Category Archives: Education

Pilot Program Promotes Benefits of Snow Fences

A new program piloted in western Minnesota to increase snow fence use among private landowners has been so successful that MnDOT is looking at rolling it out statewide.

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Integrated Natural Resource and Agricultural Management worked with MnDOT District 8 staff for more than a year to develop and test a snow fence outreach program that could be used by MnDOT district offices.

“After our training, we saw a 300 percent increase in the number of standing corn rows, and that was on the initiative of a few people in the maintenance group. We’d like to spread the training to other districts,” said Dean Current, Director, University of Minnesota Center for Integrated Natural Resource and Agricultural Management.

Background

Living snow fences are natural vegetative barriers that trap blowing snow, piling it up before it reaches a road, waterway, farmstead or community. It could include leaving a few rows of corn or hay bales along the road side, or even temporary fencing.

MnDOT has about 3,700 sites that are suitable for snow fences. It estimates that if 40 percent of problematic sites had snow fences, the state could save $1.3 million per year in snow management costs. Despite the cost, safety and environmental benefits, private landowners have shown limited interest in the program. An effective outreach program was needed along with strategies for identifying MnDOT personnel who could promote the practice and recruit landowners to the program.

“If we can implement our blowing snow control program more consistently, we can help reduce crash severities, improve operational efficiencies due to snow and ice control measures, and improve the mobility of the public,” said Dan Gullickson, Snow Control Program Administrative Coordinator, MnDOT Office of Environmental Stewardship.

How Did We Do It?

In January 2016, investigators surveyed MnDOT District 8 employees to gauge their understanding of snow fences as well as their approach to working with landowners to implement blowing snow control measures. The investigators studied survey responses to assess awareness of and interest in promoting the use of snow fences and grading to reshape road environments for snow and erosion control. They also examined snow fence programs from around the country, identifying types of snow fences used and characteristics of programs that successfully recruit landowner participation.

A permanent snow fence along a rural highway.
A permanent snow fence along a rural highway.

Results from these efforts were used to design an outreach program that was presented to District 8 staff. In January 2017, investigators surveyed the staff to evaluate the training and redesign the program accordingly. Finally, investigators evaluated market values of various snow fence designs.

What Was the Impact?

Initial survey results identified two relevant types of district personnel: maintenance and program delivery staff. Maintenance staff involved in plowing and road care interact more with landowners than do program delivery staff, who design or redesign roadways and may be involved in acquiring land for snow fences. Though tailored for each group, all training described the MnDOT blowing snow control program and its implementation, the role of snow fence coordinators, operational benefits and awareness of how promotion of the program fits within the scope of an employee’s duties.

Keys to the success of snow fence programs around the country include strong relationships and direct communication with local landowners, funding, landowner interest in conservation and public safety, and observable benefits.

A follow-up survey showed marked improvement in staff knowledge of the program and willingness to promote it. Landowner participation grew from four sites to 15 in the year after training, due mostly to maintenance staff participation. Survey respondents suggested potential program improvements such as more program champions; outreach in spring and summer at community and farmer gatherings as well as at local and state fairs; and a clearer understanding of how program promotion fits within job responsibilities.

The market study demonstrated that nonliving snow fences, though the most expensive option for MnDOT, offer the largest benefit per acre. Landowners seem to prefer living snow fences and standing corn rows. MnDOT may wish to raise the annual payment for all living snow fences.

What’s Next?

Considerations for MnDOT include implementing the training program in other districts, further defining central and district staff roles in snow fence promotion and implementation, incentivizing snow fence champions, developing more outreach material and maintaining relationships with landowners.

A new project currently under way aims to further expand these efforts.

This post pertains to Report 2017-42, “Expanding the Adoption on Private Lands: Blowing-and-Drifting Snow Control Treatments and the Cost Effectiveness of Permanent versus Non-Permanent Treatment Options.” Related research can be found by searching “snow fences” under “Projects” at MnDOT.gov/research.

 

More Saint Paul drivers stopping for pedestrians, thanks to pilot study

A two-year research project underway in the City of St. Paul is already improving pedestrian safety and driver behavior by applying lessons learned from a national award-winning pedestrian traffic study. The city began using the practices last fall with the “Stop for Me” campaign, and driver yield rates have already gone up by 9 percent.

Background

Each year, dozens of Saint Paul pedestrians legally crossing the street are struck by vehicles driven by motorists who fail to stop. In 2015, 40 pedestrians died in Minnesota after being hit by a motor vehicle; 900 were injured. In 2017, there were 192 vehicle-pedestrian crashes in Saint Paul, three of which proved deadly.

Pedestrian fatalities and injuries represent a growing percentage of traffic fatalities and injuries nationwide. For example, pedestrian fatalities comprised 10.9% of all traffic deaths nationwide in 2004, but 14.5% in 2013.

A recent study supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration demonstrated that driver behavior can be changed on a city-wide basis. The introduction of highly-visible pedestrian right-of-way enforcement in Gainesville, Florida increased driver yield rates for pedestrians by 22% to 30%.

