New Federal Committee on Motorcycle Safety Holds First Meeting

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

motocycle

Last month, the Motorcycle Advisory Committee (MAC) held its initial meeting in Arlington, VA. This federal committee was created to advise the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on motorcycle safety and to identify engineering-related infrastructure solutions for reducing motorcyclist fatalities.

There were 5,286 roadway fatalities nationally involving motorcycles in 2016, an increase of 5% from the previous year. In Massachusetts, 40 motorcyclist fatalities were reported during the same year.

As described on transportation.gov, “the MAC consists of ten members selected by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao. [The members] come from across the country and are experts in a wide range of motorcycle-infrastructure topics. Each is a motorcyclist and, combined, the MAC members have over two centuries of riding experience.”

At the first MAC meeting, there were substantial discussions on many infrastructure issues, including work zones, roundabouts, roadside hardware, roadway maintenance practices, the potential consequences of automated vehicles and crash testing, among others. At upcoming meetings, the MAC will determine how to advise FHWA on these issues. For its part, FHWA has research underway to identify key infrastructure-based safety issues for motorcyclists. The centerpiece of this work is the FHWA’s Motorcycle Crash Causation Study. According to the study web site, “The Motorcycle Crash Causation Study is the most comprehensive data collection effort to study the causes of U.S. motorcycle crashes in more than 30 years. The dataset includes data from at least 351 crash investigations, and 702 control rider interviews.”

A couple of current safety features on motorcycles to prevent future fatalities include: new breaking lights and the required anti-lock brake feature. The break light feature is the first wearable brake light connected to a smart phone app.  The anti-lock brake feature has been an option on motorcycles for years, but it may soon become a requirement based on the safety advantages.

In addition to technology and infrastructure improvements for motorcycle safety, some changes in how motorcyclists are trained may be warranted as well. Researchers at UMass-Amherst, led by now Ph.D. graduate Jeffrey Muttart, have conducted field studies on motorcyclist eye glance and driving behavior, including studies where participants went through the same on-road course as car drivers and as motorcyclists. Key findings in one study were that motorcyclists were less likely to come to a complete stop at a stop sign than car drivers, and that study participants made later final glances toward the direction of the most threatening traffic before they made a turn when they were driving a car than when they were riding a motorcycle.

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Traffic Apps Impact on Neighborhoods and Safety

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

Apps
Photo by Noe Veloso Fremont, CA Public Works Department

Smart phone apps, such as Waze and Google Maps, help drivers find the quickest routes to their destinations using real-time traffic data.  Sometimes this means that drivers are being directed off congested highways to streets through residential neighborhoods instead. Not everyone is happy about this, including traffic planners and people living in these neighborhoods who don’t want higher volumes of traffic on their streets.

News media have reported these impacts of traffic apps on Cape Cod neighborhoods, and in the Boston area.  Quoting Police Sergeant Charles Hartnett, head of Medford’s traffic division, in one news report: “For the residents, it’s a safety issue.”  Some communities are responding by restricting a cut-through and turning movements into residential neighborhoods during commuting hours when the traffic is heaviest.  In some places, certain streets are being changed to one-way roads as another means to divert traffic.  When such changes are made, transportation planners often share these updates with the app companies so that their maps and algorithms can be adjusted accordingly.

The traffic apps can also present a challenge to safety officials in emergency situations.  For example, in the Los Angeles area, while officials were busy fighting wildfires, they implored residents to ignore the apps that were directing them to lightly traveled roads in the fire zones, and put up message signs telling drivers “Don’t Trust Your Apps.” As described in this USA Today article, the fires and evacuation orders were the reason the traffic volumes is these areas were so low.  In Vermont, the shortest way isn’t always the safest way.  Cars have been abandoned because the driver followed Google maps, only to end up on a road that was not maintained in the winter.

