MassDOT Research on Options for ADA Paratransit Services

by Eric Gonzales, Assistant Professor, UMass Amherst and Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Governor Baker (right) at the Ride, Uber and Lyft ADA Paratransit partnership press conference (MassLive)

One of MassDOT’s research project titled “Optimizing ADA Paratransit Operations with Taxi and Ride Share Programs”, had its kick-off meeting in December 2017 and is well underway.  This $152k research project began in December with the project kickoff meeting scheduled for December 14th at MassDOT.   This project is Championed by Ben Schutzman, Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s (MBTA) and will be aimed at optimizing programs to serve some paratransit trips by taxi or other mobility services in order to minimize overall system costs.

Rising ridership on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit services, such as MBTA’s “The Ride”, pose a challenge due to the high costs of operating this required service.  The objective of this project is to optimize programs to serve some paratransit trips by taxi or other mobility services in order to minimize system cost. The benefits to MBTA will be to lower the cost of providing service in order to accommodate the anticipated increase in ridership.  The challenge of managing a demand-response transportation service, for people with disabilities, is the system operation depends on the demand of the traveler behavior and supply structure and costs.  As of March 1, 2017, a pilot program now allows eligible ADA paratransit customers on “The Ride” were able to use taxicabs, Uber, or Lyft for a subsidized trip.  The goal is to provide insights about how the operation and use of the system is changing under the pilot program and then to provide guidance about how to manage a multimodal ADA program that provides users with a greater range of choices than they have had in the past.  Although the scope is tied closely to an analysis of the MBTA system, the insights are likely to have implications for the ADA paratransit systems elsewhere in Massachusetts.  A recent Boston Globe article provides an update to March 2017 pilot study, the increase in demand and some initial cost per ride numbers.

Eric Gonzales, UMass Amherst, the Principal Investigator states “the project will allow us to use modeling tools to analyze how coordinating ADA paratransit services with taxis is changing the experience for customers and costs of the agency.  Our goal is to identify ways to provide cost-effective and high-quality service for customers with disabilities as part of an equitable and sustainable transit system for the Boston region.”

Are Your Lights Iced?

by: Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

Image result for train rail flashing lights

Many highway and rail signals now contain Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). The switch to LEDs was made because of its energy efficiency. However, a one side-effect of this efficiency is that the LED lights don’t give off enough heat to melt snow or ice on their own. This can lead to the lights being obscured during winter conditions which can create potential safety hazards. In 2016, for example, there was a crash in Windsor, Ontario where a school bus entered an intersection against a red light and ran into a car. The bus driver did not see the red light-an LED, because the light was obscured by snow. Fortunately, there were no major injuries during that crash. Early this winter, the Minnesota DOT worked to clean off LED traffic signals after snow obscured signals in the Twin Cities area of the MN Highway 36, leading to at least one serious crash and many near misses.

In 2014, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released a report on LED traffic signal operations in snow conditions which suggested a number of proactive and reactive measures transportation departments can take to keep LED signal lights free from ice and snow. Reactive measures, employed after a snowfall, include manually cleaning the lights or spraying them with antifreeze, deicing spray or compressed air to clean them off. Each of these measures requires personnel to visit and work on each light. Proactive measures include installing signal lens heating elements or lens covers, or spraying deicing spray on the lights before it snows. As documented in the report, such proactive measures have had various degrees of success.

Two current research studies are testing new proactive approaches, both of which involve redesigning the LEDs lights used in traffic signals. Researchers at the University of Kansas have developed and tested self-de-icing LED technology and are now working on creating a full prototype for field testing. . Their approach is to mount the LEDs in the traffic signals “backwards” to harvest the heat generated by the LEDs to heat the light lenses and keep them above freezing. With this system, no additional heating is needed to prevent ice and snow from collecting on the traffic lights. The researchers have estimated that replacing the current LED lights with new LEDs will save about $28 per signal light annually, with a payback time of 4.5 years.

A second research study is looking at developing a super hydrophobic (anti-icing) surface coating for the lenses of traffic signals. The research is being conducted at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and is investigating femtosecond laser surface processing (FLSP) techniques for producing thin (nanoscale) anti-wetting surfaces on hard materials, such as tungsten carbide. Testing is being conducted find the best FLSP-functionalized hard material to use as a durable stamp for imprinting an anti-icing surface on the lenses of traffic signals. This study is scheduled to be completed later this year.

AASHTO’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program Problem Statements…2018!

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Image result for NCHRP

It’s that time of year again when each state Department of Transportation agencies evaluate problem statements for AASHTO’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP).  MassDOT’s Research Section in the Office of Transportation Planning (OTP) will be looking for internal expertise to review and rate the 2018 problem statements.  The 2018 candidate projects include problem statements associated with a variety of subject matter categories including: Administration, Transportation Planning, Transportation Design, Materials & Construction, Maintenance, and Traffic.  Each year, Mass DOT strives to complete the rating of 100% of these proposed NCHRP Problem Statements.

