Along the Road
Along the Road is the place to look for information about current and upcoming activities, developments, trends, and items of general interest to the highway community. This information comes from U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) sources unless otherwise indicated. Your suggestions and input are welcome. Let’s meet along the road.
EAR Program Publishes Updated Research Results
The Federal Highway Administration’s Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program addresses the need for longer term, higher risk research with the potential for long-term improvements to transportation systems. In February, FHWA published EAR Program Research Results: Updated through 2016 (FHWA-HRT-17-021), a catalog documenting the output of the program’s investments in five areas where changes in science and engineering can dramatically lead to making the highway system safer, more durable, and more efficient.
The publication is organized using these investment areas: (1) connected highway and vehicle system concepts, (2) breakthrough concepts in materials science, (3) human behavior and travel choices, (4) technology for assessing performance, and (5) new technology and advanced policies for energy and resource conservation. Through 8 solicitations, the EAR Program has awarded 79 projects involving both government and academic researchers. These projects represent the investment of $76 million in FHWA funds and leverage $28 million in matching funds.
The results of these projects may lead to new research methods, models, or data that can accelerate applied research or new system concepts or prototypes, including laboratory testing or limited field testing. The EAR Program does not fund projects through commercialization or deployment. Rather, results must be taken up by the research community, with the support of other funding sources. FHWA is committed to transitioning the results of EAR Program-funded projects from the lab to real-world applications and takes an active role in demonstrating results to audiences who are critical to continuing the research and development cycle.
For more information, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/advancedresearch. The report is available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/advancedresearch/pubs/17021/17021.pdf.
Public Information and Information Exchange
USDOT Announces 2017 SBIR Awardees
Small businesses continue to help USDOT address some of the Nation’s biggest transportation challenges through the Department’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. This highly competitive, awards-based program is a key catalyst for domestic small businesses to engage in transportation-related research and development. In March, the program recommended awarding 14 small businesses under the latest SBIR solicitation.
USDOT received a total of 106 proposals for the 9 topics covered in the solicitation. Together, the selected businesses will receive a combined $1.9 million for their phase I concept development addressing challenges including broken rail detection, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) detection devices, and information tools for transit users. Through this conceptual development phase, the small businesses will determine the potential for commercializing their research in order to receive additional funding in phase II.
The goals of the SBIR program include meeting Federal research and development needs, increasing private sector commercialization of innovations derived from Federal research and development funding, stimulating technological innovation, and fostering and encouraging participation in innovation and entrepreneurship by socially and economically disadvantaged persons.
For more information, visit www.volpe.dot.gov/work-with-us/small-business-innovation-research.
Volpe National Transportation Systems Center
Handbook and Case Studies on Regional Models of Cooperation Now Available
FHWA recently published the Regional Models of Cooperation Handbook (FHWA-HEP-17-030), as well as two new summaries from peer exchange workshops in Alaska and Utah. The Regional Models of Cooperation program is co-led by the FHWA Office of Planning and the Federal Transit Administration Office of Planning and Environment and was part of the third round of FHWA’s Every Day Counts initiative.
The handbook describes notable practices used by State departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, transit agencies, and other partners that work across jurisdiction boundaries or traditional disciplines to enhance transportation planning. It offers a framework for how to think about opportunities for regional cooperation, presents 20 case studies of how and why peer agencies have chosen to work together, and provides tools and resources that agencies may consider adapting for use in their own regions.
FHWA also released two workshop summaries, adding to the three previous summaries published in 2016. Regional Cooperation and Transportation Planning in Alaska (FHWA-HEP-17-039) summarizes the presentations, key themes, and recommendations identified at a virtual peer exchange held March 9 and 10, 2016. The FHWA Alaska Division Office hosted peers from the Center for Community in Sitka, AK; the New Mexico Department of Transportation; the Nashua Regional Planning Commission in New Hampshire; and the National Park Service’s Alaska Regional Office.
Regional Cooperation and Bike/Ped and Transit Connections (FHWA-HEP-17-041) highlights key themes identified at a peer exchange held on October 24, 2016, in Salt Lake City, UT. For that event, the Utah Transit Authority hosted peers from the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Mid-America Regional Council.
For more information, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/regional_models.
BTS and Volpe Create Transportation Noise Map
Noise levels associated with different kinds of traffic—whether from motor vehicles on roadways, ships maneuvering in waterways, trains passing through rail corridors, or planes in the sky—affect communities and natural environments across the country. With the U.S. population expected to grow by more than 100 million by 2050, heightened transportation demands could increase the burden of high noise levels.
To better understand roadway and aviation transportation noise levels and their potential effects, USDOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), with assistance from a team of researchers at Volpe, recently released the National Transportation Noise Map. The tool offers the first national, multimodal, transportation-focused geodatabase with modeled noise levels. It includes GIS layers that enable users to view aviation and road noise separately or cumulatively. The yearly trends that the tool can provide will be particularly useful to policymakers and community planners in understanding the impacts of noise levels.
The initial map shows that more than 97 percent of the U.S. population has the potential to be exposed to noise from aviation and interstate highways at levels below 50 decibels—roughly comparable to the noise level of a humming refrigerator. Less than one-tenth of a percent of the population could potentially experience noise levels of 80 decibels or more, equivalent to the noise level of a garbage disposal.
