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ASU research helps guide transportation policy

freeway cluster
January 29, 2014

Arizona State University’s robust and expanding range of transportation research and studies was reflected recently in the contributions of faculty members and students to one of the major international gatherings of transportation experts.

An ASU contingent of more than 30 faculty members and students presented their research in more than 40 workshops and sessions at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) 93rd Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., Jan. 12-16. The event attracted about 12,000 professionals from academia, research institutions, industry and public and private policy groups from around the world.

The TRB is a major division of the private, nonprofit National Research Council, administered by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. The council seeks to serve the public interest by providing expertise to government, the public and the scientific and engineering communities.

With more than 20 faculty members engaged in work in this area, ASU “definitely has one of the largest transportation programs in the western United States,” says Mikhail Chester, an assistant professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Faculty in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are at the forefront of transportation research at ASU. But related work is being done by faculty in the Global Institute of Sustainability, the W. P. Carey School of Business, the School of Letters and Sciences, the School of Public Affairs, the Global Technology and Development program and the American Indian Policy Institute.

Working on a national scale

“There are people studying diverse transportation topics, from travel behavior, traffic management, transportation technology and materials, energy, network analysis, electric vehicles, alternative fuels and economics, to air quality, transit-oriented development, goods movement and high-speed rail, and our experts frequently engage with decision-makers to help guide policy,” Chester says. “This is a strong team.”

Chester himself is becoming widely recognized for cutting-edge studies and projections of the sustainability of various transportation systems, including assessments of the environmental and economics impacts of systems over their life cycles.

The strength and variety of the faculty’s combined endeavors was a factor in ASU’s recent selection as a partner in two new multi-university national transportation research centers. They are the National Center for Strategic Transportation Policies, Investments and Decisions, and the Institute for Safety and Operations of Large-Area Rural-Urban International Systems (SOLARIS), both funded by the Research and Innovative Technology Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“This is impressive because there was intense competition to be a part of these centers,” says Ram Pendyala, a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, and one of the university’s leading transportation engineers.

Pendyala is the associate director of the new national strategic policies center, and leads ASU’s efforts in the research partnership. He is internationally known for pioneering work in activity-based micro-simulation travel-demand models, which simulate the daily activities of households in metropolitan areas.

Pitu Mirchandani is leading ASU’s effort in the partnership with the SOLARIS Institute, contributing his expertise as a renowned authority on traffic-management algorithms, optimization methods and real-time adaptive control strategies for the design and management of transportation networks. Mirchandani is a professor in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering.

Addressing critical issues

Several ASU faculty members have leadership roles in TRB committees that are “identifying our most critical national and global transportation issues, and developing a research agenda to address these challenges,” Pendyala says.

Kamil Kaloush, an associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, has been appointed to a three-year term on TRB’s Design and Construction Group Executive Board.

Kaloush is “blazing new paths” in studying the impacts of transportation infrastructure and climate change on each other, Pendyala says. “His work is helping us design transportation infrastructure with a lower impact on the environment and the climate, and is also more resilient to climatic events.”

Aaron Golub, an assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, is a member of the TRB’s Environmental Justice and Developing Countries committees.

Golub’s expertise lies in the intersection of land use and transportation, public transportation and sustainable transportation, and how costs and benefits of transportation systems are distributed across socio-economic groups and regions.

Penydala and his co-authors won the Pyke Johnson Award, the top award for a research paper in the area of transportation planning and environment at the TRB Annual Meeting, one of only seven awards presented for outstanding research papers from among more than 3,000 papers selected for presentation at the conference.

Wide-ranging education in transportation

Some of the ASU students contributing to the Transportation Research Board conference are enhancing their education through an interdisciplinary certificate program in transportation systems for graduate students and industry professionals.

Faculty from an array of disciplines teach students about transportation issues from a broad spectrum of perspectives, says Michael Kuby, director the certificate program and a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

Kuby, for instance, brings students knowledge from his studies of optimal locations for fuel stations for vehicles that run on electricity, hydrogen and compressed natural gas, and his development of mathematical models for planning networks of such stations that provide the most public convenience at the least cost.

Courses examine how the world of transportation is shaped by a vast array of factors that include government, finance, geography, industrial engineering, supply chain management, technology development, aeronautical management – even behavioral psychology, recreation management and tourism.

ASU students who participated in the TRB Annual Meeting made favorable impressions on their peers.

“In research paper presentations, poster presentations, committee meetings and networking opportunities, they represented ASU commendably,” Kaloush says. “This reflects very well on how our faculty and programs are preparing students to make meaningful contributions to the transportation field.”