In an effort to combat congestion in our country’s urban areas, the United States Department of Transportation launched the Urban Partnership Agreement (UPA) program in 2007. The program infused nearly $900 million into transportation-related projects in four cities nationwide, including the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Minnesota’s projects—which include the installation of MnPASS dynamic toll lanes and variable message signs—focused on improving traffic flow in the I-35W corridor between Minneapolis and the city’s southern suburbs.
To understand the effectiveness of measures implemented under the UPA program, a team of University of Minnesota researchers examined three separate but related areas: the effects of a new variable speed limit (VSL) system, the impact of severe weather conditions on road safety, and the behavior and traffic impacts of bus rapid transit operations. Their work was funded by the Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute, a part of CTS.
Key findings included:
Drivers don’t typically comply with advisory speed limits posted on VSL signs along the I-35W corridor during congested conditions, but they may use them to help gauge and prepare for downstream congestion—resulting in a smoother and possibly safer traffic flow
Some parts of the corridor’s shoulder lanes—which are opened to traffic during specific times of the day as part of the UPA program—contain low areas that can flood during heavy rains
Buses traveling on the corridor underuse the MnPASS lane. In addition, bus lane changes (from stations located in the median to those located on the right side of the highway) can generate visible disturbances during moderate and heavy congestion, but they don’t seem to contribute to the breakdown of traffic flow
This fall, CTS will offer five research seminars on transportation topics ranging from resilient communities to asphalt at low temperatures.
Seminars will be held every Thursday from September 26 through October 31 (except Oct. 17) on the U of M campus in Minneapolis. You can either attend in person or watch the live webcast of each seminar. Additional information is available on the CTS website.
A new research study is recommending ways to make it easier for developers and employers to select sites that encourage living-wage jobs and mixed-income housing near transit.
A key finding of the study, which was based on interviews with developers and business leaders, revealed a pent-up demand for transit access in the Twin Cities metropolitan region.
A team led by University of Minnesota researchers Yingling Fan and Andrew Guthrie found that providing a great work location is critical for employers in recruiting highly skilled young professionals who are likely to desire—or demand—urban living and access to transit.
They also found that multifamily residential developers, redevelopment specialists, and large corporate office tenants have a strong interest in transit-accessible sites, but regulatory barriers, cost issues, and uncertainty surrounding future development of transit often discourage both developers and businesses from selecting such sites.
In 2010, MnDOT began a three-year long, $67 million repair and upgrade project on I-35 in Duluth. Dubbed the “Mega Project,” it created a serious disruption for Duluth-area commuters. To help mitigate the impact, the Duluth Transit Authority stepped up its bus services, offering free rides in newly established bus-only express lanes as well as access to new park-and-ride lots and various other enticements. Perhaps not surprisingly, many area residents took advantage of their new transit options to avoid construction-related travel delays. But what’s really interesting is what happened after the construction ended.
As described in a recently published MnDOT/University of Minnesota study, commuters who started taking the bus to avoid traffic caused by the construction ended up continuing to ride the bus even after the construction ended. Researchers surveyed riders during and after the 2010 and 2011 construction seasons and found that, even after bus fares went back to normal levels, only 15 percent of the new bus users switched back to driving. Researchers concluded that once riders developed a habit of using transit, the habit tended to stick.
The report author sums up the phenomenon quite nicely in her executive summary:
Human beings are creatures of habit. Most of us travel the same route every day to the same destination. Sometimes, however, something comes along to push us to examine our habits and possibly change them. A major highway construction project can be such an event. (…) This provides a very good opportunity to examine our travel patterns and possibly change our habitual modes.
Of course, this change didn’t just happen on its own. As the technical summary notes, the DTA marketed its services aggressively during this period. (The above photo is just one example.) The study also noted that the elimination of expanded bus services in the winter had a negative impact on ridership.
Following up on Nick’s post last week about transportation practitioners’ preferences for short research summaries, the Center for Transportation Studies recently published a two-page research brief highlighting results from a University of Minnesota study that explores the ridership and pedestrian impacts of the Hiawatha Line in the Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan region. The study compares the travel behavior of residents in the LRT corridor to those in similar corridors without LRT but with comparable bus service. It investigates the reasons why residents choose to live in the LRT corridor, the associations between transit use and residency in the LRT corridor, and the effects of LRT and the built environment on pedestrian travel.
