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Center for Transportation Studies

Programs & Labs

Strategic Plan

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The complete Strategic Plan is available as a PDF document (976 KB). This page contains the Theme Statement and Director's Summary.

The Strategic Plan sets forth the goals of the ITS Institute. Progress toward these goals is documented in the Institute's Annual Reports.

Theme Statement

The theme of this center is Human-Centered Technology to Enhance Safety and Mobility.

The University of Minnesota's SAFETEA-LU-sponsored National University Transportation Center (UTC) is the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Institute, a program within the Center for Transportation Studies (CTS). The scope of the Institute is to enhance the safety and mobility of road- and transit-based transportation through our focus on human-centered technology.

We will expand on work that began under our ISTEA-authorized center and continued under TEA-21: to pursue research in safety-critical technologies and systems for efficiently moving people and goods. Our efforts bring together the technologists with those who study human behavior. This strategic partnering ensures that Institute-developed technologies become tools to optimize human capabilities. By using a human-centered approach, new developments in our core ITS technologies of computing, sensing, communications, and control systems are used to approach significant safety and mobility problems with a fresh perspective.

With our theme as our common focus, the ITS Institute will pursue research in

  1. human performance and behavior,
  2. computing, information, and communication,
  3. sensing and measurement,
  4. technologies for modeling, managing, and operating transportation systems, and
  5. social and economic policy issues related to the above technologies.

In addition, our geographical location gives the ITS Institute a unique advantage. In pursuing our theme-related research, we have the opportunity to develop transportation research that is applicable in our northern climate and rural areas.

Minnesota is nationally recognized as a leader in the development and application of intelligent transportation systems and technologies. Part of our success is due to the established and unparalleled partnership of the ITS Institute, CTS, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT). We are committed to continuing and improving this partnership in the future.

Director's Summary

First, a brief discussion of several important trends:

  • For all the talk about safety improvements in vehicles today, the statistics are still daunting. Fatalities on U.S. roads did indeed drop through the 1980s, but from 1991 and on, they have essentially hovered at around 42,000. That is well over 100 fatalities a day. More than 60 percent of the fatalities in the United States occur on rural roads; in Minnesota, rural fatalities represent an even higher fraction of the total (over 70 percent). Driver inattention, fatigue, and distractions are primary causal factors. The fatality rates for rural roads per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled are two and one-half times the urban rate. While interstate highways have proven to be relatively safe, what about the other roads in our network?
  • Safety also means keeping our roads open and clear in the winter. Not only do we benefit from the savings in human lives, but we also benefit economically when our rural roads are kept open for the passage of goods and services.
  • In the U.S., those 55 years and older make up the largest and fastest growing segment of the population. By 2020, it is estimated there will be 51 million drivers over the age of 65. The ability to drive is a powerful agent of freedom, and aging drivers introduce specific transportation issues. We need to address these issues.
  • Over the last decade, approximately 6,000 teenagers have died on our nation's roads each year. In many states, teen drivers represent the demographic group with the highest fatal crash risk. For example, data from 2004 shows that despite teenagers making up only 4.7 percent of all licensed drivers, they accounted for 11.3 percent of all passenger vehicle driver deaths.
  • Traffic congestion is a problem in urban areas around the world. The population in the Twin Cities, for example, is expected to grow by 650,000 by 2020. This will increase the number of daily trips by more than 25 percent, and the number of miles of severe congestion will more than double by 2020. Fifteen billion dollars over the next 20 years would be needed to "build" ourselves out of congestion, and this does not include the social and institutional side of the issue.
  • Approximately 25 percent of all traffic congestion is "non-recurring" and can be traced to traffic incidents. Non-recurring congestion continues to increase nationally, exceeding 2.9 million hours annually. On average, every minute during which a freeway crash is not cleared generates five minutes of delay for motorists. Consider then the impact on congestion of the nearly 11,000 crashes that occurred on Twin Cities metro area freeways in 2004.

We all know that current approaches cannot be sustained. We need new solutions. Where are we heading as we move into the next century? There is inadequate room here to describe the overwhelming changes that are taking place.

