Author Archives: Robin Heimer

Invitation to Participate: Would You Consider a ‘Green Vehicle’ for Your Next Vehicle Purchase?

MATS UTC researchers at the University of Virginia and Old Dominion University are studying electric vehicle adoption patterns and subsequent air quality impacts in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We are looking for your input! Complete our survey (estimated to take 15-20 mins) and tell us whether you are interested in a “green vehicle” for your next vehicle purchase.

https://virginia.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_1ZGPcdSkg49lRCR

Anticipating Electric Vehicle Adoption Patterns and Emissions Impacts

Photo Credit: Fairfax News

When you purchase your next vehicle, will you consider buying an electric vehicle (EV)? If you already own an EV, are you wondering about the future of EV ownership and how increased usage might impact the number and placement of charging stations? Is increased EV use actually having a positive environmental impact?

Researchers at the University of Virginia (UVA) and Old Dominion University (ODU) are taking these issues seriously. Funding from MATS UTC is enabling them to model anticipated EV adoption patterns, giving them the ability to predict which households in which neighborhoods are most likely to own such vehicles. Combined with influence factors such as technology familiarity, vehicle availability, charging infrastructure provision and demographics, this predictive model could play a vital role in informing public policy related to power-grid planning, transportation investments and air quality strategies.

Taking a two-pronged research approach, the researchers are assessing both revealed preferences (RP) and stated preferences (SP) to understand how various factors influence vehicle choice. T. Donna Chen, PE, PhD, department of civil and environmental engineering at UVA, along with PhD student, Wenjian Jia, and Rajesh Paleti, PhD, department of civil and environmental engineering at ODU, are analyzing vehicle registration data (2008 to 2016) from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to develop a snapshot of RP related to actual adoption and use among regional EV owners. In the spring of 2018, survey data will be collected to determine SP toward vehicle traits, land use and EV infrastructure. A predictive spatial model is being developed based on this individual and geographic level data to better understand the impact of various regional factors and household demographics on EV adoption.

The research team is working with Virginia Clean Cities, a non-profit organization focused on reducing reliance on gas-powered vehicles, to reach out to EV owners and stakeholders. “We’re directly engaging with consumers and industry, developing an applications-based approach to help transportation planners, utility providers and public policy professionals make informed planning decisions based on when and where new EV households will emerge,” explained Chen. “These results may also lead to better insights about air quality impacts and the effect of EV adoption trends on the carbon footprint in Virginia.”

These findings will help to create a more accurate profile of EV adopters in Virginia. Ultimately, the modeling capabilities could provide a decision framework to determine the most effective placement of charging stations as well as the effects of various policies, such as rebates or usage fees, on actual EV adoption and use.

For more information, contact Dr. Chen at tdchen@virginia.edu or 434-924-6224.

Leveraging New Vehicle Technologies to Address Congestion, Environmental Impacts and Traffic Safety

With increasing frequency, the public is exposed to news coverage announcing the autonomous vehicle (AV) revolution and the ways in which mobile devices, sensors and other connected vehicle (CV) technologies are redefining the automotive world. As engineers and other specialists contend with the technical aspects of AVs and CVs, society grapples with questions about safety, reliability and other potential effects on personal mobility.

Connected vehicles leverage a number of communication technologies, often sensors and mobile devices, to communicate with the driver, other vehicles and roadside infrastructure. Autonomous vehicles, often referred to as driverless or self-driving cars, are capable of sensing their surrounding environment and reacting without human input. Together, CVs and AVs represent the leading edge of innovative solutions to address congestion, environmental concerns and traffic safety. However, they also represent complex public policy issues related to social, economic and consumer impacts.

Researchers within the MATS UTC consortium are seeking to understand how ever-evolving CV and AV technical advances can be leveraged for more efficient and safe use of the built environment. CVs and AVs represent the opportunity to gather real-time mobile data, revealing important traffic information and driving behaviors not available through existing monitoring devices such as stationary cameras. Many of these research efforts are being applied to existing traffic issues, such as safety and movement through intersections, and environmental concerns, such as fuel economies and emissions.

Examples of these research efforts include:

Connected Vehicle Technologies for Energy Efficient Urban Transportation

Researchers at the University of Delaware and Morgan State University are using connected vehicle technology to optimize a vehicle’s control system in real-time to reduce congestion, improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. Using hybrid buses operating at the University of Delaware, the team is studying how intelligently integrated components can respond to both routine and atypical traffic situations, resulting in optimized traffic control and vehicle fuel economy.

