Beets…for Roadway Deicing

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

beets2

beets

Winter in Massachusetts has just recently ended, but already communities are starting to plan and budget for their roadway snow and ice removal next year. Road salt and salt and water mixtures have long been used to help keep roadways clear and safe during the winter. However, there are now some grain and sugar based-options that when combined with salt can be more effective than salt or salt brine alone, and more sustainable as well.

One issue with using salt for road deicing is salt’s corrosive impact on metal, including vehicles and roadway infrastructure. Another concern is the polluting impact that road salt runoff as snow and ice melts can have on waterways, ecosystems, and wells. Through its Salt Remediation Program and commitment to environmental stewardship, MassDOT has established specific initiatives, as the program website says, that is aimed at “promoting the effective and efficient use of deicing chemicals.” One of the initiatives was the creation of the Snow and Ice Materials Usage Committee. This committee is charged with examining Best Management Practices for snow and ice removal, evaluating potential alternative roadway deicing options, and reviewing and revising current deicing policies.

Different Departments of Public Works (DPWs) have tried combining different agricultural materials, such as beet juice, beet molasses, cheese brine, and others, to their road salt to create better deicing mixtures. These agricultural additives contain carbohydrates that work chemically with road salt to lower the freezing point of water. These liquid mixtures can be sprayed on streets in advance of storms, which reduces salt bounce and helps prevent ice from forming. Such mixtures are also less corrosive.

Beet-based deicing mixtures have long been popular in the Midwest. Here’s a 2008 NPR story on the use of beet juice for deicing in Ohio. The DPW in Waukesha, Wisconsin has used a beet juice-salt brine mixture it prepares itself, as has Washington, D.C. Some Massachusetts communities are now using commercially-prepared beet molasses mixtures. As reported in a recent Boston Globe article, Wellesley officials started researching carbohydrate-based deicing additives after hearing great things about their use in other parts of the country. Wellesley Highway Division general foreman Kevin Collins and his team have been happy with the product, Magic-0 (Magic Minus Zero), that they started using in 2017. The product combines sugar cane molasses and magnesium chloride into a liquid mixture. It has been used by many highway departments and state agencies throughout New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.   The town of Lexington, under DPW superintendent Marc Valenti uses something similar. Another popular deicing product made from beet molasses is Beet Heet. Beet Heet has been used by over 200 agencies in 8 states, mainly in the Midwest. The beet molasses products can offer the benefits of beet additives with better consistency and performance than beet juice mixtures. Some cities, such as Milwaukee, discontinued the use of beet juice additive after finding it clogged their truck sprayers.

Other tested deicing additives include cheese brine, which is the water remaining with cheeses such as mozzarella. Cheese brine has been used for deicing in Polk County, Wisconsin, since 2009, and was pilot tested a few years ago in Milwaukee. Pickle brine was pilot tested in New Jersey in 2014. Researchers at Washington State University have developed a deicer made of barley residue from vodka distilleries. With additives made from byproducts of food processing plants, location and access to the processing is a factor, and one reason, for example, that Wisconsin is the main adopter of cheese brine deicing.  For local byproducts, the costs of the additives can sometimes be negligible as processing plants are happy to share their waste products in a win-win situation that can lower their own production costs as well.

As discussed in the Boston Globe, for now, the City of Boston currently primarily uses salt and sometimes a mixture of salt and water. However, the City’s Public Works Deputy Commissioner Michael Brohel says that carbohydrate-based additives could be in the city’s future. “We’re always open to testing out new methods,” says Brohel.

Baystate Roads plans to include discussion of deicing additives in its Snow and Ice Operations training for the next snow season.

US: Transit Agencies Cautious on Electric Buses Despite Bold Forecasts – Dr. Christofa and Dr. Pollitt Weigh in

by: Melissa Paciulli, UMTC Manager of Research

electric buses
Chicago Tribune, 2017

One Center Affiliates, Dr. Eleni Christofa and Dr. Krystal Pollitt recently completed research for MassDOT on evaluating electric and other zero emission buses in the U.S. As part of this research, they completed an extensive review of transit agencies’ experience with electric buses across the country.  We asked them to weigh in on a recent article published by Nicholas Groom, from Reuters, December 12, 2017 on MassTransit, which reported that “more than 65,000 public buses plying U.S. roads today, just 300 are electric. Among the challenges: EVs are expensive, have limited range and are unproven on a mass scale.”

