MATS UTC previously funded work on infrastructure resilience and adaptation for hurricanes in coastal areas and the impact of climate change and sea level rise on stormwater design and reoccurring flooding problems in the Hampton Roads region, a team of Virginia Tech and University of Virginia researchers is focusing on the resilience of critical transportation operations to respond to coastal flooding. The current research project seeks to protect drivers who are on the road as flooding occurs and those who have not yet entered a particular road and must be re-routed. Adopting a multi-disciplinary approach (hydrology, regional climate and precipitation forecasting, and transportation engineering), the project is using modeling and simulation to identify patterns of tidal levels and rainfall intensities and durations that cause flooding, using the data to forecast periods when roadways may be flooded.

The research team will use simulations of weather conditions, seasons (including tourism and tidal effects), times of day and other effects to provide clearance times of the soon-to-be flooded areas. Their analysis will also include an evaluation of trade-offs associated with providing a warning and closing roads unnecessarily versus failing to issue a warning/road closure when one is needed.

The team is working closely with the City of Virginia Beach, aligning the project with the City’s longer-term goals to improve methods for road closures due to flooding. The plan is important not just to protect drivers, but also to ensure that emergency services, such as fire, police and ambulances, have safe, alternative routes during times of flooding. Having predictive capabilities could allow emergency personnel to relocate if flooding is projected to occur due to a forecasted rainfall event.

Ultimately, the predictive capabilities of the models will allow better allocation of limited resources during critical periods. The team plans to develop a protocol for communicating predicted flooding events and a decision support tool for use in the local traffic management center so that advisories can be provided to the public through variable message signs and 511 systems, thereby reducing traffic delays and improving driver safety.

“This project is an exciting way to combine our research fields to address a relatively frequent issue that delays and frustrates drivers. Our approach should lead to increased safety during flooding and shorter delays for the public and emergency responders,” said Pamela Murray-Tuite, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Virginia Tech.

In addition to Dr. Murray-Tuite, principal investigators include Virginia Tech researchers, Dr. Kevin Heaslip and Dr. Venkataramana Sridhar, and UVA researcher, Dr. Jon Goodall.

For more information, contact Dr. Murray-Tuite at Read more about the project here.

Real-time System Prediction and Optimal Rebalancing Strategies for Public Bike Sharing Systems

Access to Capital Bikeshare’s fleet of bikes is available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

Access to Capital Bikeshare’s fleet of bikes is available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

Bicycle Sharing Systems (BSS) are innovative transportation programs that are springing up in urban areas across the country. These programs address short distance trips to provide users with the ability to pick up a bicycle at one self-serve bike station and return it to another bike station elsewhere within the system. These systems are recognized to have traffic and health benefits including flexible mobility, physical activity and support for multimodal transport connections.

BSS research in the transportation field is still in its infancy. One recurring problem is that BSS operators must redistribute, or ‘rebalance’, bikes from full to empty stations to meet expected demand. Currently, rebalancing schedules are based on historical trends or simple heuristics, such as the presumption that all stations will be at least half empty. However, this approach does not optimize the ability of either the BSS program or the trucking services that pickup and redistribute the bikes to forecast the actual number of departures and arrivals at specific times of the day or expected demand patterns in real time. For example, if users are using the bikes to commute to work downtown, then there may be a significant shortage of bikes at alternative locations at off-peak times. This reactive approach to inventory control leads to systemic inefficiencies in truck routing and bike rebalancing.

Capital Bikeshare is one of the oldest and largest bike sharing systems in the country, providing 3000 bicycles and 350 stations in DC, Arlington, Alexandria and Montgomery County, MD. Researchers at Old Dominion University and Virginia Tech are partnering with the Capital Bikeshare program to create real-time prediction models that will analyze the number of departures and arrivals at each station by time of day as well as the overall characteristics of each trip. They will then develop heuristic algorithms for managing the expected demand patterns, such as identifying optimal rebalancing schedules as demand evolves in real-time. Given these demand patterns, trucking companies will be able to optimize their fleet routes and BSS operators will have current information upon which to effectively manage their inventory.