Eco-Speed Control for Hybrid Electric Buses in the Vicinity of Signalized Intersections

Communication between a traffic signal controller and a vehicle equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) and communication hardware provides a research team from Virginia Tech and Morgan State University with sufficient information (vehicle position, vehicle speed and signal phasing and timing data) to compute fuel-efficient speeds. The team is leveraging this communication, developing Eco-Speed Control algorithms for buses using predictive energy estimation models. These models identify optimum speed profiles using information from surrounding vehicles and upcoming signalized intersections. The goal is to predict the most efficient speed to move a bus through an intersection and reduce ‘stop/go’ behavior, a key reason for inefficient fuel economy.

Investigating the Relationship between Driving Patterns and Traffic Safety using Smartphones-Based Mobile Sensor Data

Collecting high-resolution speed and acceleration data is now feasible with mobile consumer devices such as smartphones. Smartphones are equipped with sensors capable of recording vehicle performance data at a very fine temporal resolution in a cost-effective way. Researchers at Old Dominion University used this mobile sensor data to identify unsafe driving patterns and quantified the relationship between these driving patterns and traffic crash incidences. The models with microscopic traffic measures were shown to be statistically better than traditional models that only control for roadway geometry and traffic exposure variables.

Connected Vehicle Freeway Speed Harmonization Systems

Research conducted at Virginia Tech seeks to develop a dynamic speed harmonization application (SPD-HARM) that makes use of the frequently collected and rapidly disseminated multi-source data drawn from connected travelers, roadside sensors, and infrastructure. Using the connected vehicle environment, the research team is developing systems and algorithms to generate traffic condition predictions, alternative scenarios and solution evaluations in real-time. The goal is to reduce crashes, whether due to speeding, poor visibility, inclement weather or construction activities.

Leveraging Connected Vehicles to Enhance Traffic Responsive Traffic Signal Control

With growing use of connected vehicles equipped with communication technologies such as GPS to communicate with the driver, other cars and roadside infrastructure, researchers at Old Dominion University, Virginia Tech and Marshall University are exploring optimization of current adaptive signal control technology to estimate queue length and develop enhanced signal coordination through communication with CV sensors. The research focuses on Traffic Responsive Plan Selection (TRPS), an underutilized adaptive control product enabling the selection of pre-programmed traffic signal timing plans based on vehicle demand observed from selected vehicle detectors along a signalized corridor.

Exploring the use of LIDAR Data from Autonomous Cars for Estimating Traffic Flow Parameters and Vehicle Trajectories

Autonomous vehicles are typically equipped with LIDAR (light detection and ranging remote sensing technology) or other similar sensors to detect obstacles in the surrounding environment and can be a means to track other vehicles in adjacent lanes. At Old Dominion University, LIDAR is being used to estimate traffic flow parameters along the path of the autonomous car from point-cloud data. New algorithms and models are in development to extract traffic flow information from raw LIDAR data, enabling real-world data collection for safety studies and estimations of traffic flow and driving behavior.

Planning for Walking and Cycling in an Autonomous Vehicle Future

In an automated environment, it is possible bikers and pedestrians will be safer due to improved braking technologies. However, safety may be negatively impacted if drivers, cyclists and pedestrians over-rely on automated technology. If, for example, pedestrians and cyclists assume AVs will ‘automatically’ stop for them, then there may be increases in unsafe walking and cycling behaviors such as jay-walking or failing to use designated bike lanes. Researchers at Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia are using semi-structured interviews with various stakeholders to develop planning guidelines for walking and cycling as society transitions to an automated fleet.

These research efforts are contributing to our understanding of the challenges associated with dynamic traffic conditions in an automated and connected environment. Most importantly, these projects are using real-time traffic data to develop new approaches, such as optimized traffic signals and other traffic responsive systems, to reduce fuel consumption, improve safety, and minimize congestion.

MATS UTC Student of the Year: Will Baker

Prior to pursuing a PhD in geotechnical engineering at the University of Delaware, Will Baker logged significant hours on construction sites across the northeast as an intern and co-op student with Duffield Associates.  He gained valuable experience performing soil sampling, and field and laboratory material testing. This hands-on exposure to geotechnical engineering, a branch of civil engineering that investigates the engineering behavior of soil and rock, helped to determine Baker’s academic future.

Baker is now pursuing his PhD under the guidance of advisor, Christopher Meehan, PhD, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Delaware. Together, they see the promise of intelligent compaction (IC) and continuous compaction control (CCC), using sensors and spatial mapping, to radically improve the foundations upon which earthwork construction projects are built. The underlying principle is that a denser soil is stronger soil. Using current compaction equipment, such as drum rollers, inspectors rely on simple calculations, density gauges and spot tests to determine if the compaction passes/fails. Meehan and Baker are exploring how IC and CCC can provide real-time monitoring of the compaction process to provide 100% analysis of the prepared site and reduce reliance on random sampling.