Objective

University of Minnesota researchers are charged with reviewing the City of St. Paul’s efforts to improve pedestrian safety and investigate whether a program similar to the one in Gainesville can change driver yielding for pedestrians and speed compliance. The activities in St. Paul are being planned together with city traffic engineers and enforcement officers and will include various educational, engineering and enforcement countermeasures and media campaigns.

Last fall, St. Paul began the “Stop for Me” campaign, which enforces pedestrian laws, increases driver and pedestrian education and works towards enhanced signage and other changes to crosswalks around the city.

A group of people holding signs with traffic safety messages
Stop For Me is a campaign to improve safety for people who use St. Paul’s sidewalks and cross its  streets.

On June 25, the St. Paul Police Department began the second phase of the campaign by ticketing drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.

Additionally, police officers are ticketing drivers for “endangerment” if they pass a vehicle that is stopped for a pedestrian at a crosswalk. This citation leads to a mandatory court appearance for the driver.

Weekly stopping percentages can be viewed at eight intersections across the city from now until the end of fall.

Watch for new developments on this project (expected end date of August 2019) here.  Another MnDOT study is looking at pedestrian traffic safety in rural and tribal communities. Other Minnesota research on pedestrian travel can be found at MnDOT.gov/research.

 

 

Internship program helps students build skills, make connections

While some interns spend their days making copies and coffee runs, Caitlin Johnson spent her summer internship working on a research project exploring ways to improve safety in work zones.

Johnson, a fifth-year civil engineering student, is one of eight undergrads from the University of Minnesota who participated in this year’s Summer Transportation Internship Program.

Interns worked at MnDOT for 10 weeks and gained valuable transportation-related experience in areas ranging from designing roadways to measuring pavement movement. The program, offered jointly by CTS and MnDOT, is now in its fourth year.

This year’s participants included the following students, working in these MnDOT offices:

  • Caitlin Johnson, Office of Traffic, Safety and Technology
  • Mamadou Mbengue, Office of Environmental Stewardship
  • Ellie Lee, Office of Design
  • Luke Horsager, Bridge & Hydraulics Office
  • Sheue Torng Lee, Materials & Pavement Office
  • Trenton Pray, Materials & Concrete Office
  • Colleen Tamara Maluda, Environmental & Vegetation Office
  • Lucas Karri, Bridge Office

Johnson says her internship at MnDOT gave her the opportunity to study a topic that hasn’t been explored in-depth in the past and present those findings to industry professionals, including staff from the Federal Highway Administration. Luke Horsager, a civil engineering senior, spent his internship with the Bridge & Hydraulics Office equipping MnDOT boats with new GPS and Bluetooth software used for river mapping and monitoring bridge scour. He says he enjoyed gaining hands-on experience with the technology.

Heidi Gray, a MnDOT Metro District designer who supervised intern Ellie Lee in the Office of Design, says the internship program is valuable not only for the students, but also for the supervisors and MnDOT as a whole. While the interns gained important hands-on work experience and made valuable professional connections, MnDOT supervisors were introduced to talented young professionals.

“It’s really good to get young people in here and teach them what MnDOT is all about,” Gray says. “I personally have enjoyed the opportunity to teach and pass along what I know. It’s a good refresher.”

Application materials for the 2016 Summer Transportation Internship Program will be available on the CTS website in early November.

For more information, read the full article in the September issue of Catalyst or visit the internship program web page.

Engaging the next generation of the transportation workforce

In July, CTS introduced the next generation of the workforce to transportation topics and careers during a two-week summer program. Thirty students entering seventh through ninth grade attended the CTS-hosted National Summer Transportation Institute, where they got hands-on experience with topics ranging from distracted driving to aeronautics to traffic management.

As part of the program, attendees toured campus, visited the U of M’s transportation-related labs, and learned tips on researching, studying, public speaking, and writing. In addition, participants learned about many aspects of transportation, including human factors, roadway safety, bridge design, surveying, and traffic simulation.

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The camp also included outings to several MnDOT facilities, UPS, Metro Transit, the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, the Minnesota Transportation Museum, and boat tours of the St. Croix River Crossing construction site and St. Paul Port Authority.

Highlights for attendees included riding the light rail and going behind the scenes in a Metro Transit control room, watching airplanes take off and exploring maintenance equipment at the airport, getting up close to bridge construction on the St. Croix River Crossing boat tour, and using a driving simulator to learn about distracted driving at UPS.

“I really enjoyed using the driving simulators,” said one of the ninth-grade program participants. “It was a hands-on experience that truly taught me the dangers of texting while driving and how much harder it really is.”

In post-program evaluations, parents reported that their children had learned valuable information about transportation topics, careers, and related education opportunities.

“This was one of the best camps we have ever experienced,” one parent said. “There was always a plan for college, and this program increased enthusiasm, preparedness, and maturity.”

“[The program] opened up my daughter’s horizon for future career choices and major focus areas after high school,” another parent said.

The program was sponsored by CTS with funding from the Federal Highway Administration administered by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

To learn more, read the full article in the August issue of Catalyst.