“We’re working toward a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach to rebalancing and system management,” explained Rajesh Paleti, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering at Old Dominion University. “By integrating these models into an easy-to-use Geographic Information System (GIS) toolkit, we hope to provide BSS agencies with the real-time information they need to set optimal routes and schedules for rebalancing.”

Initially targeting BSS operators, local transit agencies and trucking companies, the toolkit will include color-coded intensity maps that depict current and expected demand patterns at all stations. In addition, public health officials may be interested in using the tools to identify best practices in promoting healthy transportation alternatives. Ultimately, the study’s outcomes could be used to develop an app for BSS users to identify where bikes are available and where there are empty spaces for returns, providing hands-on customer service evolving in real-time.

Additional researchers on the project include:

Mecit Cetin, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Director, Transportation Research Institute, Old Dominion University.

Hesham Rekha, Ph.D., Samuel Reynolds Pritchard Professor of Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Director, Center for Sustainable Mobility, Virginia Tech.

For additional information about the project, contact Dr. Paleti at

ODU Researchers Published and Presented a Paper on the LIDAR for Air Quality Measurements

A conference paper was recently published by Mohamed Elbakary and Khan Ifkharuddin, which was presented at the SPIE Conference Proceedings on August 29-30th. Please find the full reference below:

Mohamed I. Elbakary, Khan Iftekharuddin, (Old Dominion Univ.); Russell J. De Young (NASA Langley Research Ctr.); Kwasi Afrifa (Old Dominion Univ.), “Aerosol detection methods in lidar-based atmospheric profiling” SPIE Conference Proceedings, 29 30 August, San Diego, USA, 2016.

Student Spotlight: Savannah Edwards, University of Delaware

A major focus of MATS UTC and its consortium members is to promote sustainable transportation practices that can be leveraged for land-use planning and public policy. As a public administration fellow funded by MATS UTC and working for the Institute for Public Administration (IPA) at the University of Delaware (UD), graduate student Savannah Edwards is bringing together her technical skills using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) with industry and academic experience to implement planning policies around complete communities.

Complete communities represent an integrated approach to transportation planning, land use planning and community design while achieving open space protection, community vitality, affordable housing, air quality, transit use and more walkable places. Together with her advisor, Marcia Scott, Policy Scientist at UD’s IPA, Edwards is using story maps to engage community stakeholders directly in transportation and land use issues.

Story maps are used to organize and present information, often combining video, text, photos and audio into an interactive map to describe a project, or ‘convey a story’, within a geographic context. Used to address complex land use and transportation planning issues, story maps are useful tools to convey information to non-technical audiences in a fun and easy-to-understand format.

Edwards has completed five GIS story maps to illustrate best practices associated with Planning for Complete Communities in Delaware. These include story maps on context-sensitive solutions, mixed-use development, planning for aging-friendly environments, historic preservation planning, and the Delaware Downtown Development District program. They can be viewed on-line.

The story maps are helping Edwards to gain traction and set her apart in the field. She was the only student selected to present at the 2016 Delmarva GIS “Going Viral” Conference in Dover, Delaware in April 2016. She presented her poster on Using GIS Story Maps to Engage Stakeholders in Sustainability Planning at the Delaware Center for Transportation Research Showcase in May 2016 and at the 2016 MATS UTC Annual Meeting in August 2016. Her GIS story maps are currently showcased as visual tools on IPA’s Delaware Complete Communities Planning Toolbox.

“Savannah’s work with GIS story maps reflects a growing imperative to optimize public engagement in transportation planning toward more dynamic, high-performance, and interactive processes through the use technology and visualization techniques,” stated Scott. “IPA, Delaware planners, and transportation experts are extremely impressed with her GIS story map products. Her DDD GIS story map was selected and used for Governor Jack Markell’s recent announcement of an expansion of Delaware’s Downtown Development Districts program.”