Serving as a graduate research assistant and undertaking his PhD research, Baker is developing empirical models utilizing machine-learning techniques to better understand the relationship between CCC measurements and in situ measurements.  He continues to work on active project sites to analyze the compaction process with a compaction roller instrumented with a CCC system and is working to establish geospatial and statistical characteristics of CCC measurements during active construction.

“Will’s work on developing innovative techniques for effective quality assurance and quality control of soil compaction has the potential to yield a better finished product for constructed roadways at reduced cost,” noted Dr. Meehan. “His discoveries will help to advance our understanding about using machine feedback to guide decision making in a field environment, which will encourage the use of cost saving automation in construction. In addition, Will’s work ethic as a graduate student is second to none, and he is a real pleasure to work with.”

Baker and Meehan presented some of their findings at the 2016 MATS UTC annual meeting. Their poster, Utilizing a neighboring weighted-estimate method for outlier detection with a continuous compaction control data set, described the correlation of CCC readings with traditional in situ spot test results to develop target values for compaction, working toward the compaction roller as a QC/QA tool during the construction process.

MATS UTC has taken notice of Baker’s research progress, recently naming him ‘2017 Student of the Year’. “Will’s contributions to MATS UTC-funded research on CCC and soil compaction, as well as his leadership activities with other students, warranted the recognition,” stated MATS UTC Managing Director, Lindsay Ivey Burden.

Baker is currently the chair of the GeoCongress Planning Committee, organizing a leadership workshop for students at the national GeoCongress Conference in March, 2018. He will moderate a panel discussion with industry representatives from academia, governing agencies, consulting and more; providing students with opportunities to learn about career opportunities and industry trends from leaders in the geotechnical community.

Upon graduation, Baker intends to pursue his interests in soil compaction either in an academic or field setting. “Site preparation needs to be done correctly right from the start of the project,” explained Baker. “No matter whether a construction site is large or small, it’s hard to manage soil yet it’s the foundation of a safe and sustainable construction project. I’m excited to contribute to our understanding of soil preparation and the practical use of CCC technology on-site.”

He received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Delaware and expects to receive his PhD in geotechnical engineering in 2020. Baker may be contacted at bakerwil@udel.edu. Meehan may be contacted at cmeehan@udel.edu.

Selected publications include:

Meehan, C. L., Cacciola, D. V., Tehrani, F. S., and Baker, W. J. (2017). “Assessing Soil Compaction Using Continuous Compaction Control and Location-Specific In Situ Tests.” Automation in Construction, Elsevier, 73, 31-44.

Baker, W. J. and Meehan, C. L. (2017). “Utilizing a Neighboring Weighted-Estimation Method for Anomaly Detection with a Continuous Compaction Control Data Set.” Proc., Geotechnical Frontiers 2017: Transportation Facilities, Structures, and Site Investigation, Geotechnical Special Publication No. 277, Orlando, FL, March 12-15, 2017, ASCE, Reston, VA, 55-65.

Cacciola, D. V., Meehan, C. L., Baker, W. J., and Tehrani, F. S. (2018). “A Comparison of Continuous Compaction Control Measurements with Localized In Situ Test Results.”  2018 ASCE Geo-Congress (pending).

Baker, W. J. and Meehan, C. L. (2018). “A Comparison Between of In-Place Unit Weight and Moisture Content Measurements Made Using Nuclear Based Methods and the Drive Cylinder Method.”  2018 ASCE Geo-Congress (pending).

Bicycle Justice or Just Bicycles: Analyzing Equitable Access to Baltimore’s Bike Sharing Program

Baltimore Bike Share Program. Photo Credit: Maryland Daily Record

As a member of the Baltimore Bike Share Program (BBSP) technical advisory board, Celeste Chavis, PhD, saw first-hand the benefits and challenges of administering a bike share program in a complex urban environment. While the recently launched program offers an alternative transportation mode for commuting, recreation and tourism, there is concern that the initial 50 docking stations are not equitably placed for access by underrepresented populations.

Chavis, Assistant Professor in the Department of Transportation and Urban Infrastructure Studies at Morgan State University, envisioned using BBSP trip data and land use to determine whether diverse populations, defined by socio-economic and racial demographics, are afforded access to the new system. A mutual colleague introduced her to Philip Barnes, PhD, Associate Policy Scientist in the Institute for Public Administration at the University of Delaware. Chavis and Barnes quickly recognized their shared interest in sustainable community development. With their combined research and public policy expertise, they joined forces to evaluate the BBPS, spotlighting ‘justice’ as a core urban land use and design principle.