Be on the look-out for the NCHRP problem statements and your involvement is very much appreciated.  Here’s an overview of NCHRP.

Transit Manufacturing Job Facts

by: Melissa Paciulli, Manager of Research

Quantifying transit manufacturing can be relatively simple, when you consider all of the components that are manufactured across the country. T4America  recently published a few facts that make it clear that investing in transit, helps the economy.

  • There are at least 2,763transit component manufacturers in the United States.
  • 91 percent[396 of 435] of congressional districts host at least 1 manufacturer.
  • 98 percent[50 of 51] states + DC are home to at least one manufacturer.

BTS Releases Pocket Guide to Transportation Mobile App


The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2018

“Tuesday, January 9, 2018 – The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) has released a new dynamic mobile app for the Pocket Guide to Transportation 2018 – a quick reference guide to transportation statistics. This popular guide provides the latest transportation statistics at your fingertips in mobile app and printed formats.  The app covers data on major trends, moving people and goods, system use and performance, the economy, safety, infrastructure, and the environment. Download the app now to access all the features of the classic Pocket Guide plus enhanced navigation, sharable graphics to social media and email, and dynamic data updates to highlight the most recent up-to-date statistics. The app is available on the App Store and on Google Play (keyword: BTS Pocket Guide). To access the Pocket Guide, go to BTS Pocket Guide to Transportation or text USDOT BTSPG to 468311. This publication can also be obtained by ordering online, by contacting BTS by phone at 202-366-DATA or by e-mail at For inquiries other than placing orders contact Dave Smallen: or 202-366-5568. ”

New Federal Committee on Motorcycle Safety Holds First Meeting

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow


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, “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.

Transportation Sector – Moving from GHGs to Electricity

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Gas vs Hybrid

As Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) continue to contribute to climate change, the biggest contributor is now the transportation sector, taking over from the power plants.  This doesn’t mean there are more emissions coming out of tailpipes; rather less coal is being used and an increase in cleaner natural gas are two of the biggest reasons.  In the long-term, the other reason could also include an increase in demand of electric vehicles.

Transportation emissions have been fairly flat since 2000 and with a slight increase since 2012.  This, coupled with an increase in the way electricity emissions are produced, has allowed planes, trains and automobiles to become the lead emitter of GHGs since the late 1970s.  Electricity demand has also leveled off, as the shift has been away from coal and more on natural gas and renewable energy.

Even though electricity demand has leveled off, the increase demand for electric vehicles could change this.  With a minimal but consistent increase over the last couple of years, electric vehicles are expected to widen their reach and even include electric delivery trucks as well. With electric vehicles becoming more affordable, reliant and convenient, this increase in demand could eventually have a big impact on pollution emitted.

There are a couple recently completed MassDOT research publications on GHGs reduction and electric vehicles, written by One Center Research Affiliates Erin Baker and Song Gao.  Also Shannon Greenwell, from the Office of Transportation Planning at MassDOT, is currently working on a review and analysis of low-cost, quick to deploy, and scalable GHG-reducing investment strategies that would supplement traditional capital investments.

Eliminating Mandatory Parking Requirements to Support Development & Encourage Alternative Modes

by: Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow


In December, Hartford, Connecticut became the 2nd major U.S. city and 3rd largest North American city to eliminate mandatory minimum parking requirements citywide for development projects. Hartford follows in the footsteps of Buffalo, New York and Mexico City, where parking requirements were eliminated over the past year.

As described by Streetblog, Mexico City, the largest city in North America (2017 population: 8.8 million) went even further, capping the number of allowed parking spaces for new developments (at 1 parking space for every 30 square meters, or 323 square feet) and implementing a new fee on any new central city development including more than 50% of the maximum parking allowed. Revenues from the new fee will be used for subsidized housing and transit improvements. New parking requirements include bicycle parking for new building developments in Mexico City. Goals of the new policy include reducing traffic, improving air quality, and making housing more affordable.  With the new regulations, existing parking spaces can be converted to other uses.

Buffalo, New York eliminated its minimum parking requirements as part of an overhaul of its zoning bylaws and shift to form-based zoning.  The change to a form-based code is “aimed at reinvigorating Buffalo’s vibrant neighborhoods, capitalizing on its good civic “bones” (including a radial street pattern), and emphasizing urban sustainability” wrote Daniel Baldwin Hess while describing the parking changes.   Hess describes Buffalo’s situation further: “Even with lower minimum parking requirements than other cities, approximately 28% of land area in Buffalo’s city center is used for parking but only 63% percent of parking spaces are occupied on an average weekday. This excess is compounded by low parking prices sin municipal parking lots, and structures.An abundance of inexpensive parking encourages people to drive and weakens the need to seek out other travel methods for commuting to work.”