Although GPS receivers and various forms of location-based services are quickly becoming ubiquitous, today they are mostly limited to cellular phones and expensive navigation systems. The capability of "one meter" correction service for differential GPS, although available across all of Minnesota through the National DGPS Service, is hardly exploited. More than half of Minnesota has centimeter-level DGPS correction services, but these are primarily used by surveyors. Why can't we exploit this capability to reduce rural lane-departure fatalities that represent more than one third of all fatalities? Our experience with lane-assist technologies developed in previous years on snowplows and buses tells us that a solution is possible.

The crash rate for teens is particularly high during their first 1,000 miles of driving. We believe that in-vehicle smartphones incorporating GPS, digital maps, and a speed limit database can be used to provide better feedback to improve teen driving behavior during this period, especially when coupled with immediate consequences introduced through a Graduated Driving Licensure that takes advantage of such new tools. Such smartphones can disable phone conversations while the vehicle is moving.

Many safety and traffic management applications can be significantly improved by taking advantage of vehicle position sensing with lane-level accuracy. These include rear-end collision avoidance such as emergency electronic brake light systems, lane change and merge assistance, traffic signal priority and violation warning, corridor and incident management, and congestion pricing. New sensor technologies are needed in urban areas, since higher accuracy GPS is not possible where there are limited satellite availability and errors due to multipath. We are working to develop such new sensors and the mechanisms to exploit this capability.

Wireless technology in its many forms will broadly affect transportation. Vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, and infrastructure-to-vehicle communications and wireless sensor networks will enable new collision-avoidance capabilities, improved traveler information, and better congestion management, especially when coupled with accurate vehicle position sensing.

Congestion mitigation requires better incentives to move drivers from their cars to transit. That will not happen if transit cannot provide a distinct advantage for travelers to get to their destination faster than the automobile stuck in traffic. Sensor-based guidance can provide feedback to bus drivers so that they can use road shoulders (often narrower than standard lanes) to bypass congestion. We have demonstrated such functionality on prototypes and will continue to improve the functionality of the systems.

Clearly, trends in communications, computing, sensing, and control systems will lead us into a radically new world. The questions that we must consider: How will these technologies contribute to a reduction in fatalities? To a reduction in injury? To a reduction in driver stress to reduce congestion? In the past, we have talked about technology leading to automated highways on a national level. The problem is that we are not talking enough about technology leading to safer transportation systems and approaches to congestion mitigation that accommodate many modes of transportation and reduce the stress of the traveler.

Based on the strong foundation developed to date by the ISTEA- and TEA-21-authorized ITS Institute, we now transition to the SAFETEA-LU-sponsored center. The ITS Institute made significant headway in developing a strong research program. Not only will we continue these research efforts, we will move forward to expand our education and outreach activities as well.

The goals and activities outlined in the subsequent sections provide an overview of the Institute's direction and the processes to carry this program forward. In addition to those goals and activities, the following six goals cut across all our efforts. They will help define the Institute:

  • Leverage past research successes
  • Develop strategic partnerships
  • Pursue rural initiatives
  • Pursue research addressing transit needs
  • Increase human resources
  • Enhance use of technology to improve ITS education

Leverage Past Research Successes

We have demonstrated the use of DGPS for lane keeping and other driver-assistive technologies.

We need to get travelers out of their large vehicles and into smaller cars. We believe that it is possible for two vehicles to share a standard lane side-by-side, thus doubling the road capacity. Our researchers have demonstrated a new technology that allows a narrow half-lane-width vehicle to negotiate turns safely without requiring the skills of a motorcyclist.

We have developed technology that allows a police officer to remotely operate a miniature hand-launched airborne vehicle to investigate a traffic incident using synthetic imagery. We are working on using such devices as a high-accuracy sensor platform.

Our researchers have extensively studied the nature of freeway crashes. They have identified specific crash types and causal factors associated with such crashes, using the new ITS Institute Beholder sensor suite deployed at a number of sites along the I-94/I-35W "commons" area. They determined that many drivers exhibit reaction times longer than their following headways. As a result, relatively small individual differences in following distances, reaction times, speeds, and decelerations determine whether or not a stopping shock wave results in a collision. This is exacerbated by driver distraction. As Professor Gary Davis has indicated, "Reducing the frequency of such collisions--for example, by improving the competency of drivers or deploying in-vehicle collision-avoidance technology--could help reduce travel delays without resorting to expensive additions to highway capacity."