The MATS UTC-funded project is tackling the issue from several different perspectives. The team has undertaken a review of best practice examples of bike share programs in other cities where program design and implementation have delivered equitable outcomes. “The Brooklyn Citi Bike Program is a wonderful example of a community advocacy strategy that builds ridership from the ground level, educating diverse populations about the cost, logistics and safety of the program,” explained Barnes. It’s just one of nearly a dozen city bike share programs evaluated by the team.

With support from the Southeast Community Development Corporation, the team recently conducted two focus groups to gain additional demographic and perception-based information among Spanish and English-speaking populations. Although results have not yet been fully analyzed, initial indications suggest the city’s Hispanic populations may not even be aware of the bike share program. Many in this Hispanic sample set have negative perceptions of the safety of the program and do not consider biking a suitable form of personal transportation.

GIS-based big data analysis is being used to develop and execute a novel justice-centered methodological framework. The analysis will use “intercept surveys” with occasional and membership riders as well as GPS tracking data from individual bike trips to better understand user demographics, attitudes toward bike share usage and actual bike share activities. “We’re learning a lot about ridership and implications for future expansion,” said Chavis. “Weekday spikes in the morning and afternoon suggest bikes are being used for commuting and ‘last mile’ connections to other forms of transit. On weekends, we are seeing significant bike share use near tourist areas and the waterfront. Further analysis will help us to identify locations in Baltimore where future phases of BBSP could offer improved access to underrepresented populations as well as educational opportunities to improve awareness about the benefits of the program.”

In addition to developing recommendations for expansion of the city’s bicycle infrastructure, the team expects to offer policy analysis evaluating the tradeoffs between station locations and public policy alternatives to improve the equity of BBSP. The results of the policy analysis will provide concrete recommendations to land use planners and decision-makers as they use the city’s limited financial resources to grow BBSP within a justice-related context.

“The results of this research will be useful to the City of Baltimore,” stated Barnes. “This type of interdisciplinary research can serve as a model for bringing engineering and policy together to serve communities and create equitable access to transportation infrastructure.”

For more information, contact Celeste Chavis at celeste.chavis@morgan.edu or Philip Barnes at pbarnes@udel.edu.

Faculty Spotlight: Ralph Buehler, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech

Travel Behavior: An Interdisciplinary and Cross-Cultural Approach to Developing Transport Policy

Ralph Buehler, PhD

Ralph Buehler has dedicated much of his academic career to understanding travel behavior and how it is shaped by the built environment, cultural attitudes and demographics. His research is cross-disciplinary, focusing on policy implications, safety and health outcomes particularly related to the influence of transport policy, land use and socio-demographics on travel behavior as well as supply, demand and regional coordination related to public transport.

These research efforts have generated significant contributions related to bicycle and pedestrian safety, promoting policy considerations around multimodal transportation infrastructure and its relationship to healthy lifestyles and financial efficiency. His 2017 editorial on cycling towards a more sustainable transport future, co-written with John Pucher, PhD, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Urban Planning at Rutgers University, opined that cycling is possibly the most sustainable urban transport mode. It causes virtually no environmental damage, promotes health through physical activity, and is economical in terms of infrastructure and cost to users.

Buehler recently collaborated with Jon Wergin, MURP, Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech, to explore the activities occurring between check-out and check-in of bikes in the Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) program in Washington, DC. Using data from GPS trackers placed on 94 CaBi bikes, the team identified differences in trip attributes between short-term users and monthly or annual CaBi members. With short-term riders primarily riding in parks and long-term bike share members relying more heavily on dedicated bicycle infrastructure and roadways with motorized traffic, the study made recommendations about potential locations for bicycle infrastructure improvements and new bike share stations.

Buehler’s MATS UTC-funded projects reflect his interest in developing sustainable transport practices. These interests led to his MATS UTC collaboration with his VT colleague, Steven Hankey, PhD, assistant professor in urban affairs and planning, Tianjun Lu, a PhD student at VT, and Andrew Mondschein, PhD, assistant professor in urban and environmental planning at the University of Virginia. Together, the team developed a proof-of-concept bicycle and pedestrian traffic count program as a tool to comprehensively monitor non-motorized traffic.

More recently, Buehler received 2017 MATS UTC funding to explore the potential impacts of automated and connected vehicle technology on walking and biking. In an automated environment, it is possible bikers and pedestrians will be safer due to improved braking technologies. However, safety may be reduced due to an over-reliance on automated technology by drivers, but also be pedestrians and cyclists. “If, for example, pedestrians and cyclists assume automated technologies will ‘automatically’ stop for them, then we may see increases in unsafe walking and cycling behaviors such as jay-walking or failing to use designated bike lanes,” said Buehler. Again working with Hankey and Mondschein, the team is using semi-structured interviews with various stakeholders to develop planning guidelines for walking and cycling as society transitions to an automated fleet.

