September 2014 Catalyst

September 2014
Navigating sidewalks and intersections affected by road construction can be challenging for all pedestrians, but it’s especially difficult for those who are blind or visually impaired. To help these pedestrians find their way safely, University of Minnesota researchers have developed a smartphone app that can detect upcoming work zones and provide routing instructions. The project, funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, was led by senior systems engineer Chen-Fu Liao at the U’s Minnesota Traffic Observatory.
Two years ago, the Minnesota Department of Transportation installed a series of electronic speed limit advisory signs over I-94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul. The variable speed limit (VSL) system is designed to reduce congestion and help prevent crashes by recommending lower speed limits to drivers during periods of high traffic. The new technology has worked in other places, including China and Germany. In Minnesota, a similar VSL system on I-35W reportedly helped reduce congestion. Although the verdict on the system’s effects on I-94 congestion is still pending, a recent study found that the VSL system has not made a measurable impact on crashes in a crash-prone stretch of freeway in downtown Minneapolis.
Rail transit and transit-oriented development are often promoted as ways to reduce auto dependence and traffic congestion. It’s unclear, however, whether the increase in transit ridership that often results from a new line stems from drivers swapping their vehicles for the train or if it represents new demand. Furthermore, most studies do not disentangle the influences of two important factors—residents’ preferences and the built environment—from the impact of rail transit itself. To shed light on these questions, Humphrey School of Public Affairs researchers examined the effects of light-rail transit, neighborhood design, and resident self-selection on auto ownership. They found that rail transit development alone is not sufficient to reduce auto ownership—neighborhood design is important as well.
In 2013, Dakota County asked CTS to lead an interdisciplinary team from the U of M in the development of a strategic action plan for Dakota County’s human service transportation. The initiative aimed to assist the county with a previously identified lack of coordination as well as significant service gaps among its existing transportation options. Goals included making sense of a tangle of funding sources, providers, and rules that created confusion for users as well as providing clear direction for next steps.
Publication Credits 

Publisher/Director: Laurie McGinnis
Managing Editor: Pamela Snopl
Editors: Christine Anderson, Amy Friebe, Michael McCarthy
Designer: Angela Kronebusch
Freelance Writer: Megan Tsai