Dr Christofa and Dr. Pollitt, argue that based on their findings, “Electric buses have the potential to expand across the fleets of U.S. transit agencies; limiting factors have been driving range and costs. Recent advances in battery technology are moving towards overcoming these hurdles with increases in energy density and decreased battery costs.”

MaPIT is Streamlining Project Management for MASSDOT!

By Courtney Murtagh, Matt Mann and Melissa Paciulli, UMTC Research Staff

This past November, MassDOT rolled out a new tool for project management to the 365 communities in the Commonwealth. The tool titled, Massachusetts Project Intake Tool, or MaPIT, is a web-based application that helps to streamline the process for municipalities to complete the Project Need Forms (PNF) and Project Intuition Forms (PIF).

MaPIT2017_v2
Attendees by MA Location – MaPIT Workshop Series, UMTC Graphic

The intention behind MaPIT is to expedite the project development process, including:  project initiation, environmental permitting, scoring, and project delivery. It does this by automating Project Need Form screening for relevant GIS layers, transferring PNF information to PIF forms. The application also maps project locations for public viewing.  Upon approval, each project is assigned a number and its information is automatically transferred to the MassDOT Project Info Software System.

Baystate Roads, part of the UMass Transportation Center, has been offering workshops for those who wish to familiarize themselves with this new tool.  The workshops include instructor-led step-by-step software training and demonstrations. The workshop trainings are aimed to help project managers, town selectmen, consulting companies, and others who would need to use the tool feel confident with the new technology.  Since September seven MaPIT workshops have been held with close to 200 participants from 62 municipalities represented.

Baystate Roads has also created instructional videos to teach a wider audience about MaPIT.  The videos are available online (at https://vimeo.com/umtc) and accessible to anyone who is interested at no charge.

Keeping Cyclists Safe! UMTC Research Spotlight on YouTube

 

Want to learn more about bicycle safety? PhD student Nicholas Fournier of UMass Amherst talks about his two research studies currently being conducted at UMass. Mr. Fournier is studying for a PhD in transportation engineering and an MS in regional planning at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. View Mr. Fournier discussing his research at this link. One of the highlighted studies used the UMass advanced driving simulator to test how well drivers approaching intersections understand different on-road bicycle infrastructure, such as bike boxes and merged bike lanes, which are designed to reduce left-hook bicyclist-motor vehicle crashes and promote bicyclist safety. In the second study, Mr. Fournier developed a sine-wave model for estimating annual on-road bicycle travel demand in cities where bicycle demand can fluctuate considerably across seasons. The model reduces the number of sample counts needed to develop an estimate for bicycle demand, making it easier for researchers and practitioners in a city to measure bicycle ridership and the overall safety of their road infrastructure for bicyclists.

 

 

Safety First! Are You a Distracted Driver or a Distracted Pedestrian?

By Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

The annual number of pedestrians hit and killed by vehicles in the United States is now at its highest level in more than 20 years. In March 2017, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a report showing an 11 percent increase rise in the number of pedestrian deaths between 2015 and 2016, and a 25 percent increase in these deaths over the past five years. The report estimates there were almost 6,000 pedestrian fatalities in 2016 and pedestrians now account for 15 percent of all traffic deaths. The rise in pedestrian fatalities from 2015 to 2016 was the highest annual increase in both the total number and percentage growth in the 40 years that these national data have been recorded.

The GHSA figures are calculated based on pedestrian fatalities for January to June 2016 and then extrapolated for the rest of the year. For this six-month period, 2,660 pedestrians died in traffic crashes nationwide.

peds
Source: Seattle Tim

Four states accounted for 43 percent of these fatalities: California (405 pedestrian deaths); Florida (277); Texas (242); and NewYork (137). Massachusetts had 38 pedestrian deaths in this time frame( 1.4 percent of the total).