“This latest MATS UTC project represents a significant and exciting shift,” explained Buehler. “Similar to predictive modeling, we’re trying to anticipate future behaviors and impacts. However, there is very little literature or empirical evidence related to the impacts of automated vehicles since their use is still in its infancy. If we can identify potential impacts, synergies and conflicts between automated and connected vehicles on non-motorized modes, then we can start to develop policy recommendations for improving safety and efficient use of roadway space and the built environment.”

Inspired by transport policy initiatives in Western Europe, Buehler also focuses significant attention on developing an international comparative perspective, studying walking, cycling and vehicle dependence primarily in Europe and North America. “By contrasting transport initiatives among different cities and different countries, we can learn valuable policy lessons to inform transportation priorities in the United States,” Buehler explained.

Buehler is the author or co-author of over 45 refereed articles in academic journals, the book City Cycling (MIT Press), as well as reports to federal and local governments, NGOs, and for-profit industry organizations.  He currently serves as Chair of the TRB committee on Bicycle Transportation and is a Faculty Fellow with the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech’s Alexandria Center.

He received his PhD in Planning and Public Policy from Rutgers University. His PhD dissertation was honored with the Barclay Gibbs Jones Award for Best Dissertation in Planning 2008. Buehler may be contacted at ralphbu@vt.edu.

 

Select publications:

Buehler, R. and J. Pucher. 2017. “Have Walking and Cycling Become Safer? Recent Evidence from High-Income Countries, with a Focus on the United States and Germany,” American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 107, No. 2, pp. 281–287.

Buehler, R., J. Pucher and A. Altshuler. 2017. “Vienna’s Path to Sustainable Transport,“ International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, Vol. 11, No. 4, 257-271.

Buehler, R., J. Pucher, R. Gerike and T. Goetschi. 2017. “Reducing car dependence in the heart of Europe: Lessons from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland,” Transport Reviews, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp 4-28.

Buehler, R., W. Jung and A. Hamre. 2015. “Planning for Sustainable Transport in Germany and the U.S.: A comparison of the Washington, DC and Stuttgart Regions,” International Planning Studies, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp.292-312.

Hankey, S.,  T.Lu, A. Mondschein and R. Buehler. 2017. “Spatial Models of Active Travel in Small Communities: Merging the Goals of Traffic Monitoring and Direct-Demand Modeling,” Journal of Transport and Health, Vol. 7, Part B, pp. 149-159.

Wergin, J. and R. Buehler. Accepted for publication. “Where do Bikeshare Bikes Actually Go? An Analysis of Capital Bikeshare Trips Using GPS Data.” Transportation Research Record.

 

 

Preserving Coastal Infrastructure through the Design and Implementation of Image-Based Structural Health Monitoring (iSHM)

 

 

 

 

 

Camera configuration a) diagram of optical setup and b) field of view, speckle pattern and subsets

It is estimated the average age of bridges in the U.S. is approaching 45 years, suggesting many of these structures may be in a state of disrepair and perhaps even reaching the end of their functional lives. In addition to age-related deterioration, these structures are exposed to weather and environmental hazards, further affecting their longevity.  Take, for example, high-profile infrastructure systems in the Hampton Roads region in Virginia. The Hampton Road Bridge Tunnel and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge are vulnerable to extreme weather events such as hurricanes, sea level rise, exposure to salting during snowstorms and underside exposure to saltwater spray. These environmental hazards cause corrosion and eventually cracking which impact the long-term performance of the structures.

To assess infrastructure for maintenance and repair, structural health monitoring (SHM) is an assessment strategy undertaken to determine the location, severity, and progression of damage. SHM is actually not used frequently and is primarily deployed on high-profile structural systems. Devin Harris, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Virginia, is tackling the problem with a fresh approach.

Harris believes image-based structural health monitoring (iSHM) can be a powerful tool for assessing condition and structural behavior, leveraging vision-based sensing techniques for describing the operational behavior of structural systems. With MATS-UTC funding, he is evaluating the laboratory performance of the iSHM concept. Using standard structural shapes under variable boundary conditions, Harris subjects a representative steel beam to a series of loading configurations, simulating real-world stresses on the structure, with measurements captured using high-resolution cameras. As the beam deforms under the various loads, the contrasting pattern painted on the beam also deforms proportionally. During testing, the cameras capture images of the behavior of the beam as it strains, rotates, deflects or deforms, which are then translated into full-field measurements of these phenomena using a technique called digital image correlation (DIC). These measurement results are then used in a structural identification scheme to update uncertainties in a finite element model of the structural system, which in turn can provide a mechanism to describe structural response and performance under different scenarios.

