SafeTREC Spotlight: Qi Zhang

"I think to be a visiting scholar here is not just to discuss the academic questions and problems, it is also interesting to see how it works here, the research methodology, the way of thinking..."

June 3, 2019

Welcome back to the SafeTREC Spotlight Series! Each month, we'll be highlighting a SafeTREC team member and share their stories, work and interest in the transportation and safety research realm. In today's post, meet Qi Zhang, SafeTREC visiting scholar.


Dr. Qi Zhang completed a Bachelor of Engineering (2004) and her Ph.D. in Traffic and Transportation Planning and Management (2009) at Beijing Jiaotong University (BJTU). After graduation she chose to stay in Beijing and began her career as a teacher there. Dr. Zhang is currently Associate Professor in the School of Traffic and Transportation at BJTU. She joined SafeTREC as a visiting scholar in the Fall of 2018.

What sparked your interest in transportation safety research?

When I was a kid, I didn’t want to be a teacher (teachers were very strict in my childhood!) but after I became a teacher, I feel it is one of the most important jobs in the world. I have the chance to spend several years with young people, and have the chance to influence them, maybe change them. I respect the job and am trying my best to be a good teacher.

In Chinese, “Jiaotong” means traffic and transportation – my university grew from being a railway institution. The traffic and transportation major is a prominent field and one of the oldest majors at the university.

I think transportation is one of the most ancient industries in human society – and the development of the modern transportation system changed people’s lives. It improves people’s mobility and efficiency. It has also created problems, like safety. So I think the study of safety will provide a more sustainable approach to transportation.

SRAIL, our research team at BJTU, has been focused on the study of railway transportation, including high speed railway and metro for 15 years. We work on transportation schedule planning to improve efficiency of the transportation system. With the rapid development of high speed railway and metro networks in China, passengers with large volume and high density can be a threat to operation safety, especially in a metropolitan area like Beijing. Thus, passenger behavior and movement modeling and simulation at transportation hubs became one of our study fields of interest. I’ve found that to model people’s behavior is very interesting, and have focused more on this type of research and published on topics like bi-directional pedestrian behavior modeling.

What current projects are you working on at SafeTREC?

My current work at SafeTREC focuses on the development of a simulation model of pedestrian crossing behavior and analyzing the behavior to understand the safety effect on pedestrian perception, response and decision-making. I am also taking part in a project supported by Caltrans that is studying the factors that affect bicyclists and pedestrians at a number of roundabout locations.

I think to be a visiting scholar here is not just to discuss the academic questions and problems, it is also interesting to see how it works here; the research methodology, the way of thinking, the way of cooperation and the way you do the project is what I’m most interested in.

What issues are you particularly interested or passionate about?

I’m a quiet person; I like to read books, stay away from the crowd, but I like to observe people, to try to capture the character, the behavior and to represent it. When I began modeling behavior, I could see the heterogeneity of people is important – they are individuals with a diversity of characteristics that make them behave differently, both when alone or when with others.

I used to be dedicated myself in publishing in academic journals and presenting at international conferences. I find I can be totally lost under this type of principle – “everything you do is for the publication”. But on my first day here at SafeTREC, after the introduction to the projects, Offer [SafeTREC co-director Offer Grembek] says he’s proud of research but also that it is for application, to solve problems. This is what I think all researchers and engineers should do, see that it’s not just an academic field – but to also make an effort to make our research really useful.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m kind of a boring person! I notice everyone here has hobbies. People here are good at not just one thing, like two or more! I love travelling with my family – we recently visited Italy, a fantastic experience. Japan twice. In the US, we get a schedule for the National Parks. Hiking is my new hobby! In Beijing, we enjoy going to the symphony with my son. 

Qi Zhang headshot

Learn more about Qi Zhang's work: