All posts by Christine Anderson

Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Minnesota’s Traffic and Transit Networks

The five CTS councils are holding this special webinar to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting traffic and transit networks in Minnesota. The webinar will feature representatives from Minnesota transportation agencies sharing what they’re seeing in the Twin Cities metro and statewide, presentations from University of Minnesota researchers, and time for an audience Q&A.

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Get Lots of Sleep—But Not Behind The Wheel

This article was originally published in Catalyst, May 2020.

Many of us would never drive after drinking, but we’re not as hesitant about getting behind the wheel after being awake for too long or not getting enough sleep. It turns out that can be just as dangerous as driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

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Shared Autonomous Vehicles: Dispatch Model Optimizes Service

This article was originally published in Catalyst, May 2020.

Waymo and Uber have started trials of shared autonomous vehicle (SAV) service in several US cities. Without the expense of drivers, autonomous service could one day make the cost of a ride so low that people choose SAVs for their daily transportation needs instead of owning a vehicle.

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Redesigned iron-enhanced ditch checks could help filter pollutants from stormwater runoff

This article was originally published in Catalyst, April 2020.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is exploring innovative ways to filter pollutants from stormwater runoff and meet permit requirements for construction projects. In a recent study, U of M researchers documented the performance of an iron-enhanced ditch check filter to remove phosphates from stormwater. They found that the filter was effective, though its performance decreased over time.

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Regional effort tests turfgrass performance in cold climate states

This article was originally published in Catalyst, April 2020.

Vibrant green grass along roadways is a common sight across urban and rural landscapes in Minnesota and many other states, but its survival is a significant challenge—especially in cold climates. Roadway salt and other stressors can cause turfgrass installations to fail, requiring expensive reseeding or sodding efforts.

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Study recommends strategies for reducing transportation disparities

Transportation contributes to many broad societal outcomes, such as employment, wealth, and health. Some Minnesotans, however, are underserved by current systems and face disparities and barriers in reaching their destinations. According to new research from the U of M, efforts to improve transportation equity need to focus on societal inequities—such as racial segregation and auto dependency—as well as the transportation barriers that affect specific communities and population groups.

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Smartphone prototype app warns drivers of high-risk curves

Lane-departure crashes on curves make up a significant portion of fatal crashes on rural Minnesota roads. To improve safety, solutions are needed to help drivers identify upcoming curves and inform them of a safe speed for navigating the curve.

“Traditionally there are two ways to do this: with either static signage or with dynamic warning signs,” says Brian Davis, a research fellow in the U of M’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “However, while signing curves can help, static signage is often disregarded by drivers, and it is not required for roads with low average daily traffic. Dynamic speed signs are very costly, which can be difficult to justify, especially for rural roads with low traffic volumes.”

In a recent project led by Davis on behalf of MnDOT and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board, researchers developed a method of achieving dynamic curve warnings while avoiding costly infrastructure-based solutions. To do so, they used in-vehicle technology to display dynamic curve-speed warnings to the driver based on the driver’s real-time behavior and position relative to the curve. The system uses a smartphone app located in the vehicle to provide the driver with visual and auditory warnings when approaching a potentially hazardous curve at an unsafe speed.

“Highway curves [make up] 19 percent of the total mileage of the paved St. Louis County highway system, yet these curves account for 47 percent of all severe road departure crashes,” says Victor Lund, traffic engineer with St. Louis County. “In-vehicle warnings will be a critical strategy to reduce these crashes.”

To begin their study, researchers designed and tested prototype visual and auditory warning designs to ensure they were non-distracting and effective. This portion of the study included decisions about the best way to visually display the warnings and how and when audio messages should be used. “To create the optimal user experience, we looked at everything from how to order the audio information and when the message should play to the best length for the warning message,” says Nichole Morris, director of the U’s HumanFIRST Lab and co-investigator of the study.

Next, a controlled field test was conducted to determine whether the system helped reduce curve speeds, pinpoint the best timing for the warnings in relation to the curves, and gather user feedback about the system’s usefulness and trustworthiness. The study was conducted with 24 drivers using the test track at the Minnesota Highway Safety and Research Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The selected course allowed drivers to get up to highway speeds and then travel through curves of different radii, enabling researchers to learn how sensitive drivers are to the position of the warnings.

Based on the study results, the system shows both feasibility and promise. “Our in-vehicle dynamic curve warning system was well-liked and trusted by the participants,” Davis says. “We saw an 8 to 10 percent decrease in curve speed when participants were using the system.”

The project was funded by MnDOT and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board.

New video traces progress of accessibility research

CTS has been celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with a look back at significant milestones. One of our goals for the anniversary was to show how research progresses over time to lead to new knowledge.

In February we shared videos that trace the path of progress in two of our key research areas: traffic operations and pavement design. Today, at our 28th Annual Transportation Research Conference, we debuted a video about another important research topic: accessibility metrics.

In the new video, Andrew Owen, the director of the U’s Accessibility Observatory, explains how accessibility looks at the end-to-end purpose of transportation: fulfilling people’s need to reach destinations. “The Observatory is pushing the envelope and staying ahead of research into what new types of metrics are possible,” he says.

The Observatory builds on tools and expertise developed in two previous University research studies: the Transportation and Regional Growth Study (1998–2003) and the Access to Destinations study (2004–2012).

Register for the annual CTS Research Conference

Join us at the 28th Annual CTS Research Conference to hear about new learning, emerging ideas, and the latest innovations in transportation. This year’s event is scheduled for November 2 at The Commons Hotel in Minneapolis.

Attendees will learn about research findings, implementation efforts, and engagement activities related to a variety of transportation topics. This year’s keynote presentations feature:

  • Joung Lee, policy director at AASHTO, on how we pay for transportation infrastructure
  • Joshua Schank, chief innovation officer at LA Metro, on policy innovation at his agency

To browse the full program or register for attend, visit the CTS website.