Preliminary results are promising. The vision-based sensing approach demonstrates real potential for deployment in the field with easy application of painted patterns on existing structures and eventual remote placement of weather-resistant cameras.  Harris envisions that the technology could eventually be used for load testing for bridges all over the country. Next steps include further laboratory studies to refine the approach, extensions to field evaluation of existing structures, and finally the development of smart cameras that are easy to use by DOTs, enabling reliable data collection and analysis and providing a cost effective way to approach health monitoring in the field.

Harris may be contacted at dharris@virginia.edu.

Student Spotlight: Seyedehsan (Ehsan) Dadvar, Morgan State University

Sustainability and Safety Considerations in Evolving Transportation Environments

Seyedehsan Dadvar

As a PhD candidate, Seyedehsan (Ehsan) Dadvar has spent his academic career studying road safety and its relationship to the ever-evolving environment related to connected, autonomous and electric vehicles, traffic simulation and freight logistics. He has become increasingly interested in the social and economic impacts of connected vehicle technologies and consumer behaviors related to these technologies.

Working with his co-advisors, Young-Jae Lee, PhD in the Department of Transportation and Urban Infrastructure Studies at MSU, and Hyeon-Shic Shin, PhD in the City and Regional Planning Program of the School of Architecture and Planning at MSU, Dadvar has contributed to a number of research projects. He is Co-Principal Investigator on an analysis of bicycle and pedestrian crash causes and interventions funded by DDOT. He has studied next generation volume reduction green infrastructure stormwater control measures (Philadelphia’s Green City Clean Waters Initiative) funded by the EPA. Recently, Dadvar and his fellow researchers completed a study funded by the CVI-UTC on applications of connected vehicle infrastructure technologies to enhance transit service efficiency and safety.

MATS UTC provided Dadvar with the opportunity to collaborate with researchers at Marshall University and Virginia Tech on the MATS UTC-funded research project, “Environmental and Safety Attributes of Electric Vehicle Ownership and Commuting Behavior.” The researchers studied attitudes toward electric vehicle (EV) use as well as the differences in commuting behavior between EV and conventional vehicle owners. The results have public policy and transportation planning implications related to EV promotion and subsidies, infrastructure related to charging stations and statewide traffic models. This work was presented at the 1st and 2nd MATS UTC Annual Meetings at the University of Delaware in 2015 and at a poster session at the University of Virginia in 2016. The final report may be viewed at http://www.matsutc.org/mode-choice-between-electric-vehicles-and-rail-transit-for-commute-trips/.

“Ehsan Dadvar has been one of the most conscientious graduate research assistants with whom we’ve had the pleasure of working,” stated Dr. Andrew Farkas, PhD, Director of the Urban Mobility and Equity Center at MSU. “His insights, analytical skills and attention to detail ensure that final technical reports, presentations, and publications we’ve co-authored over the past three years have been so highly valued.”

Dadvar is working on the final stages of his dissertation titled “Improving Crash Predictability of the Highway Safety Manual through Alternate Local Calibration Process.” The aim is to improve current procedure with a more robust approach to account for attributes of roadway segments or intersections at disaggregate level. Preliminary results were presented as a poster at the Transportation Research Board 95th Annual Meeting in 2016.

Upon graduating next spring, Dadvar hopes to pursue a post-doctoral fellowship to continue these research interests. “As the market for connected and autonomous vehicles grows, there is a critical need for a better understanding of the safety environment in which these vehicles will operate,” explained Dadvar. “As engineers, we must anticipate the evolution of various modes of transportation and be prepared to address related safety concerns. But this is more than an engineering problem. It’s having the foresight to understand their interconnectedness and impact on quality of life within an urban planning context.”

In addition to publishing in the ASCE Journal of Transportation Engineering, the Transportation Research Record: Journal of the TRB, and the Journal of Transportation Security, he has presented posters and other presentations across the country, including at the 92nd – 96th Annual Meetings of the TRB, the 2015 ITE Mid-Colonial District Annual Conference, the FHWA Highway Institute, and the 2nd International Conference on Sustainable Cities, Urban Sustainability and Transportation.

He is a member of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), including serving as the MSU Chapter President (2013-14), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), the American Statistical Association (ASA), and the Iranian Construction Engineers Organization (ICEO). He has served as a “friend” to the Transportation Research Board on its Standing Committee on Highway Safety Performance, the Standing Committee on Safety Data, Analysis and Evaluation, the Standing Committee on Pedestrians and Bicycle Transportation.

Dadvar will receive his PhD in Transportation from Morgan State University next spring. He has an MSc in Transportation Engineering from IAU – South Tehran Branch and a BSc in Civil Engineering from IAU – Gorgan, Iran.

He may be contacted at Seyedehsan.Dadvar@morgan.edu.

Faculty Spotlight: Paul Imhoff, PhD, University of Delaware

Environmental Implications of Fluid Flow and Contaminants
on Roadway Soils and Waterways

Paul Imhoff, PhD

Earlier this year, MATS UTC announced eight collaborative research awards selected from 28 submissions, each a strong example of the consortium’s commitment to accelerating the adoption of sustainable transportation practices. Paul Imhoff, PhD, Professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Delaware (UDel), along with his colleagues, Pei Chiu, PhD at UDel, and Teresa Culver, PhD at the University of Virginia (UVA), received one of the awards to continue their work to improve stormwater treatment technologies.

Stormwater from roadways, other impervious surfaces in urban regions, and agricultural operations is a major contributor to deteriorating water quality in many watersheds such as the Chesapeake Bay. Nutrients, such as nitrogen, are the leading cause of impaired water quality in the U.S. and worldwide.  Current stormwater treatment technologies, such as bioretention ponds, do not always treat nutrients sufficiently and may require sizable real estate to achieve the necessary removal.

The team’s 2017 MATS UTC-funded project, “Removing Nitrate from Stormwater with Biochar Amendment to Roadway Soils, builds upon their earlier work using biochar, a ‘green charcoal’ produced from agricultural residues or renewable biomass such as wood chips, grass clippings or poultry waste, to remove or transform nitrate. Supported by the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund (CBSF) and the Delaware Department of Transportation, this previous work found that amending the top 30 cm of a 2-m wide side slope to a well-traveled state highway with biochar resulted in a reduction of the stormwater runoff volume by 67% on average over 36 storm events. In addition, nitrate concentrations, the most difficult to remove form of nitrogen, were reduced by approximately 50% in some of the limited storms sampled.

The team is now focused on using the same field site to simultaneously sample stormwater flowing over and through biochar-amended soils to quantify its ability to reduce nitrate concentrations in both flow paths. In addition, the researchers will determine the necessary residence time for nitrate-laden stormwater in biochar-amended media for nitrate removal, and confirm that biochar provides electrons to mixed bacterial cultures in soil to convert nitrate into innocuous nitrogen gas. Results are expected to provide a path forward for full-scale evaluation, design, and implementation of this novel and sustainable technology – biochar amendment of existing roadway soils.

Imhoff has spent much of his academic career contributing to our understanding of the transport of fluids and contaminants in multiphase systems, mass transfer processes in soil and groundwater and more recently green stormwater treatment. These interests have global implications. Currently working with the Gates Foundation, Imhoff is developing above-ground toilets for urban communities in India lacking sufficient resources and space to install septic systems. “We’re working with manmade membranes to leverage the flow and reaction of fluid around solid matter,” explained Imhoff. The study is still underway but Imhoff has high hopes for the humanitarian and environmental implications of the project on the welfare of these communities.

Additional research interests include addressing spills from fracking fluids that infiltrate surrounding soil, and developing methods to quantify and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from landfills.

In addition to his research pursuits, Imhoff teaches courses in environmental engineering at UDel. Reflecting his commitment to sustainable landfilling and protection of our soil and water, his classes generally focus on recycling and solid waste management, groundwater flow and pollutant transport, and modeling environmental systems.

Near the start of his career, Imhoff received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award. He has since received a number of honors and awards, including the 2005 Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, the 2011 ASCE Outstanding Reviewer Award from the Journal of Environmental Engineering, and the 2016 Top Reviewer Award from Waste Management.

Imhoff received a BS from the University of Cincinnati, an MS from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and his MA and PhD from Princeton University.

Imhoff may be contacted at imhoff@udel.edu.

Combatting Congestion: Strategies to Reduce Emissions, Address Safety and Improve Driver Morale

For those of us who drive in the Mid-Atlantic region, it will not be surprising to learn that Washington, DC ranks third, behind New York and Los Angeles, for overall traffic congestion. Worse, the stretch of southbound Interstate 95 from the Fairfax County Parkway to Fredericksburg has the dubious honor of being the single worst traffic hotspot in the country compared to 100,000 hotspots in 25 cities. The INRIX US Traffic Hotspot Study 2017 found 1,394 traffic jams on this stretch during a two-month period, resulting in average delays of 33 minutes and covering over six miles.

Massive construction projects are often undertaken to address this kind of congestion. The recently completed Elizabeth River Tunnels Project is a billion dollar public-private partnership intended to alleviate congestion in the Hampton Roads area in Virginia. The comprehensive agreement between Elizabeth River Crossing (ERC) OpCo LLC and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) encompasses the rehabilitation of two existing tunnels and the construction of a new tunnel and an expressway. By relieving choke points and improving traffic movement, the project is expected to reduce average round trip savings by 30 minutes per day, reduce gas emissions and fuel consumption, and create regional economic benefits estimated at $170 to $254 million.

The Maryland Department of Transportation is in the midst of a modern light rail project, the Purple Line, to run 16.2 miles between Bethesda in Montgomery County and New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. With conceptual and preliminary planning started in 2009 and actual construction begun in 2016, the project is scheduled for completion in 2022, including one tunnel, a number of trails and 21 stations. The light rail electrically-powered vehicles will use existing roadways and pedestrian-friendly neighborhood stations. Projections suggest daily ridership will reach 74,000 by 2040 and that 17,000 cars will be taken off roads every day, saving 1 million gallons of gas annually.

The willingness of governments and transportation agencies to undertake these complex and expensive infrastructure projects is indicative of the congestion ‘crisis’ experienced by millions and the policy dilemmas faced by public funders trying to address the issues.

The federal government acknowledges the urgency of addressing these long-term transportation challenges, passing the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in 2015. Appropriating billions of dollars for highway improvements, the Act challenges state and local governments to move forward with critical transportation projects, recognizing the ripple effect of congestion on freight movement, infrastructure degradation, environmental impacts, pedestrian and traffic safety, adoption of smart technologies and economic development.

Beyond incurring tremendous expenses to build wider highways, new tunnels and bridges, and extensive mass transit systems, are there other less-costly and environmentally sustainable approaches to alleviate traffic congestion?

Researchers in the Mid-Atlantic region are already tackling these issues, investigating congestion through multiple strategies such as infrastructure investment, public transportation, connected and automatic vehicles and land use management. With MATS UTC funding, they are pursuing collaborative, multi-disciplinary, creative approaches to study and relieve congestion. Examples include:

Quantifying the Impact of On-Street Parking Information on Congestion Mitigation

A team of researchers from Virginia Tech and Morgan State University is seeking to reduce congestion by providing drivers with real-time information about available parking spaces. Using a Morgan State University simulation of Washington, DC’s Chinatown with 1300 metered spaces and 30 loading zones as well as Virginia Tech’s smart road, the team is studying how the availability of parking information impacts driving behavior.

LiDAR for Air Quality Measurement

Using state-of-the-art light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology at Old Dominion University, researchers are taking an innovative approach to addressing air quality and pollution levels in relation to traffic patterns at specific congested choke points in the Hampton Roads area. They hope to validate this new approach as a way to correlate traffic flow with emissions, giving public health and policy agencies better information upon which to make traffic management and land usage decisions.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Traffic Count Program to Estimate Performance Measures on Streets and Sidewalks in Blacksburg, VA

University of Virginia and Virginia Tech researchers developed a bicycle and pedestrian traffic count program as a tool to understand the impact of pedestrians and bikes on the entire transportation network as well as on specific trails and corridors. They hope to develop a non-motorized land use model on a national scale.

Connected Vehicle Technologies for Efficient Urban Transportation

Researchers at the University of Delaware and Morgan State University are interested in using connected vehicle technology to optimize a vehicle’s control system in real-time to reduce congestion, improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. Using hybrid buses operating at the University of Delaware, the team is studying how intelligently integrated components can respond to both routine and atypical traffic situations, resulting in optimized traffic control and vehicle fuel economy.

Multi-City Direct-Demand Models of Peak Period Bicycle and Pedestrian Traffic

Virginia Tech researchers are studying the shift to non-motorized modes, such as cycling and walking, as commuters and other travellers adopt alternative options to congested roadways. Their research seeks to provide better spatial estimates of walking and cycling traffic as an input to assess exposure to hazards, evaluate infrastructure investments, or locate facilities. Their direct-demand models are intended to provide generalizable results related to the built environment around non-motorized traffic.

Environmental and Safety Attributes of Electric Vehicle Ownership and Commuting Behavior

Researchers at Morgan State University are studying attitudes toward electric vehicle (EV) use as well as the differences in commuting behavior between EV and conventional vehicle owners. The results may dictate new approaches for making public policy and transportation planning decisions related to EV promotion and subsidies, infrastructure related to charging stations and statewide traffic models.

Performance Measures for Freight Transport and General Traffic: Investigating Similarities and Differences Using Alternative Data Sources

Researchers at Old Dominion University are using three probe data sources to investigate the correlation between freight and general traffic travel times in the Hampton roads area. Such research can help to determine if a congestion relief program for a given bottleneck could benefit both freight and general-use traffic and, ultimately, provide DOTs with tools to ensure efficient movement of freight along heavily-used highway systems.

Traffic congestion, whether it occurs in major metropolitan areas or even in smaller cities, suburban areas or rural settings, has a negative effect on quality of life, environmental impacts, economic prosperity, and regional competitiveness. Research efforts that examine forward-thinking transportation strategies represent the next wave of fighting congestion with practical, cost-effective solutions.