The GHSA identified several factors that could be contributing to the rise in pedestrian deaths, including the following.

  • More driving. People are driving more now, with the economy improving and gas prices down from their historic high levels ($4+/gallon) earlier this decade. Federal Highway Administration data released in February 2017 show that in 2016, people in cars, minivans, SUVs, and trucks drove a record 3.22 trillion miles on the nation’s roads and highways. This is an increase of 3 percent over 2015, and the fifth straight year of increased total mileage.
  • Alcohol. According to the GHSA report, 15 percent of pedestrian taffic deaths involve a drunk driver, and 34 percent of the pedestrians killed in traffic accidents themselves have blood alcohol levels above the legal limit of 0.08.
  • Lack of pedestrian visibility. Many of the pedestrian fatalities occurred in conditions where the pedestrians may not be very visible to drivers. The GHSA found that 74 percent of pedestrian deaths occurred at night, and 72 percent of those killed were not at a roadway intersection.
  • In recent years, as cell phones and other portable communication and entertainment devices have become more ubiquitous, there has been an increase in crashes and injuries attributed to distraction. Drive distraction is considered one of the top three causes of traffic fatalities in general—the other top causes are alcohol and vehicle speed—and one of three main causes for pedestrian fatalities. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that driver distraction contributed to 3,477 traffic crash-related deaths and 391,000 injuries in 2015. As discussed in a recent National Public Radio piece, there are also concerns about the impact of pedestrians’ own distractions on pedestrian safety

A comprehensive research literature review on the impact of electronic device use on pedestrian safety was conducted by Robert Scopatz and Yuying Zhou (2016). The literature review was part of a larger research project examining whether electronic device use by drivers and pedestrians significantly affects pedestrian safety. The literature review included sections on distracted pedestrians, distracted drivers, and pedestrian-driver interactions, and examined real-world studies, simulator studies, and other collected data in these three areas. There have been no studies thus far showing a direct cause-and-effect link between distraction and pedestrian crash risk. Nonetheless, there is clear evidence that distracted drivers face increased crash risks and that distraction impacts how pedestrians walk, react, and behave, including safety-related behaviors

Scopatz and Zhou found only one study (Brumfield and Pulugurtha, 2011) to date that examined pedestrian-vehicle conflicts and the role of distraction due to handheld electronic device use. That study’s researchers observed 325 pedestrian-vehicle interactions at seven midblock crosswalks on a university campus in Charlotte, North Carolina. They found that 29 percent of pedestrians and 18 percent of drivers were noticeably distracted (talking on a cell phone or texting) at the time the pedestrian and vehicle were nearing the crosswalk. Further, the researchers calculated that distracted drivers were more than three times more likely to be involved in a conflict at the midblock crosswalks than distracted pedestrians. Government legislators in Montreal, Quebec, and New Jersey have proposed banning cell phone texting for pedestrians while they are crossing the street. These proposals have not received much support thus far.

Research is needed to dig deeper into the issues around pedestrian fatalities with specific focus on distraction.

Some key questions remain:

  • How distractions (for drivers and pedestrians) exacerbated by hazards that are already present?
  • With the encouragement of Bicycling and Pedestrian activity for healthy communities, how will this impact the grown problem?
  • What type of solutions are States considering for solutions? One recent report published in March of 2017,  Consensus Recommendations for Pedestrian Injury Surveillance aims to offer guidance in tracking, recording and prevention.

Affiliate Researcher, Karin Goins, UMass Medical, provided input for this article. 

 

Are Pedestrian Fatalities Related to Income and Race?

Pedestrian fatalities in the United States rose by 25 percent over the past 5 years, according to a 2017 report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). As pedestrian fatalities have increased, some populations are more at risk than others.