Mutual Aid During the Winter – Lending a Hand

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

plow

A blaze recently destroyed the Sandisfield highway garage, leaving the town without access to trucks for snow removal.  Abutting towns and others have stepped in to offer services to assist Sandisfield with their snow removal needs.  Towns like Huntington, Northampton, Leominster, Beckett and others have posted on the One Center Baystate Roads listserve the various services offered for aid (e.g. equipment and staff) to help keep the roads clear and safe.  In Massachusetts, there are two types of Intrastate Mutual Aid Agreements that Towns can participate in: Statewide Mutual Aid Agreement and Public Works Mutual Aid Agreement.  Many Massachusetts towns have signed one of these documents to provide assistance to another town that is in need of equipment, staff, traffic mitigation, due to a natural disaster, fires etc…

MassDOT has also provided aid to Sandisfield.  Speaking with Kathy Stevens, District 1; “ MassDOT has committed two weeks of salt and plowing services to the town.”  This is not unusual for MassDOT to offer these services.  Historically they have offered other services as well, including traffic and safety mitigation.

Safe Driving Liquid Solutions for Winter Roadway Maintenance

by Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

salt-brine

A major goal of winter maintenance is keeping the rods free from ice/snow.  There is pre-storm preparation and then there is maintaining the roads, in safe conditions, during and after a weather event.  The factors that agencies take into consideration when trying to achieve this goal range from available staff, application rates anti-ice and de-ice material, temperature, and impact on fleet etc.  Among the various solutions, generally, salt is used during a weather event, based on its effective de-icing capabilities; also, it’s easy to handle, store and apply.  Some negative qualities of road salt include: its effectiveness decreases dramatically at 15 degrees and less, it is highly corrosive, it does not stay on the road as much, and it can be costly.

Along with road salt, other winter road products include a number of liquid solutions and/or treated salt.  Some liquid solutions and their qualities include:

  • Calcium Chloride (CaCl) – highly corrosive, freezes at -15 degrees
  • Magnesium Chloride (MgCl) – less corrosive (safe around plants/animals), freezes at -20 degrees
  • “Ice Be Gone”/Magic Minus Zero – non-corrosive, freezes at -40 degrees and is EPA approved
  • Caliper M-1000 & 2000 – non-corrosive, freezes at -85 degrees, good for pre-wet

Another alternative for regular road salt is to treat it.  Some options for treated salt are Magic Salt, Fire Road and Clear Lane.   All of these are less corrosive than regular salt.  Also, when salt is treated, up to 90% stays on the road; where-as un-treated salt, only 60% stays on the road.

Most of the liquids mentioned above can also be used on gravel roads as dust control as well; this adds additional stabilization for the road and prevents loss of gravel over the years.  The costs of these liquids solutions range from MgCl being the cheapest to “Ice Be Gone” being the more expensive one.  In the middle is Caliper M-100 and M-2000.

Currently MassDOT pre-treats the state highways with a salt brine, and pre-wets their roads with MgCl.  They are able to get a jump on most weather events by using pavement temperatures sensors and the Roadway Weather Information Stations (RWIS).  Speaking with Paul Brown, District 1, MassDOT, “Most new trucks are equipped with pavement temperature sensors.”  MassDOT also fully utilizes the RWIS, which measure real-time atmospheric parameters, pavement conditions, water level conditions, and visibility.

The Latest Transportation Tools Update from ITE and FHWA

By Courtney Murtagh, UMTC Research staff

This past fall, both the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and the Federal Highway Administration, made important updates to their transportation research tools.

The ITE released the 10th edition Trip Generation Manual, which consists of two volumes: volume one- Desk reference and volume two- Land use data plots. It also comes with the third edition trip generation handbook, and a new web-based application titled ITETripGen.

The updated manual provides a detailed description of both vehicle and person-based trip generation data for all different settings including urban, suburban, and rural areas. The data set of land use description and plots for all land use/time period/independent variable combinations has been updated with twenty-two new land use classification for more than 1,700 sites.  The new desktop app allows users to access the entire trip generation data-set electronically, with plenty of filtering options including site setting, geographic location, age of data, development size, and trip type.