A 2014 national meeting of the Congress for New Urbanism in Buffalo and lectures by Donald Shoup, a ULCA urban planning professor who has researched and written extensively about the expense of parking minimums provided the impetus for city planners in Buffalo to revise their zoning and eliminate their parking requirements.  In his book The High Cost of Free Parking, Shoup describes how Los Angeles’s requirement of one parking space per every 250 square feet of retail space can can nearly double the cost of building a shopping center.  Such costs are then passed on to customers but they offer no benefit to those who don’t own cars, who are predominantly low-income. Shoup has written about situation in Los Angeles in the 1990s where historical downtown buildings were mostly vacant above the ground floor but couldn’t be renovated for housing because of a requirement at the time that each housing unit have two parking spaces.  A city planner proposed, and received approval for a new ordinance -the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance; this ordinance allows historical buildings to be exempt from the parking requirements when being converted to housing. Although initially there were concerns, within 8 years of the ordinance’s passage, 57 historical downtown building were fully restored into housing.

Buffalo faced similar issues with historical building preservation and downtown development.  The elimination of the minimum parking rules will make them easier.  In Buffalo, the City Council can still decide to require parking for new developments larger than 5,000 square feet.  Hartford, Connecticut has no such requirement.

In Hartford, the requirements for parking spaces for downtown projects were eliminated two years ago; at that time parking mandates were also dropped for retail and service land uses citywide.  Now,  the parking requirements have been removed for all uses, except for a few such as car dealerships (Connecticut State law requires parking) and a few large uses, such as stadiums, where parking will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Sara Bronin, chair of Hartford’s Planning and Zoning Commission was quoted in a recent  Streetblog article, “There have been some buildings that have been renovated downtown in a much faster and more efficient way by not having to provide as much parking,” she told Streetsblog. “Because of that we felt that it was time to bring that same benefit to developments citywide.”  As in Mexico City and Buffalo, Hartford’s parking changes are expected to promote alternative transportation and a healthy environment.  According to Bronin, about 42% of Hartford’s land area includes impermeable surfaces which contributes to water pollution.  Says Bronin, “For me, the environmental implications were really important….We also believe that in deemphasizing parking we will make our neighborhoods more livable.”

There are other cities that, though they have not yet eliminated parking requirements, they have either do so partially, such as in downtown areas, or are considering doing so. A 2015 crowdsourced map by the nonprofit Strong Towns shows that dozens of cities, mostly small ones have implemented or proposed eliminating their minimum parking requirements.  Over time, people like Shoup believe that more communities, both larger and smaller cities, will make this change.

TRB Lounge – Many learning and networking opportunities

From the lectern sessions, to the poster sessions, to the workshops, the spotlight themes, to the AICP certification, to the practice ready paper sessions, there will be over 1,160 features at the upcoming January 2018 TRB Annual Meeting; a variety of sessions for everyone to attend.

Please join UMass Amherst graduate students and UMass Transportation Center Affiliates and staff at our reception on Tuesday evening:


MassDOT Contracts with UMass Lowell Researchers on “Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategy Analysis.”

by: Shannon Greenwell, MassDOT Transportation Planner and edited by: Melissa Paciulli, Manager of Research

MassDOT has chosen Affiliate Researchers, Danjue Chen, Yuanchang Xie, and Jill Hendrickson Lohmeier to start a 12-to-18-month research project based in UMass Lowell.

MassDOT’s primary lever for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is investment in transportation projects and programs that reduce congestion and promote low emission transportation options such as transit, walking and bicycling. Primarily, this includes traditional capital projects such as constructing sidewalks and bicycle lanes, improving intersections, and procuring cleaner transit vehicles. While these investments are integral to MassDOT’s mission to provide safe and reliable transportation options, and also support Massachusetts’ efforts to achieve the Commonwealth’s emissions reduction targets set out under the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA),[1] they often have high capital costs and long design and construction timelines.


Through this search endeavor, MassDOT seeks a review and analysis of low-cost, quick to deploy and scaleable GHG-reducing investment strategies that would supplement traditional capital investments. This data will inform decision-making on how MassDOT could diversify its investments to further support greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts. MassDOT is specifically interested in capital subsidy and direct incentive compensation strategies.

 Shannon Greenwell is a Transportation Planner with MassDOT’s Office of Transportation Planning. As a planner within the Sustainable Transportation group, Shannon’s work focuses on the research, analysis and development of strategies that reduce transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions, ranging from capital investments in infrastructure, to wider-reaching programmatic interventions.

[1] Requires Massachusetts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.