Dangerous by Design 2016, an analysis by Smart Growth America (SGA) of pedestrian fatalities over a 10-year period (2005–2014), looked at data from the 104 largest metro areas in the United States and for each state, by income and by race. This analysis found that the poorer a metro area is, the more likely that pedestrians are to be hit and killed by a motor vehicle. There are a number of contributing factors to this finding. For one, poorer communities and neighborhoods typically have less road infrastructure to support pedestrian safety than more affluent places, including fewer safe, well-maintained sidewalks with adequate night lighting, fewer safe mid-block and intersection crosswalks, and fewer traffic calming measures such as narrow roads and speed humps. Additionally, residents in poorer communities and neighborhoods, especially in urban areas, have lower levels of car ownership and more dependence on walking and transit. This leads them to walk more frequently and makes them more likely to walk to destinations that are not considered pedestrian friendly, such as big shopping centers and along high traffic volume roadways with little pedestrian infrastructure.

peds_IO

Source: Transportation for America.

SGA’s research found connections between pedestrian deaths and median household income and also between pedestrian deaths and race. People of color were overrepresented among pedestrian families in 42 of 49 states and the District of Columbia, and for the United States as a whole. Overall, people of color comprised just over one-third of the U.S. population but almost half of the pedestrian deaths. The greatest proportional risks were for African Americans, with 12 percent of the population and 19 percent of pedestrian deaths, and for Native Americans, with 0.7 percent of the population and close to 3 percent of the deaths. The racial disparities were especially dramatic in some states. In Louisiana, people of color were nine times more likely to be killed than white people, and in Texas, the risk was almost three times as great. In Massachusetts, the risk was only slightly elevated; people of color comprised 22 percent of the state population and 24 percent of the pedestrian fatalities.

Graph_IO

Source: Smart Growth America, Dangerous by Design 2016.

As with the income-based findings on pedestrian fatalities, the race-related findings reflect the fact that, as with low-income communities, communities comprising mainly people of color have more residents without car access who walk for transportation and they walk more often and for longer distances. However, SGA found that even after controlling for their residents’ amount of walking, these communities still had higher rates of pedestrian deaths. This suggests that these communities have disproportionately unsafe conditions for pedestrians

To date, only a few experimental studies have been conducted on-road to measure the likelihood of drivers’ responses yielding to pedestrians of different races. The first such study took place at a midblock marked crosswalk in downtown Portland, Oregon, and was conducted by Tara Goddard and Kimberly Barsamian Kahn, both from Portland State University, and Arlie Adkins from the University of Arizona (2016). For this research, individual male pedestrian participants, who were all clearly identifiable as either African American or white, stood at the edge of the crosswalk, looking as though they’d like to cross. The researchers measured the number of cars that passed each pedestrian before a driver stopped at the crosswalk for them, and the amount of time each pedestrian had to wait to cross. Each of the six pedestrian participants—three white and three African American—were of similar build, wore similar clothing, and were instructed to behave similarly. The researchers observed a total of 173 driver-pedestrian interactions. On average, the African American pedestrians waited 32 percent longer and were passed by twice as many cars before crossing, as compared to the white pedestrians.

University of Nevada researcher Courtney Coughenour and colleagues conducted a similar study in Las Vegas. As she described in a discussion earlier this year with National Public Radio correspondent Shankar Vedantam, for their study, the researchers included two different midblock crosswalks, one in a low-income neighborhood and one in a high-income neighborhood, and two female pedestrian participants, one white and one African American. The pedestrians were both of similar build, wore identical outfits, and acted similarly while they waited at the edge of the crosswalk for drivers to stop for them. The midblock crosswalks were on multilane roads. The researchers measured both the number of cars that passed in the nearest lane before stopping for the pedestrian and the number of cars that drove around the pedestrian while they were crossing the street. In total, 124 pedestrian crossings were observed for the two crosswalks. Overall, drivers were less likely to stop for the pedestrians waiting to cross at the high-income crosswalk than the low-income one, regardless of race. At the high-income crosswalk, once the pedestrian was in the roadway, drivers were statistically more likely to pass through the crosswalk and not yield to the African American pedestrian than they were with the white pedestrian. Drivers were also less likely to yield to the African American pedestrian at the high-income crosswalk than at the low-income crosswalk. One contributing factor to these results could be that the high-income crosswalk was on a street with more travel lanes and a higher posted speed limit, 45 mph, than the street with the low-income crosswalk, 35 mph.