The Federal Highway Administration updated their Interactive Highway Safety Design Model (IHSDM),is a software analysis tool used to evaluate highway designs expected safety and performance based on data collected from existing highways.

The tool now includes an economic analysis option (EA Tool). The purpose of the new EA tool is to allow project managers, highway designers, and others using the tool to estimate the cost of crashes predicted for one or more designs and run benefit-cost analyses. Data has also been updated on the app, which now includes a lane offset option for urban and suburban arterials. Minor graphical user interface, output/reporting, documentation, and system administration tools were updated to adapt to the new EA Tool.

Both these changes are significant to improve safety in highway designs, and improved modeling and design for transportation engineers.

 

Distracted Walking: A Global Epidemic

By Courtney Murtagh, Tracy Zafian, and Matt Mann, UMTC Research Staff

Most of us are aware of the dangers of distracted driving, but distracted walking? Around the world and close to home, it’s a growing epidemic. More and more people are texting and using their phones while walking in intersections, creating unsafe situations.

distracted_peds_source_Premier_Insurance_Corp
source: Premier Insurance Corporation

A 2017 report by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that pedestrian roadway deaths in the US are now at their highest level in over 20 years, with more than 6,000 pedestrian fatalities in 2016. An article in the May 2017 MassDOT Innovative Outlook, discussed a number of contributing factors for this, including: more driving; alcohol use by drivers and pedestrians; lack of pedestrian visibility; and driver and pedestrian distractions.

Dr. Cole Fitzpatrick, a UMTC Affiliate Researcher, recently conducted a field study on the prevalence of distracted walking and its effect on driver behavior. The study included observations of a total of 1,386 pedestrian crossings and 890 pedestrian-vehicle interactions at seven different crosswalks on the UMass Amherst campus. The researchers found that nearly half of all pedestrians were distracted while crossing the street, with 22% of them talking to another person beside them, 16% using headphones, and 10% either texting or talking on their phones.

Cities have begun to take notice of distracted walkers and are looking for ways to improve intersection and crosswalk safety. In October 2017, Honolulu enacted a law allowing pedestrians who text on their phones while crossing the street to be fined $15 to $99 for doing so.  This new law is thought to be the first such law of its kind in the country. Prior to October,  Honolulu had more pedestrians being hit  by vehicles in crosswalks, than any other major US City. Local high school students were instrumental in pushing for this law. Kel Hirohata, a local high school teacher interviewed on National Public Radio recently, described how the Youth for Safety club at Waipahu High School spent more than a week watching fellow students as they left school. They noticed an alarming trend: many of their classmates staring at their phones while crossing the street. The Safety club members took note of the potential danger, and then followed up with a local councilmember who wrote a bill which then became the new law.

Legislators in other places have also proposed laws to curb texting while walking. In San Mateo County, California, County board members unanimously voted in favor of a resolution in September 2017 asking state lawmakers to pass a law banning cell phone use in crosswalks. Stamford, Connecticut is now considering an ordinance that would ban cell phone talking or texting while crossing the street and impose a $30 fine for offenders. In September 2017, New York State passed a law requiring the New York City Transportation Department to study and report on its efforts to educate drivers and walkers about the dangers of pedestrians distracted by cell phones.  In Massachusetts a bill was introduced this November to ban texting while jaywalking. No action has yet been taken on this proposed legislation.

It’s not just in the United States that officials are looking into distracted walking. Bodegraven, Amsterdam for example installed lights in the ground near crosswalks that would change colors with the traffic lights, so people looking down on their phones would be more aware of the nearby traffic and when it’s safe to cross.

LED_sidewalk_lights_in_Amsterdam_Lichtlijn-Foto-Gemeente-Bodegraven_source_www_omroepwest_nl
LED sidewalk lights in Amsterdam. Source: http://www.omroepwest.nl

 

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.

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.

 

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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.

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