The map is an addition to the National Transportation Atlas Database, a set of nationwide geographic databases of transportation facilities, networks, and associated infrastructure available from the BTS Geospatial Data Catalog. The layers will be updated on an annual basis, and developers anticipate including additional transportation noise sources, such as rail and maritime, in future versions.
NTSB Releases Drowsy Driving Alert for Teens
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States. Further, recent research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that one in five fatal crashes involves a drowsy driver. Other research shows that drivers between the ages of 16 and 24 are at the greatest risk of being involved in a drowsy driving crash.
To call attention to the risks posed by driving drowsy, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently released a safety alert, Drowsy Driving Among Young Drivers. The alert underscores the problem, shares the latest statistics, and offers recommendations to minimize the risks.
According to a recent AAA Foundation study, many drivers who understood the risks of drowsy driving admitted they had, nonetheless, driven while fatigued. Specifically, the AAA survey found that 96 percent of drivers see drowsy driving as a serious threat and a completely unacceptable behavior; however, among that same group, 3 in 10 admitted to driving when they were so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.
Lack of sleep slows reaction time and makes drivers more susceptible to forgetting or overlooking important tasks. A few seconds is all it takes to drift out of the lane or to miss a stopped vehicle on the road ahead. Individuals can take steps to help avoid the risks by making sleep a priority and avoiding driving late at night and early in the morning.
For more information, visit www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-alerts/Documents/SA_061.pdf.
Pennsylvania Launches PennDOT Connects
Recognizing transportation’s role in connecting communities and supporting economic development, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Secretary Leslie S. Richards recently announced PennDOT Connects, an approach to enhance local engagement and improve transportation project planning, design, and delivery.
The new approach expands the department’s requirements for engaging local and planning partners by requiring collaboration with stakeholders before developing project scopes. PennDOT Connects aims to transform development of capital and maintenance projects by ensuring that community collaboration happens early, and that planners consider each project in a holistic way to identify opportunities to improve safety, mobility, access, and environmental outcomes for all modes and local contexts. Earlier collaboration will ensure that projects meet current and projected needs as much as possible, and reduce costly changes later in the project development process.
The department is implementing PennDOT Connects requirements for collaboration on new projects in the State’s 2017–2020 Transportation Improvement Program that meet certain criteria, such as those without previously defined project phases. This includes roughly 280 projects worth $2 billion.
To complement this ongoing collaboration, PennDOT is incorporating the policy into its applicable manuals and program processes and is developing training for staff in metropolitan and regional planning organizations.
NHTSA Teams with Adam Savage To Test Safety Technologies
In 2015, approximately 1 person died in a motor vehicle crash every 15 minutes. That statistic underscores the need for game-changing technology that can help save lives.
Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that 94 percent of all crashes are tied to human error, which means these deaths are highly preventable. To help save lives, NHTSA promotes new vehicle technologies that have the potential to prevent or reduce the severity of crashes. People can purchase these technologies in many new cars today—but only if they know about them.
To help spread the word about life-saving vehicle technologies, NHTSA teamed up with self-described science and technology champion Adam Savage to test and explain the value of five safety technologies in a series of short videos. Now with Tested.com, Savage was part of the original duo who created and fronted Discovery Channel’s MythBusters, a television show to educate and entertain viewers by testing the validity of rumors and myths.
The NHTSA videos demonstrate automatic emergency braking, blind spot detection technology, forward collision warning, lane keeping support, and pedestrian automatic emergency braking. Savage puts each of these technologies through his special brand of testing and explains how each can help protect road users.
For more information, visit www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/safety-technologies.
Providing Pathways to Health Equity
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently released a report that seeks to delineate the causes of and the solutions to health inequities in the United States. The report, Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity, focuses on what communities can do to promote health equity, what actions the many and varied stakeholders need to take, and the root causes and structural barriers that need to be overcome.
In the United States, some populations suffer from far greater disparities in health than others. Those disparities are caused not only by fundamental differences in health status across segments of the population, but also because of inequities in factors that affect health status.
Only part of an individual’s health status depends on behavior and choice. Communitywide problems like poverty, unemployment, poor education, inadequate housing, and poor public transportation also contribute to health inequities, as well as the historic and ongoing interplay of structures, policies, and norms that shape lives. Social policies can mitigate these inequities and shape health in powerful ways.
The report offers objective analysis and advice to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions.
For more information, visit www.nap.edu/catalog/24624/communities-in-action-pathways-to-health-equity.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Monitoring Bicycles and Pedestrians in Minnesota
In 2011, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) launched the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative, a statewide, collaborative effort to encourage and support the monitoring of nonmotorized traffic. MnDOT recently released a report summarizing the work of the department and the University of Minnesota between 2014 and 2016 to institutionalize bicycle and pedestrian monitoring.
The project team established a new statewide network with 25 permanent observation locations and a new district-based loan program for portable counting equipment. Other key accomplishments include a new MnDOT Web site for reporting annual and short-duration counts and a Bicycle and Pedestrian Data Collection Manual that local jurisdictions and consultants can use to design automated and manual programs to monitor nonmotorized traffic. The project team also established new annual training programs and called for creation of performance measures based on bicycle and pedestrian traffic counts.
MnDOT and several local agencies now have plans and procedures in place to monitor bicycle and pedestrian travel in select jurisdictions and will share progress and innovations in their monitoring efforts.
For more information, visit www.dot.state.mn.us/research/reports/2017/201702.pdf.