The findings include:
Residents who lived in the Hiawatha Corridor when the light-rail transit (LRT) line opened increased their transit use substantially—a clear ridership bonus from LRT.
Residents who moved into the corridor after the LRT line opened use transit as often as new residents in similar urban neighborhoods without LRT.
When looking for a place to live, good transit service and job accessibility are important factors for both urban and suburban residents—ranked behind only housing affordability and neighborhood safety.
Residents choose to live near Hiawatha LRT stations because of their strong preference for transit access and quality.
To encourage transit use among station-area residents, the researchers recommend the following:
Consider development potential when planning LRT routes and design a vibrant place rather than a traffic node to ensure a mix of activities and users.
Create pedestrian-friendly connections between residential neighborhoods and rail stations.
The research was conducted by Assistant Professor Xinyu (Jason) Cao and research assistant Jessica Schoner of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and funded by the Transitway Impacts Research Program (TIRP).
Intersections between trails and roadways can be dangerous places for bicyclists and pedestrians. Next week, MnDOT Research Services is offering a free webinar on a forthcoming manual designed to help make trail crossings safer.
On Tuesday, July 9, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (CDT), University of Wisconsin—Madison Professor David Noyce will be conducting a workshop on his forthcoming handbook, “Decision Tree for Identifying Alternative Trail Crossing Treatments.” The project, funded by MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board, aims to identify current engineering state-of-the-practice for trail crossings and provide guidance as to appropriate crossing designs and vehicular and bicycle right-of-way hierarchies.
You can click on the link below at the specified date and time to watch the webinar. No registration is required.
One of Metro Transit’s new advanced “super hybrid” buses—built in Minnesota and billed as the cleanest, most efficient diesel-electric hybrid buses in the United States—garnered national attention at the American Public Transportation Association’s Bus and Paratransit Conference May 5–8 in Indianapolis.
Unique because of its all-electric accessory systems, the bus was featured at the event so that transit professionals from across the country could experience this new hybrid technology firsthand, says Chuck Wurzinger, assistant director of bus maintenance at Metro Transit. The bus is one of two advanced hybrids built for Metro Transit in 2012. They currently operate on local routes with frequent stops in downtown Minneapolis and its surrounding communities.
The decision to purchase the new hybrids was greatly influenced by the results of a University of Minnesota study aimed at improving fuel economy in diesel-electric hybrid buses, Wurzinger says. The “Superbus” study, led by mechanical engineering (ME) professor David Kittelson, included an energy audit of major accessory systems on a standard hybrid bus. The study was funded by Metro Transit, CTS, and the U of M’s Institute for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE).
Study findings indicated that up to half of the fuel consumed by hybrid buses is used to power accessory systems. According to the research team, powering these systems electrically could significantly improve fuel efficiency.
The new advanced hybrids do just that, using all-electric systems to power the heating, air conditioning, engine fans, power steering, and air compressor. These components improve fuel economy, reduce emissions, and allow the buses to be operated in electric-only mode for short periods.
One of the buses also has start/stop capabilities, which allow the engine to shut down at bus stops and traffic lights. “This reduces engine idle time while maintaining all other bus functions, including passenger comfort and safety features,” Wurzinger says.
Although the buses have been in service for only a short time, they are already showing promising increases in fuel economy, Wurzinger says. “We have also operated them consistently on electric power inside the bus garage, which helps keep the air clean in the building. This reduces the amount of ventilation required in cold weather, which means less energy is used to heat the building.”
Along with a standard hybrid bus and a conventional diesel transit bus, one of the advanced hybrids will be monitored and evaluated in a new study conducted by U of M researchers in collaboration with Metro Transit. The multidisciplinary research team includes Kittelson, ME associate professor Will Northrop, ME research associate Winthrop Watts, and applied economics associate professor Steven Taff.
As part of the study, funded by IREE, the team will collect real-world, on-the-road data from the three buses in all seasons on a variety of route types. The researchers then plan to compare the efficiency and emissions of the buses and make recommendations to Metro Transit about which configuration is the best for a given application. Data collected from the study will also allow Metro Transit to work with bus manufacturers to optimize bus performance.