In both crosswalk-pedestrian race studies, no information was collected on any of the drivers, such as their race, income, or how they made their decision on whether or not to stop for pedestrians at the crosswalks. Nonetheless, it appears that some drivers could have some race or class-related conscious or unconscious biases in this regard. Of most concern from a safety perspective is drivers’ failure to yield to African American pedestrians already crossing the street in the high-income neighborhood in the Las Vegas study. The failure of drivers to yield at multilane midblock crosswalks is a known cause of many pedestrian fatalities and injuries, and the results here suggest driver biases could put some pedestrians more at risk than others.

 

Written By: Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

Don’t Get Derailed: The MBTA Is Still a Safe Transit System; Investment in Infrastructure Is Needed to Keep It That Way

By Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow, and Eric Gonzales, Professor, University of Massachusetts-Amherst 

The Green Line had six trolley derailments in 2016, according to the recently updated National Transit Database, and as described in a recent Boston Globe article. Combined with two subway maintenance vehicle derailments, this positioned the MBTA as the transit agency with the most derailments last year in the United States.

So what is behind this data? Why should we look closer?

Greenline

In 2015, the National Transit Database derailment figures began including derailments of vehicles not intended for passengers, including maintenance vehicles. This increased the MTBA’s reported annual derailments slightly. It is also worth noting that these published figures do not include derailments for commuter rail systems, as those incidences are instead reported to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The MBTA is this country’s fifth-largest mass transit system, based on daily ridership, and has the busiest light rail system (Green Line and Ashmont-Mattapan high-speed line). Derailments are less common for parts of the MBTA system beyond the Green Line. In 2016, the MBTA had its first derailments on the Orange and Red lines since 2001; both derailments involved vehicles that are not for passengers.

Sensationalizing this data only serves to create poor public opinion, and the MBTA leadership feels confident the MBTA system, including the Green Line, is safe. In 2016, none of the derailments resulted from a collision, and no passengers or employees were injured in a derailment. The number of annual derailments for the MBTA is down significantly (over 75%) from a high of 29 derailments in 2007, and the MBTA is committed to reducing derailment on the Green Line further through improved maintenance and monitoring. Even when no one is hurt, derailments impact service delivery and can shut down lines or stations for hours.  They can also undermine riders’ support of and trust in the MBTA.

There are, however, other challenges to the MBTA system, including its age and need for additional funding, as well as for maintenance. The Green Line is the oldest subway line in the United States, with tunnel sections dating back to 1897, and it is one of the oldest light rail systems above ground as well. Other systems topping the 2016 list of derailments include New Orleans and the San Francisco Municipal Railway, which are also historic systems. This is another reminder of the importance of funding investments in maintaining and rebuilding aging infrastructure. The challenge isn’t limited to the MBTA. The U.S. DOT estimates a nearly $90 billion backlog in transit infrastructure maintenance, just to preserve existing systems. In 2015, the MBTA’s maintenance backlog was over $7 billion, and it would need to spend about $765 million annually to eliminate the maintenance backlog over 25 years.

Although rapid transit remains a safe way to travel compared to travel by car, recent crashes on commuter railroads in other parts of the country are drawing attention to the limitations of existing infrastructure. Investments are necessary to ensure safe, reliable, and efficient mobility for the economic competitiveness and vitality of cities like Boston for decades to come.

 

Save

YouTube Research Spotlight: Research to Improve At-Grade Rail Crossing Safety

By Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

The UMTC Research Section Launches a Research Spotlight YouTube Channel. We are showcasing research currently being conducted on “At-Grade Rail Crossing Safety” by Radhameris Gomez.  Ms. Gomez is a PhD candidate in the UMass Transportation Engineering Program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. View the overview video (3 minutes) or the extended video (10 minutes) to find out how she became interested in studying transportation engineering.

