Tag Archives: Department of Transportation

Best practices for trail crossings – webinar and draft report

Last week, MnDOT Research Services hosted a workshop on a forthcoming report, “Decision Tree for Identifying Alternative Trail Crossing Treatments.” It was broadcast as a webinar, the recording of which is now available online via Adobe Connect:

http://mndot.adobeconnect.com/p8hlfripuwe/

The final report is coming soon, but in the meantime you can see the draft version on our website (link), along with case studies and other related documents.

Are energy-efficient streetlights cost-effective?

In 2010, the City of Minneapolis installed 55 energy-efficient streetlights from nine different manufacturers along 46th Street between 34th and 46th avenues. The project, part of Hennepin County’s Minnehaha-Hiawatha Community Works program, was designed to field test various models of light-emitting diode (LED) and induction lights. Over the course of two years, researchers observed, evaluated and compared the performance of various lighting products, detailing the results in a recently published report available on the MnDOT Research Services website.

In a broad sense, the results of the study would appear to confirm what has become common knowledge regarding energy-efficient technologies: while they cost  more up front, in the long run they have the potential to save money in the form of reduced energy and maintenance costs. The study also demonstrates that  energy-efficient streetlights are capable of producing adequate light output and are well-received by residents.

However, if the big question is whether energy-efficient streetlights can save local governments money, the answer  is somewhat complicated. The study found that both the levels of light ouput and the amount of time it takes to recoup costs varies significantly by product. Page 16 of the report (page 25 of the PDF) features a table comparing various products’ light output and estimated payback time. With one notable exception, the results show that products with the highest light output (i.e. the highest performers and therefore the most desirable) tend to also have the longest payback time. The amount of time it takes to generate a cost savings from energy-efficient streetlights can be as short as 2.6 years or as long as 24 years, depending on the product.

Some other interesting tidbits from the study:

  • Researchers observed operational cost savings of 50-75 percent, depending on the product.
  • Eighty percent of the savings came from reduced maintenance costs, while only 20 percent came from reduced energy costs.
  • In a survey of area residents, 76 percent responded positively to the new, energy-efficient lights.

The study demonstrated that energy-efficient streetlighting is a feasible option for local governments, with the caveat that agencies need to research lighting products thoroughly before making a choice as to which one to use. Ultimately, considering the ever-decreasing cost of LEDs, the use of energy-efficient streetlighting technologies is likely to grow.

Read more:

Free webinar July 9 on best practices for bicycle trail crossings

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.

http://mndot.adobeconnect.com/trailcrossing/

Bridging the gap between research and implementation

The end goal of transportation research, broadly speaking, is to see the results implemented — that is, to transfer the knowledge generated through research to those who can put it to good use. Research Services and the Center for Transportation Studies use a variety of tools to help disseminate research results: our respective websites, email lists, social media, newsletters and this blog, to name a few. But what do we know about how our audiences actually interact with these various channels of communication?

At the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting earlier this year, researchers from Nebraska presented the findings of a very interesting survey on how engineers and other transportation practitioners prefer to learn about research results. Their presentation, entitled “What Engineers Want: Identifying Transportation Professionals as an Audience for Research,” is available via Slideshare. (Unfortunately, WordPress won’t let me embed it.)

Some key takeaways from the survey:

  • Practitioners overwhelmingly prefer one- or two-page technical briefs to other types of research communication products. (Other popular formats include presentations, video highlights and webinars.)
  • By a wide margin, practitioners use search engines like Google or Bing to seek research results (compared to other options like contacting a colleague or university faculty).
  • Practitioners are mostly interested in information on how to implement findings, as well as cost-benefit analyses of implementation.

The survey results present what I think is a fairly realistic and nuanced picture of the audience for transportation research; they’re also consistent with our (Research Services) own internal research on the issue. The bottom line is that research results need to be condensed into usable bits of information and made easily accessible in a variety of formats. People want information they can use, without having to dig for it. More importantly, they want it in whatever their preferred format is, whether it be print, email, Web, RSS, social media or in-person presentations.

Interestingly, Research Services already produces the kind of two-page technical briefs described in the survey. We call them “technical summaries,” and they are among our most popular products. We generally produce a technical summary for each research project we manage, and post them on our website alongside the full research report. Reading a two-page summary, written in layman’s terms, is certainly easier than poring over research reports that oftentimes number in the hundreds of pages, so it’s not surprising that even those with a strong engineering background prefer the format.