We will continue to work on such efforts and will expand into other related areas using the knowledge gained from these successes. We believe our research will make a difference.

The Institute will consider issues related to the seven high-priority application areas within the context of the Institute's theme; it is within these areas that our research, education, and outreach will be focused. The seven categories are:

  • Fatality and crash reduction
  • Traffic management and congestion mitigation
  • In-vehicle and driver-assistance technologies
  • Maintenance and operations
  • Transit applications
  • Rural applications
  • Societal issues (only when they relate to the above)

The University of Minnesota ITS Institute will be a national resource for education, research, and information in the areas outlined here, and it is this reputation that will allow us to sustain our efforts beyond the end of the grant period.

Strategic Partnerships

Another success of the ISTEA- and TEA-21-sponsored Institute is the formation of several strategic partnerships, most notably with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT). In addition to our partnership with Mn/DOT, the Institute will pursue partnerships with cities, counties, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, and other government agencies and industry, along with internal partnerships within the University of Minnesota. Strategic partnerships will provide the mechanism to share information, develop technology, deploy the research results, and conduct field operational tests. We are committed to continuing and expanding these important partnerships.

We have identified other possible partners that relate to our Rural Initiatives and Transit-Based Research goals. These partnerships are described in the following sections.

Rural Initiatives

While the Institute will continue to consider issues related to urban areas, we will also continue our work to develop technologies that meet the needs of rural areas, both in Minnesota and in other parts of the country. For example, we are working with Polk County in northwestern Minnesota, with the Alaska DOT, and with the National Park Service.

Fatalities at rural unsignalized intersections are a major problem, especially of older drivers. We are currently collecting driver gap-acceptance behavior in nine states that will allow us to improve the sensing technologies and methods for communicating to stopped drivers on the minor road when it is safe or unsafe to enter the intersection. With additional support of the USDOT and the Cooperative Intersection Collision Avoidance Systems (CICAS) program, we will expand this research, leading to a field operational test of these new technologies.

For such applications, the Institute will build upon its work in human factors, sensors, lateral guidance, collision warning and avoidance, wireless systems, driver-vehicle interfaces, and infrastructure-based communication interfaces. As stated in the previous sections on research and partnerships, ourvision is that successful demonstration of our research "products" will ensure that our efforts in the rural arena will be sustainable at the end of the grant. However, more importantly, we feel our research will lead to reductions in fatalities and crashes on rural roads.

Transit-Based Research

The Institute is committed to multimodal ITS research: our research activities will encompass both road- and transit-based transportation. We have developed successful partnerships with Twin Cities Metro Transit and with the Federal Transit Administration. We will expand these relationships to other transit agencies such as the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, building on our human factors, driver-assistive technologies, sensors, wireless communications, and traffic management experience. Research will continue to build upon our previous experience in order to exploit the road shoulders as a means to provide high-speed bus rapid transit, and to provide new, more efficient mechanisms that facilitate transit signal priority without overly burdening adjacent traffic.

As we determine the needs of transit-related stakeholders, the Institute will move forward to develop research that addresses such needs. We envision that the Institute's research, education, and technology transfer efforts will be an important link in not only the Twin Cities' efforts to reduce congestion, but in other urban areas as well. We will work to find commercial partners with whom to develop "products" that are sustainable after the grant.

Increased Human Resources

In order to meet the needs of the Institute's public partners, address shorter term needs, leverage faculty resources, and fill in the valleys when students graduate, the Institute is committed to maintain its professional staffing level and modestly increase it where necessary. Our new traffic laboratory located in the civil engineering department has hired a new director. Besides the University's agreement to provide a one-third match to the UTC funds, the University of Minnesota will continue to increase the faculty size committed to the core science and technologies of the Institute.

Enhance Use of Technology to Improve ITS Education

Education in intelligent transportation systems requires access to vehicles and to traffic. However, such access is not easy, and given the students' lack of experience would likely be dangerous to the public. We are committed to develop and expand our capabilities in real-time traffic and vehicle dynamics simulation in order to provide students with the ability to experiment with the latest traffic control, vehicle guidance, and sensor processing methodologies using high-fidelity graphic simulation. This goal will also allow us to expand our ability to provide opportunities for distance learning to professionals who may not be able to come to ITS Institute laboratories.