Dr. Chandra Bhat, Adnan Abou-Ayyash Centennial Professor in Transportation Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, presented “Engineering Our Built Environment for Accessibility, Reliability, and Safety” on July 11, 2012, at the Cockrell School of Engineering as part of a series of presentations by and for students engaged in transportation research. The lecture was attended by students, research faculty, and staff at the Cockrell School of Engineering.
This summer, the USIT student interns are exploring transportation research as a potential career and seeing the many directions that such a career can take them. UT Austin professors, Center for Transportation (CTR) researchers, and students are presenting topics of interest as part of the Undergraduate Summer Internship in Transportation (USIT). USIT is sponsored by the Advanced Institute for Transportation Infrastructure Engineering and Management, an organization whose mission is to increase the number, quality, and diversity of professionals entering the transportation sector.
“Transportation is at the center of many different scientific disciplines,” Chandra Bhat said to the USIT students. Although historically transportation research was perceived as an applied study, in fact the results contribute directly to many fields of science.
Many disciplines are referencing transportation studies. For example, psychologists are interested in studies about traveler choices. Moreover, studies conducted in transportation are transforming in complexity and variety in response to the emerging needs of a changing environment.
According to Dr. Bhat, the field of transportation planning has transformed in the last twenty years due to paradigm shifts in the culture, changing what researchers study, what questions they ask, and how they view the results of what is observed and tested.
One shift is from an emphasis on efficiency to an emphasis on reliability. Studies in both psychology and in driver choices show that, increasingly, people avoid uncertainty and prefer predictability. This influences commuter choices. Most travelers prefer routes that allow them to arrive at their destination in a predictable amount of time.
For example, when choosing which route to take to pick up a child from daycare —when there may be a substantial penalty for arriving late—parents might choose to leave earlier and take a longer route that is less likely to experience traffic congestion in order to predict their arrival time. In other words, the drivers choose a route with a longer, but predicable, travel time over an alternate, shorter route that occasionally would cause them to arrive late.
Transportation planning has shifted from reactive to proactive and from a mobility point of view to one of accessibility, where planners manage demand and build accessibility into the system. Planners apply ideas developed from studies in environmental justice, applying ethics to transportation systems and how the systems affect land use and different societal classes. An example of this is the study of congestion pricing and how this might affect the different economic subgroups’ choices of travel routes.
Among transportation planners, there is increasing interest in mixed land use, transit oriented development, and the use of travel demand management strategies such as congestion pricing. Choice modeling is a method used by transportation researchers to study how changes in the system affect traveler decisions.
Dr. Bhat discussed the development and design of choice models, which are used to study behavior and learn how to better plan transportation networks. But the professor warned that any conclusions, based upon statistical analysis, must be drawn from a well-considered study.
For example, he asked, can we change people’s behavior by changing their environment—or do residents perform a “self sorting” or “self selection” based on their environmental options?
Bhat gave an example, using two fictional neighborhoods located at a distance in a metropolitan environment. He had the students consider a scenario where one neighborhood receives additional sidewalks bike lanes, bus routes, and other multimodal enhancements designed to encourage more people to choose to walk, bus, or bike to their destinations. Meanwhile, the other area continues to develop as a car-oriented neighborhood without adding sidewalks or bike lanes.
Perhaps, over time, studies would show an increase in the use of multimodal travel in the neighborhood with multimodal enhancements. But did the neighborhood residents increase their use of multimodal transportation—or did the area’s population shift to residents who prefer to bike, walk, and bus? Dr. Bhat described this as a “measurement challenge” for any study that wishes to understand if a specific traveler’s behavior was changed by providing choices.
As long as transportation planners accurately understand behavior and choices, they can use this knowledge to achieve objectives related to proactive network designs that facilitate environmental justice, accessibility, safety, and optimize the transportation systems for travelers.
Dr. Bhat’s research expertise includes activity and travel behavior analysis, travel demand modeling, application of econometric discrete choice and market research techniques in transportation planning, traffic flow theory and operations, logistics and freight modeling, energy and transportation air quality analysis, and safety analysis. Dr. Bhat’s email is: email@example.com
For more information on Dr. Bhat, visit his bio page at the Cockrell School of Engineering. http://www.caee.utexas.edu/faculty-directory/profiles/chandra-bhat.html
Faculty and professional researchers presenting topics of interest this summer include Dr. Zhanmin Zhang, Dr. C. Michael Walton, Rob Harrison, Dr. Kara Kockelman, Dr. Randy B. Machemehl, Dr. Chandra Bhat, Dr. Stephen Boyles, Lisa Loftus-Otway, and Dr. Amit Bhasin.
Students participating in the USIT internship are exposed to active transportation research programs that cover a wide range of topics, including systems analysis, materials, design, management, traffic engineering and planning, modeling, testing, and multimodal systems. USIT is sponsored by the Advanced Institute for Transportation Infrastructure Engineering and Management, an organization whose mission is to increase the number, quality, and diversity of professionals entering the transportation sector.
Many of the transportation research projects discussed at USIT events are conducted through the Center for Transportation Research. UT Austin faculty and student researchers perform the research and produced research reports and products. Much of the work is funded by the Texas Department of Transportation.
Links to More Information
Civil, Architectural & Environmental Engineering (CAEE) at UT Austin