TrailCrashes at roadway-railroad intersections happen far too often. Federal Railroad Administration data show that 2,025 such crashes occurred in the United States in 2016, resulting in 265 fatalities and 798 injuries. There have been a number of roadway-rail intersection crashes recently. For example, in Florida, an Amtrak train collision with a car left one person dead; in Arkansas, one person was killed and another injured when their car crossed into a train’s path; and in North Carolina, a train crashed into a car that stopped on the railroad tracks when the safety arms came down, and the car driver was killed. Earlier in March, a freight train collided with a charter bus in Mississippi that had become stuck on a rail crossing with low clearance on the crest of a slope. Four people were killed and others injured; it was the 161st crash since 1976 at that crossing. After a March snowstorm, a local DPW worker in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, died when his snowplow backed onto railroad tracks when a train was coming. At that intersection, there are no gate arms or traffic signals to help warn drivers when a train would be coming; there had been five other crashes and four other deaths at that location since the 1970s.

Previous studies have examined primary contributing factors for grade-crossing train-car crashes and how these crashes can be prevented. Jeff Caird and colleagues at the University of Calgary analyzed over 300 grade-crossing crashes in Canada (2002). They estimated that adding flashing lights to a rail crossing without them has the potential to reduce crashes by over 60 percent, as compared to crossbucks alone. Michael Lenné and colleagues at Monash University in Australia conducted a driving simulator study (2010) on driving behavior at three different types of at-grade rail crossings: stop-controlled, with flashing lights, and with a traffic signal. The researchers found that participants slowed their vehicles the most when approaching rail crossings with flashing lights.

Save

DC Metro : Getting Back on Track

By Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

One year ago, in March 2016, the entire Washington, DC, subway system was closed for 29 hours for emergency inspections. This shutdown came after a number of electrical fires oin the subway system, involving fraying third-rail electrical cables. In January 2015, a Washington Metro train encountered heavy smoke near the L’Enfant station due to a third-rail electrical issue and was forced to cease service. One passenger died from smoke inhalation and others were injured. On March 14, 2016, an electrical fire, caused by the same electrical issues as the Nee L’Enfant station incident, occurred near another station. There were fortunately no fatalities. Still, the Metro management shut down subway service a few days later to allow for a system-wide inspection of all third-rail power cables to proactively address system safety before further incidents.

Run by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), Metro is the second-highest use rapid transit system in the United States, behind just  the New York City subway system, in terms of passenger trips, serving over 700,000 riders per weekday.  Metro is just over 40 years old and faces the many of the same challenges as older US transit systems, including inadequate funding and maintenance backlogs.

In May 2016, WMATA introduced SafeTrack, a comprehensive accelerated maintenance and repair program for implementing safety recommendations and needed upgrades to rail infrastructure.  SafeTrack involves the use of “surges,” intensive work on specific sections of the rail network and the shutting down of one or both tracks in those sections during this work, together with the reduction of Metro operating hours at night and on weekends to make more tracks available for maintenance.

Last week, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on its audit of the SafeTrack program.  GAO found that WMATA did not following leading management practices and “(1) comprehensively collect and assess data on its assets, (2) analyze alternatives, or (3) develop a project management plan”  prior to implementing SafeTrack.  In response to the GAO findings, Metro General Manager and CEO Paul Weidefeld stated that WMATA didn’t have time for comprehensive data collection before starting SafeTrack, because safety issues and delayed maintenance had reached a critical point and needed to be addressed as soon as possible. GAO recommends that WMATA develop a full asset inventory and a project management plan for those needed projects that may not qualify as major capital projects.  WMATA is now working to address GAO’s recommendations.

The GAO report found that SafeTrack “will require an additional $40 million in fiscal year 2017 funding.” It is not yet clear where that funding will come from.  Although many transit systems are challenged by inadequate funding, Metro is specifically impacted by one funding issue not faced by other large US transit systems:  Metro has no dedicated funding or revenue sources for its operating budget. WMATA relies heavily on year-to-year subsidies from the governments of Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, which each have budget constraints and funding priorities of their own. In 2016, 47% of Metro’s budget came from local and state subsidies and 45% from fare revenue. In contrast, for the MBTA, 62% of the budget comes from dedicated revenue (such as the sales tax) and 33% from fares.  In New York, the MTA’s budget relies 36% on dedicated funding, 52% on fare revenue, and 8% on local and state subsidies.  WMATA currently has an almost $300 million annual budget gap.