“We believe the results will be useful in writing bus technical specifications and also in determining if a certain type of bus is best suited to a certain type of bus route,” Wurzinger says.
Ultimately, this information could be used to determine which buses to assign to which routes as well as which type of bus to purchase given fleet replacement or expansion requirements.
If you weren’t able to attend the CTS Research Conference, or, if you simply want to check out presentations from other sessions, the videos of the keynote and luncheon speeches, as well as PPTs from most of the concurrent sessions, are now available on the CTS website. You won’t want to miss Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Ehlinger’s tuneful take on the links between health and transportation and Elizabeth Deakin’s view of new ways to get around.
Weigh-in-motion (WIM) systems consist of sensors placed in road pavements to measure the weight of vehicles passing over them, along with other data such as speed, axle load and spacing, and vehicle type. This data is used to enforce weight limits on trucks and is also useful in a wide range of other applications, such as pavement design and traffic analysis.
However, constructing and maintaining permanent roadside WIM stations is expensive, so these systems are installed primarily on roadways with heavy traffic, such as interstate and trunk highways, and rarely used for rural local roads. Meanwhile, heavy truck volumes on local roads are increasing, significantly shortening their lives. A less costly, portable WIM system is needed for such roads so that collected data can be used to better design these roads to accommodate heavy truck traffic.
One solution for bringing WIM technology to local roads is to implement a portable, reusable system similar to pneumatic tube counters used to conduct traffic counts. With funding and technical assistance from MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board, Professor Taek Kwon of the University of Minnesota—Duluth has developed a prototype system that has already proven to be nearly as accurate as the more expensive, permanent systems. MnDOT Research Services staff drove up to MnROAD this week to observe a live demonstration of the technology, and made this short video.
The research being conducted here is part of an implementation project based on Kwon’s original study, the results of which can be found in this research report and its accompanying two-page technical summary from MnDOT Research Services.
In a continuing effort to better understand nonmotorized traffic patterns in Minnesota, researchers from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs have partnered with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to develop guidelines and analyze information collected in bicycle and pedestrian traffic counts throughout the state.
The research team, led by Professor Greg Lindsey, aims to develop consistent methods for monitoring and assessing bicycle and pedestrian traffic that can be used in both permanent, automated traffic counts and short-term manual counts. The goal is to provide evidence for decision making that Minnesota cities have historically lacked, Lindsey says. “We’ll have practical, useful information about bike and pedestrian traffic that can help local jurisdictions as they plan and invest in infrastructure,” he says.
As part of the 18-month project, the research team created a set of tools and methods for short-duration manual counts of nonmotorized traffic, held training workshops, and organized a statewide counting effort involving 43 Minnesota municipalities last fall. The overall response was positive, Lindsey says, and some communities are already using their collected data to submit grant proposals for projects related to nonmotorized traffic.
In addition, Lindsey and his team have examined traffic information from six permanent counters on Minneapolis trails. The continuous counts collected at these locations help the researchers understand traffic patterns and the factors that affect them, Lindsey says. For example, the team found that bike and pedestrian traffic vary by trail type, time of day, day of week, and season.
“Once we know the patterns at permanent sites, we can develop factors that help us expand short-term counts from other locations with similar conditions,” Lindsey says. The factors could be used to estimate anything from total daily traffic to annual traffic, as long as the short-term count location is similar to an existing model.
Based on the overall results of the study, the research team developed recommendations for MnDOT. These include continuing to coordinate statewide short-term field counts, demonstrating the feasibility of automated counting technologies, and beginning to integrate nonmotorized and vehicular traffic databases.
Based on these recommendations, MnDOT is moving forward with a new project that will collect more short- and long-duration counts throughout Minnesota, says Lisa Austin, ABC Ramps coordinator at MnDOT. The next phase of work aims to collect counts for pedestrians on sidewalks, bicyclists on shoulders and in bike lanes, and pedestrians and bicyclists on multiuse trails. MnDOT plans to install more permanent, automated counters in suburban and midsize cities and to conduct additional manual counts in smaller cities around the state, Austin says.
“We’re really excited that this bike and pedestrian counting project is moving into wider implementation,” Austin says. “This next phase will help us see which automated counting technologies work well and make recommendations for moving forward on a broader scale.”