Edwards is building on several years of experience with a variety of organizations, all devoted to implementing strategies that connect resources to projects. She spent the past summer as a planning intern at AECOM, focusing on zoning ordinances for campgrounds and RV parks, remediation permitting regulations and local funding sources. She spent over a year working as an Americorps VISTA, implementing strategies to connect disadvantaged households in Madison County, Indiana to financial programs and other community resources. She has worked with City Parks Alliance, Mason Alumni Affairs, and the Association of Consulting Foresters. Early in her career, she was an intern in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Already making her mark on current urban planning practices, Edwards plans to graduate in the spring of 2017 and hopes to join a private planning company to work her way into city management. “Being a planner will provide the skills and experience I need to step into the broader arena of city management. And, although I don’t want to be known solely for my GIS skills, I’ll be glad to use them as part of a diverse toolkit to help bring community livability together with urban planning and public policy.”

Edwards earned a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science and Government, Minor in Communication, from George Mason University. Her Master’s Degree in Public Administration, with a concentration in Planning for Sustainable Communities, is forthcoming from the University of Delaware in 2017.

Contact Savannah Edwards at or Marcia Scott at

UVA 2016 USRIPs Participated in Tours and Activities

During the nine week MATS UTC Undergraduate Summer Research Internship Program, the six students working at UVA participated in several tours and activities. Along with five other students working at University of Delaware, Marshall University and Old Dominion University, they each worked on a research project. All students were responsible for a Journal Club presentation (they met with a web meeting online so that the students at the four universities could interact), a presentation during the End of Summer Symposium on July 28 (also online), and wrote a final report. Please see the Symposium news post for more details about the participants and their projects and also links to their posters, presentations, and reports.

But the UVA students also participated in three tours and at least a couple of events with the UVA Center for Diversity’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. The UVA students toured the McCormick Road Dorm Renovation project (and wore hard hats and safety vests), the UVA Hospital Chiller Facility (and learned how cold water is distributed to the hospital for air conditioning), and the Green Roof at the Hospital (fitting our Center’s sustainability theme). With the UVA Center for Diversity REUs, they participated in their opening day “ropes” orientation course and attended their day at Kings Dominion amusement park.

Several photos from these tours and activities are included here.

29279742512_45532b6a47_n 28764048194_8bdf5b279a_n  29102303010_640c2426a5_k 29308795971_cd03aaa63e_n 29354047866_e1f5af1312_k 28763904654_017c6a2c9f_k

Kings Dominion

MATS UTC Delivers Graduate-level Semester-long Transportation Sustainability Course

2016 Update (July 2016):  This course will be offered again in Fall 2016.  You need to register for the course through one of the following universities:  University of Virginia, University of Delaware, Marshall University, and Old Dominion University.  We are working with the University of Delaware Professional Engineering Outreach Center to allow qualified non-matriculated students to take the course.  Click here for the Fall 2016 schedule of modules.

One of the primary goals of MATS UTC is to increase the number of transportation professionals with the knowledge and skills needed to advance sustainability in transportation. The MATS UTC education committee has taken this charge seriously, achieving in a short amount of time what many in academia might consider to be impossible. In just under a year, the team has created, developed and delivered a for-credit graduate course, leveraging the expertise of faculty members across six universities and capitalizing on distance learning technologies.

Launched in August 2015, the course will provide graduate students with a multi-disciplinary introduction to transportation sustainability, providing students with an overview of the tools, models, methods and best practices for improving transportation systems. Learning modules include:

  1. An Overview of Transportation Sustainability – Emily Parkany, University of Virginia
  2. Energy-Efficient Urban Transportation – Hesham Rakha and Kyoungho Ahn, Virginia Tech
  3. Sustainable Urban Freight – Hyeon-Shic Shin, Morgan State University
  4. Coastal Infrastructure Resiliency – Navid Tahvildari, Old Dominion University
  5. Sustainable Materials – Wael Zatar, Marshall University
  6. Enhanced Water Quality Management – Jonathan Goodall, University of Virginia
  7. Sustainable Land Use/Non-motorized and Alternative Modes – Andrew Mondschein, University of Virginia
  8. Healthy Communities – Marcia Scott, University of Delaware
  9. Finance and Policy – Troy Mix, University of Delaware.