DCMETRO

The Federal Transit Authority (FTA) provided some funding for SafeTrack repairs and maintenance. Increasingly, business leaders, DC officials, and others are calling for a dedicated source of funding or regional sales tax surcharge to support Metro operations. So far, these requests have faced opposition from Virginia and Maryland officials.  Proponents argue that dedicated funding is not only important for Metro system safety, but could relieve traffic congestion and spur economic development as well.

Also, last week, board members of Metrolink, the regional rail system in Los Angeles, met with the Metro Board Safety Committee to share Metrolink’s firsthand experience with the importance of making safety a priority.  The Metrolink officials showed a poignant video that Metrolink made following the most deadly crash in Metrolink history, a 2008 crash in which 25 people were killed when a commuter train collided with a freight train.  The video focuses on commitment and responsibilities of the Metrolink board regarding safety.  At the meeting,  Metro board member Michael Goldman suggested Metro could create its own video on the safety in the Metro system for its board members and the public.

Save

‘Look Mom, no hands….’ TRANSFER CONTROL TO YOUR CAR? Not that far off in the future

lookmanohandsIn the fall of 2016, the US Department of Transportation announced new policies and initiatives for autonomous vehicles (AV) and AV research. The new Federal Automated Vehicles Policy is based on the US DOT’s view that  automated, autonomous vehicles can help promote safety, mobility, sustainability. With the increase use of AVs and semi-autonomous vehicles, there are some potential safety concerns as well, including relating to the ability of people using such vehicles to respond to potential hazards and potentially hazardous situations.

Siby Samuel, PhD, a UMTC Research Affiliate in Industrial Engineering at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and colleagues, including Shlomo Zilberstein in the Computer Science Department, have been studying the topic of semi-autonomous vehicles and safety for a number of years. Their research has focused on situations where the control of driving transfers to the vehicle in uncomplicated driving environments (such as a limited access highway), but where drivers still need to be prepared to take back control of the vehicle  to address potential hazards that arise.  This level of driving automation is known as Level 3 automation. Zilberstein and two of his graduate assistants, Kyle Wray and Luis Pineda, are researching how to transfer control “quickly, safely and smoothly back and forth” between the system and the person operating it. All of these studies were conducted on UMass’s Advanced Driving Simulator ( http://www.ecs.umass.edu/hpl/ ).

“The real trend in artificial intelligence is to build systems that can collaborate with people,” Zilberstein said. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

At the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in January 2017 Dr. Samuel’s team presented two recent studies on Level 3 driving automation and the time it takes for drivers to be able to respond to potential hazards when the driving control of the vehicle needs to switch from the automated system to the driver.

An earlier study by Samuel and Zilberstein also looked at this transfer of control on the driving simulator.  Participants were instructed to transfer control to automation upon hearing an audio alert “transfer control”, and then later they were told with another audio alert “take over control” when they were to resume manual control of the vehicle. During the automated driving phase, participants were instructed to do tasks on a computer tablet. This study found that the minimum transfer of control altering time required for drivers in a Level 3 driving environment to respond to a potential hazard was 8 seconds when the hazard was expected, when the roadway environment was not changing during the transfer of control process, and when they were doing tasks on a computer tablet during the automation part of the drive. In other words, it took 8 seconds for these drivers to anticipate hazards at a rate equivalent to that of drivers who were manually driving their vehicles and weren’t distracted with in-vehicle tasks.   In one study presented at this year’s TRB meeting, Samuel and colleagues found that more informative audio alerts, for example a message telling a participant about at at-grade rail crossing or a lane reduction ahead could reduce the needed time for participants to respond to a potential hazard by as much as 40% or 4 seconds.

UMass Affiliate Researchers make headlines on driverless cars:
http://www.gazettenet.com/University-of-Massachusetts-researchers-study-how-to-make-self-driving-cars-safer-3711488 (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Written by Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow