Institute for Transportation Studies (ITS) Funds 13 New Projects

September 13, 2021

Today we're excited to share a guest news story from Amanda Cairo, Communications Director for the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS). This post was originally published on August 31, 2021. 

Logo for the Berkeley Institute for Transportation Studies

The UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies is excited to announce funding for 13 new research proposals, totaling $854,697 through the Statewide Transportation Research Program (STRP) funded by the State of California through the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (Senate Bill 1) and the Public Transportation Account.

“This funding is so important for our transportation research community at UC Berkeley and the opportunities it brings for recruitment and retention of researchers,” says ITS Director Alexandre Bayen. “I am very excited to see the breadth of research and focus of so many of the submissions we received.”

The successful proposals were chosen from 22 submissions overall, which requested a total of $1,554,207. The selected projects span several academic departments and five ITS Centers, Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology (PATH), Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC), Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC), National Center of Excellence in Aviation Operations Research (NEXTOR), and National Institute of Congestion Relief (NICR).

This year, ITS Berkeley committed a minimum of $165,000 for equity-focused research projects. A seven-person committee of ITS Berkeley faculty, students, and staff reviewed 14 equity-focused proposals and recommended funding of three projects totaling $224,875. The remainder of the proposals were reviewed by a faculty and staff committee, where an additional four equity proposals and six other proposals were chosen.

In addition to transportation equity-specific funding this year, ITS Berkeley plans to hold a workshop to strengthen the interest and capacity among ITS researchers and faculty to do community-engaged transportation equity research.

The three top transportation equity proposed projects are: 

  • Struggling to Connect: Co-Creating MOD/MaaS Strategies to Address Spatial Mismatch Caused by the Suburbanization of Poverty 
    PI: Susan Shaheen, TSRC, $83,000
    Rising housing costs in the San Francisco Bay Area have resulted in more low-income households moving to suburban areas far from jobs. Mobility on demand (MOD) platforms, which link users with shared modes and subsidies, could help address the spatial mismatch caused by displacement. Providing alternatives to private vehicle ownership could also address statewide goals of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This research proposal builds on our prior work on the transportation barriers of rent burdened Oakland residents and focuses on recently displaced households in Contra Costa and San Joaquin Counties. This research will be conducted in partnership with TransForm, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA), and the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA). The project will map spatial and temporal accessibility to key services (e.g., jobs, food, healthcare) for different travel modes (e.g., driving, public transit, shared modes) supplemented with qualitative data (i.e., surveys, interviews, and ethnographic shadowing) on perceived accessibility to better understand spatial mismatch, mobility obstacles, and MOD platform opportunities. Additionally, researchers will develop a discrete choice model for the housing location choice of involuntarily displaced households and validate it with qualitative data. Research findings can be leveraged by policymakers in developing programs and policies to address spatial mismatch. 
  • Assessing and Improving the Equity Impacts of California High-Speed Rail
    PI: Mark Hansen, NEXTOR, $61,875
    A frequent criticism of California HSR is that it will mainly serve privileged groups, and current studies have focused on benefits to California residents as a whole with little consideration to the specific opportunities for HSR to improve the lives of marginalized groups. To fill this void, project leaders propose to study the potential benefits of HSR systems to communities of concern. The project will determine the extent to which HSR systems improve the accessibility of such communities to different opportunities, such as employment, education, and medical care. Furthermore, it will identify actions that might be taken to increase the value of HSR to communities of concern and analyze how these actions may enhance the potential benefits of HSR to such communities. Actions to be considered include land use change, pricing and non-auto access improvement. The ultimate goal of this study is to make HSR a more accessible and attractive travel option for communities of concern. 
  • EEZ Mobility: A Tool for Modeling Equitable Electrification of Zero-emissions Mobility
    PI: Scott Moura, CEE, $80,000
    The distribution of Electric Vehicle ownership and public chargers are unevenly distributed in California with respect to income, race and education-levels. This creates inequitable access to electric mobility and risks technological lockout as EVs scale for low-income communities of color. Additionally, there is greater reliance on public charging stations in these communities due to higher rates of multi-family housing and renters, making access to home charging stations less likely. Income and race also correlate with air quality so these vulnerable communities stand to disproportionately benefit from EV adoption. Currently programs exist in California that fund public chargers and EV incentives in “Disadvantaged Communities” (as defined by CalEnviroScreen), but the identification of these communities do not consider key characteristics like housing type, public transit availability and private charger likelihood. This project proposes constructing a model-based tool that builds on CalEnviroScreen data, and incorporates additional key information to geo-spatially predict economic benefits and health impacts of public charging infrastructure deployment. The tool will guide equitable distribution of funds by maximizing the expected benefits of public charging infrastructure across census tracts.

In addition to the projects recommended by the equity review committee, these 10 projects, several of which also have a strong equity component, were selected by the general review committee:

  • Transportation Accessibility and Adoption of Shared Automated Vehicles by Disabled Travelers
    PI: Peggy Wang, PATH, $25,000
    Automated vehicle (AV) technologies are expected to save lives and provide enhanced mobility for all people. In particular, shared automated vehicles (SAVs) could be an attractive means to provide more accessible transportation access for those who cannot drive or face significant barriers to driving. This project will review the literature (peer-reviewed and grey) published to date to identify existing research on the transportation needs and challenges for people with disabilities relative to SAVs, the potential for future adoption of SAVs in this population, and the potential change to their transportation mode choices envisioning having access to SAVs.
  • Pedestrian Injury/Fatality:  Impact of Ethnicity and Low Income—A Research Synthesis of the Literature
    PI: David Ragland, SafeTREC, $24,910
    This project will conduct a thorough review of articles/reports documenting risk patterns for pedestrian injury for Black, Hispanic, and Native American populations, including data sources (FARS or SWITRS, hospital data, etc.), main findings, limitations, and reports that address the interaction of ethnicity and income. Additionally, potential under-reporting will be discussed and evaluated, and solutions to reduce pedestrian injury among these populations will be reviewed. As part of this project, researchers will consult with officials of local and state transportation agencies as well as community groups that have a stake in safety and mobility in their communities. Researchers will also participate in webinars set up by ITS, prepare a paper for TRB, and communicate findings in several statewide safety-oriented committees SafeTREC participates.
  • Coordinating Transit and Transportation Network Companies for Equitable Mobility and Livable Communities
    PI: Michal Cassidy, NICR, $79,918
    In this project, a system of incentives will be designed so Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), like Uber and Lyft, provide subsidized first- and last-mile services to all riders of public transit, including those who lack a connection to the internet. This service improvement may shift some long-distance trips from TNCs to transit, reducing VMT.  The proposed system will also mandate the use of carefully designed dwell zones for boarding and alighting; and introduce fees for empty (or full) TNC miles driven. The mandate will eliminate traffic disruptions caused by double-parking. The fees will both finance the subsidies, and encourage TNC drivers to wait in dwell zones for new fares, rather than cruising for fares and contributing to VMT. Building on previous works by the Berkeley team, a continuum approximation model will be formulated to optimize the system for local conditions and estimate its effects on society. The optimization will consider equity, so no disadvantaged group is left behind.  The predictions will be tested against simulations that span wide-ranging conditions, including a detailed case study.
  • Mitigating Exposure and Climate Change Impacts from Transportation Projects: Environmental Justice-Centered Decision-Support Framework and Tool
    PI: Arpad Horvath, TSRC $79,994
    Transportation projects in California, including road/highway paving, terminals/transit centers, bridges/overpasses, railways, and future facilities such as vertiports, support the mobility and growth of urban and rural communities. Material manufacturing, construction activities, and operational energy use from these projects result in pollution that contributes to climate change and impacts the human health of local communities. This project will create a framework, comprehensive model, and accessible decision-support software tool that can be used to identify and minimize (1) the exposure burdens from primary and secondary fine particulate matter (PM2.5) formed from emission precursors, including nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), sulfur dioxides (SO2), ammonia (NH3); (2) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the life cycle (material production, equipment use, other energy use, maintenance, end of life) of transportation projects; and (3) the exposure burdens from noise pollution. Researchers will deploy a state-of-the-art air quality model, quantify GHG emissions using lifecycle assessment (LCA), and map the environmental noise burden from projects. The tool will estimate monetized damages from projects. Mitigation strategies for each life-cycle phase, and their direct economic costs and expected changes in emissions and exposure will aid policy makers and community members in making evidence-based, equitable decisions about transportation projects.
  • Pattern Recognition for Curb Usage
    PI: Murat Arcak, EECS, $80,000
    A transformation is taking place in urban curb management, as curb space is increasingly becoming a dynamic interface between people and vehicles, and its stationary use as parking space is waning. This transformation is fueled in part by the public's increasing reliance on transportation network companies, e.g. Uber and Lyft, and on delivery services. This project aims to assist cities in this rapidly changing environment by identifying spatial and temporal curb usage patterns and will demonstrate that these patterns can be learned from data collected by multiple cameras, stationary and mobile. As a proof of concept, researchers will install dashboard cameras on shuttle buses continually traveling the periphery of the UC Berkeley campus and make use of existing stationary cameras to identify hot spots and times of day when curb activity peaks, disrupting traffic flow, limiting access to shuttle and public bus stops, and causing safety hazards. Researchers will further identify the types of commercial delivery vehicles, and a distribution of their arrival probabilities to enable dynamic allocation of curb space to different types of activity, and a potential reservation system for delivery vehicles, thus facilitating freight and goods movement with advanced data analysis technologies.
  • Cybersecurity of Our Transportation Ecosystem
    PI: Brian Peterson, PATH, $50,000
    Transportation infrastructure is becoming increasingly digitized and connected, as is the world around it. Unfortunately, it continues to be a few steps behind other industries in its implementation of technology, connectivity is often fragmented, systems often remain in place with limited updates for decades, and much more dependent on other industries and services. This project will investigate and provide a high-level review of the entire California transportation system cybersecurity landscape, including looking at state, regional, local, and private transportation system elements. Researchers will report on the following elements at a systemic level, including: vulnerabilities, risks, attack vectors, threat identification, and potential impacts of various attacks; and look at issues that impact California’s ability to address its cybersecurity vulnerabilities, including system oversight, leadership, and management; system and security funding; technology; resources and skills available; and changing technology landscape of transportation.
  • Safe System Training Academy
    PI: Offer Grembek, SafeTREC, $50,000
    While the overarching objective of the transportation system is to provide mobility, it should be delivered subject to a set of moral imperatives. A major consideration in this respect is the responsibility to establish an equitable system on which no road user can suffer catastrophic outcomes. The California Strategic Highway Safety Plan has adopted the Safe System approach as a core component of its forthcoming plan. However, this pivot represents a change in how traffic safety is done at the state level and requires enhancements across all stakeholders. The essence of this project is to develop the foundation of a Safe System academy that would provide training services to various stakeholder across the state. Achieving the goals of the project would provide an opportunity for California to more intentionally pursue activities that are needed to implement a Safe System framework.

  • New Data and Methods for Estimating Regional Truck Movements
    PI: Francois Dion, PATH, $80,000
    Within California, truck data sources include Weigh-In-Motion and Traffic Census stations operated by Caltrans, and truck scales operated by the California Highway Patrol. While these sources provide valuable information about the physical characteristics of passing trucks, they provide limited data about their origins, destinations, and route choices between these fixed observation points. This data gap may potentially be closed by using information from data aggregators relying of fleet tracking, such as Streetlight, INRIX, and others. This project assesses potential by first reviewing what data is currently being collected by state agencies and assessing how it is used to determine truck movements within the California Truck Route network. Researchers will seek to evaluate new data collection opportunities offered by third-party aggregators. This includes an analysis of how probe and routing data from planning models can be used to develop a comprehensive picture of truck movements within an area, and an evaluation of the accuracy of truck volumes relative to the WIM and truck scale data. Results from these assessments will finally be used to develop methods for using probe data in conjunction with existing data from fixed locations to improve estimates of truck movements within a region. 
  • Travel Futures: Exploring the operational and equity benefits of a pre-pay dynamic tolling system
    PI: Alexander Skabardonis, PATH, $80,000
    While transportation funding can be collected in a variety of direct (e.g., tolls and gas) or indirect ways (e.g., sales tax), dynamic demand responsive pricing not only collects revenue but incentivizes travelers to avoid peak-demand periods, thus utilizing infrastructure capacity more efficiently. Unfortunately, the demand response to price changes, called price elasticity of demand, is generally greater for longer-term travel (e.g., air and rail travel) than for short-term (e.g., highway and transit). While this is due to a plethora of factors (e.g., flexibility, housing, and automobile ownership), a critical factor is that travelers simply lack sufficient information for future travel planning. This leaves any congestion abatement up to inefficient trial and error, and anecdotal speculation. Moreover, dynamic pricing is politically unsavory due to price uncertainty and collateral equity concerns. This research seeks to help remedy these concerns by exploring a simple “futures” market mechanism that can augment existing fare/toll collection technologies, providing travelers with sufficient pricing information and purchasing options to travel plan and avoid excessive prices. Users can pre-pay their future fares/tolls to lock in a lower price for expected trips, with prices rising as capacity fills up, thus encouraging good travel planning and efficient infrastructure utilization.
  • Testing wildfire evacuation strategies and coordination plans for Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) communities in California
    PI: Kenichi Soga, CEE, $80,000
    The goal of this project is to provide an improved wildfire-communications-traffic simulation framework (based on the PI’s 2019-2020 STRP project) that incorporates inter-agency communications to support decision making among communities facing regional risk. Wildfire evacuations represent challenges for residents of WUI areas, and also test the communications plans and traffic operations for communities in nearby regions. Based on findings from prior research, successful evacuation strategies are highly context specific. Despite the diverse situations of each community in the WUI area in California, certain strategies are repeatedly shown to be effective (e.g., vehicle reduction, street parking elimination), while standard approaches developed for ideal situations, such as phased evacuations, are hard to implement in actual wildfire incidents. This study will test the generalizability of evacuation strategies identified from previous research on representative communities designated by the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority (MWPA). MWPA seeks to provide a model for action to benefit other towns in Marin County that do not have dedicated resources to validate possible strategies through detailed simulations. This integrated framework will test regional collaboration strategies (e.g., among neighboring towns) as well as evacuation strategies (carpooling, phased evacuations), offer insights, and suggest improvements beyond current zone-based evacuation plans.