December 13, 2013

U. of Texas engineer's research aimed at more livable communities

A University of Texas - Arlington (UT) civil engineer will investigate how advanced technologies can improve public transportation and alternative transportation modes as part of a national initiative aimed at developing more “livable communities.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded Stephen Mattingly, associate professor of civil engineering, a $210,000 grant to support the research. Mattingly will study how technology can improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, how social media may be used to shape more sustainable commuting practices, and the impact of GPS and cell phone technologies on driver safety as part of the larger project.

Overall, the federal agency will distribute about $63 million to 33 transportation research centers at colleges and universities across the country through the initiative. The grants are being awarded through the federal agency’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

Western Michigan University will lead the Transportation Research Center for Livable Communities, which includes UT Arlington, Wayne State University, Utah State University and Tennessee State University.

Each university will house a part of the newly established Transportation Research Center for Livable Communities.

The center will focus on improving public transit systems and alternative transportation modes; providing better and safer pedestrian and bicycle networks; and enhancing transportation accessibility for children, people with disabilities, older adults and lower-income populations. The center also will work to minimize the negative impact of transportation infrastructure.

“The aim of the research is to start thinking differently about transportation solutions,” Mattingly said. “We just can’t continue to build lanes of highways. There have to be more comprehensive, more livable solutions out there.”

For instance, Mattingly said his group might demonstrate how social media can be used to encourage ride sharing and how smartphones may be used to collect transportation and activity information.

“We can use technology to enable different lifestyle choices that do not require car ownership,” Mattingly said. “By understanding people’s needs, we can start shifting the importance of transportation systems from public services to improving the community and public health.”

Mattingly said solutions developed by the center need to be sustainable.

“Walking and bicycling represent the most sustainable forms of transportation,” Mattingly said. “These modes need to be part of future transportation solutions; the center will try to identify strategies and technologies to encourage more sustainable transportation choice and to improve safety their safety.”

Ali Abolmaali, chairman of UT Arlington’s Civil Engineering Department, said the Livable Communities project is another example of how Mattingly’s research can help transform North Texas and beyond.

“This research could help travelers in decades to come,” Abolmaali said. “We need to continue to push the envelope in transportation, coming up with inventive ways to address local and national challenges in transportation.”

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