Researchers Probe How Well Streets Perform

Posted: January 5, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Aimee Flannery
Aimee Flannery

Researchers in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Infrastructure Engineering (CEIE) and the Department of Psychology are investigating what is important to travelers on urban streets and are developing research protocol and methods to estimate users’ perceived performance of these streets.

Their efforts may give policy makers the tools to understand the impact of their design choices.

The project is funded by a National Cooperative Highway Research Program grant to Aimee Flannery of CEIE who is working with Deborah Boehm-Davis and Kathryn Wochinger, Psychology, as well as researchers from several other universities.

The results of the project will enable transportation agencies to better estimate the impact of improvements to urban streets on all users, leading to better investment decisions.

Current methods most widely adopted by transportation professionals estimate operational performance only for automobile users. Yet in many urban areas throughout the United States, transportation services of roadways need to be evaluated from a multimodal perspective. As automobiles, trucks, transit, bicycles and pedestrians share urban streets, improvements in service quality for one mode may improve or lower the quality for another mode.

Although some components of a multimodal analysis approach exist, such as techniques for determining the impact of automobile traffic on bus lanes, no nationally accepted method exists for integrating the analysis of automobile, transit, bicycle and pedestrian modes.

Flannery’s research team at George Mason spent the past 18 months researching the auto mode to identify the most influential factors to drivers’ perceived service quality and to understand how the variation in these factors can influence this perception. (Similar studies are being conducted by other researchers on other transportation modes to discover how the auto influences service perceptions for these modes.)

The researchers used video presentation methods to simulate the driving experience along urban streets. Automobile drivers were recruited and asked to rate the service quality of one-half mile segments of urban streets as depicted on videotaped scenes filmed from the driver’s perspective.

Phase I results revealed that current methods do not completely represent driver assessment of performance, as drivers perceive quality of urban street segments in several dimensions, such as travel efficiency, sense of safety and aesthetics (travel time, average travel speed, number of stops, delay, number of signals, lane width, the presence of trees and separation from the opposing traffic stream).

Phase II, which will include drivers from several locations in the United States, is under way. This phase will have more simulated urban street conditions to view and rate.

Researchers are proceeding cautiously to fully understand whether video presentation methods can represent field conditions experienced by travelers and to incorporate factors in the new models that are assessable by engineers. The potential impact of the new methods is wide-reaching, the researchers say.

This article appeared in a slightly different format in IT&Enews.

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