Over thirty graduate students from five consortium universities signed up for the class delivered asynchronously in a distance-learning format. Three-hours of lectures are available online each week. Innovative team projects and discussion forums encourage students to interact and collaborate with students from other schools. Although they will receive credit for completing the course at their own institution, the students are receiving much broader interaction with faculty representing a wide variety of expertise from across the MATS UTC region.

Andrew Mondschein, Ph.D., chair of the MATS UTC education committee, believes that the course is providing students with opportunities to see issues through a number of different lenses. “We want to create a learning environment in which, for example, planning students consider coastal infrastructure resilience from an engineer’s perspective. Or an engineering student from Virginia Tech learns about healthy communities from an expert at the University of Delaware.”

Mondschein is looking forward to receiving feedback from the students about the new course and its online delivery. “The course content is exciting but what’s truly innovative is the course delivery. We will be listening closely to the students to determine if there are enough opportunities to interact and engage with one another. Perhaps, in the future, we will bring all course participants together for a design workshop or final symposium.”

Emily Parkany, Ph.D., managing director of MATS UTC and a member of the education committee, suggests that the creation of this course demonstrates the power of the consortium and its strength in nurturing collaboration and cross-disciplinary studies. “Representatives from each of our partner universities helped to drive this initiative,” she explains. “One school alone could not have created a course that features 10 professors from 6 schools to deliver lectures and coursework to students located at our various partner schools. It demonstrates the commitment of the consortium not just to research, but also to teaching and education.

UVA’s Teresa Culver and Jon Goodall Presented at the World Environmental and Water Resources Congress

At the 2016 World Environmental and Water Resources Congress, on May 22-26 at EWRI, West Palm Beach, Florida University, University of Virginia’s Teresa Culver and her student Ryan Mahon presented her joint project (in collaboration with University of Deleware’s Pei Chiu and Paul Imhoff) titled “Field Performance of a Bioinfiltration System with Biochar and Zero-Valent Iron”. The full project description can be found below on MATS UTC:

Project: Simultaneous Removal of Nitrogen and Phosphorus from Stormwater by Zero-Valent Iron and Biochar in Bioretention Cells

Jon Goodall gave a presentation titled “Stormwater Management in Virginia Beach Using Real-time Sensing, Modeling, and Control” coauthored with Jeff Sadler, Alishan Hassan, Carlisle Rowlands, Guannan Wang, Mohamed Morsy, Kamin Whitehouse, and C. Gregory Johnson. The presentation abstract, project page, and a link to the event page are below:

“Coastal urban areas are facing significant stormwater management challenges. Sea level rise, more frequent extreme weather events, subsidence, and nuisance flooding are some of the stormwater challenges facing these regions. Virginia Beach, the largest city in Virginia, is a model case study of a coastal city facing significant water resource management challenges. Virginia Beach has built eight pumping stations to transfer water stored in Best Management Practices (BMPs), typically wet ponds lined by houses, to larger water bodies with additional storage capacity to prevent flooding. When extreme rainfall events are forecasted, one pumping station’s intake pond can be manually lowered to increase storage capacity for stormwater runoff. The University of Virginia (UVa) is conducting research to develop and deploy low-cost, low-maintenance, machine-to-machine sensors capable of providing localized information on on water resources in real-time for the region. Potential future applications for these sensors in Virginia Beach are for water resources management to mitigate nuisance flooding, which impacts parts of the city on a regular basis. The vision is to have real-time sensors of rainfall, soil moisture, tide levels, and BMP water levels that can be used with models for addressing localized areas facing nuisance flooding. In this presentation, we will introduce stormwater management practices in Virginia Beach and describe prototyping work being documented at UVa to create low-cost, low-maintenance, real-time sensors that can be deployed and used along with models for decision-support in areas like Virginia Beach facing nuisance flooding problems.”

Project: Impact of Climate Change and Sea Level Rise on Stormwater Design and Reoccurring Flooding Problems in the Hampton Roads Region