As a side note, last Friday we published a batch of 10 new technical summaries — along with two new transportation research syntheses, which are a type of literature review. Topics range from pedestrian and bicycle safety in roundabout crossings to the effect of intelligent lane control systems on driver behavior. You can check the full list on the Research Services main page.

Now it’s your turn: What forms of communication do you think are most effective at reaching transportation practitioners? Which ones do you prefer? Let us know in the comments.

Permeable pavements could protect the environment, save taxpayer dollars

KSTP has a nice story today on the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s ongoing research into permeable pavements at the MnROAD research facility. (The video isn’t embeddable on WordPress, but you can find a direct link here.)

Permeable pavements (also known as “porous” or “pervious” pavements) are designed to allow water to pass through roadways and infiltrate directly into the underlying aggregate and soil. Their primary effect is to reduce stormwater runoff, which carries harmful materials from the road’s surface out into waterways. Of course, reducing runoff also mitigates the need for the kinds of costly drainage structures that are normally required to manage stormwater. Permeable pavements also reduce noise and mitigate the potential for hydroplaning, among other documented benefits.

These types of pavements are already used in some areas in Minnesota — mainly in parking lots and city streets — and MnDOT has been studying their potential use for full-depth roadway pavements. As the video indicates, so far the results have been encouraging. (You can read more about MnDOT’s ongoing research on the MnROAD website.)

As a side note, the amount of water these pavements can absorb is quite impressive. Last month, we posted a new Local Road Research Board video on stormwater management. In one scene, a public works crew dumps what appears to be several hundred gallons of water onto a permeable pavement and watch as it disappears almost instantaneously. (Watch the clip here.)

Here are the results of some recent permeable pavement studies here in Minnesota:

About those roundabouts

One of my unofficial duties as a MnDOT employee is to respond to a near-constant barrage of opinions from my family and friends regarding the condition of our state’s roadways. (My wife, for example, half-jokingly tries to ascribe personal responsibility to me for the congestion she faces on her morning commute.) Interestingly, one of the issues that gets brought up to me most often in private conversations is roundabouts — the circular intersections that are widely praised by engineers but often vilified by a skeptical public.

From a public interest perspective, the verdict on roundabouts is overwhelmingly positive. With very few exceptions, roundabouts have been shown to dramatically reduce both the frequency and seriousness of traffic accidents when compared to other types of intersections. One oft-cited source, the National Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, reports that U.S. intersections converted to roundabouts have experienced a 35-47 percent decrease in crashes and an 72-80 percent decrease in injury crashes (source here). Moreover, because the don’t have stop signs or traffic lights, roundabouts have been found to reduce traffic delays and pollution.

Perhaps not surprisingly, research on these potential benefits has precipitated a rash of roundabout construction. In Minnesota alone, 115 have already been built, with another 39 either planned or under construction, according to the Pioneer Press. Love them or hate them, roundabouts are becoming a fact of life here.

Of course, not everyone loves them. In spite of their stellar  record, roundabouts remain something of a political lightning rod. This article in the Mankato Free Press and this news segment from KSTP provide typical examples of the kind of skepticism officials face when proposing to put in a roundabout. The problem is persistent enough that many officials see a need to develop a public relations game plan. On June 19, the Transportation Research Board is offering a free webinar entitled “Community Outreach: Successful Outcomes for Roundabout Implementation,” designed to help transportation professionals understand and respond to political opposition to roundabouts. It’s free for employees of TRB sponsor organizations (including MnDOT); a $99 registration fee is required for employees of non-sponsors.

For those who are unfamiliar with roundabouts, there are some good resources designed to help people understand their purpose and benefits. Several years ago, the Local Road Research Board produced the video above (along with an accompanying brochure). MnDOT also has a resource page devoted to explaining the use of roundabouts.

Those with more than a passing interest in the subject might also want to check out these recent MnDOT/LRRB-sponsored studies:

‘Three Ways to Cook a Pothole’

In April, we posted about an innovative pothole-filling technology being developed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the University of Minnesota, Duluth. The technique involves zapping pothole patches and the surrounding pavement with a special truck-mounted, 50,000-watt microwave. Researchers have found that heating the base and the patch material at the same time creates a stronger, longer-lasting bond that provides for a more permanent pothole fix.

Last week, the MnDOT/UMD microwave technology found its way into a new MnDOT video (above) that also explores two other experimental pothole-patching methods. One involves using a large “electric oven”-type heating element instead of a microwave. The other utilizes a new exothermic (i.e. heat-generating) asphalt mixture containing taconite from northern Minnesota mines. The video compares the potential benefits of all three of the new technologies, which the department hopes will someday lead to “more pothole-patching power for the taxpayer dollar.”

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