Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What a Day for Transportation -- Projects and a Prize!

I had just gotten off the phone with my former student, Dr. Patrick Qiang, shortly before 6PM last night since he was getting ready to teach his graduate class, when the email message arrived from Washington DC. The message stated that the sender could not reach Patrick and that she had some very good news, which she also shared with me. I told her that I would transmit the message to Patrick although I knew that he was teaching at that very moment. Propitiously, it was student project time, and he read the news on his laptop -- his dissertation was selected to receive the Charles V. Wootan Award from the Council of University Transportation Centers (CUTC) at a banquet in DC on January 9, 2010!

Needless to say, as the Chair of Patrick's dissertation committee at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I was simply thrilled with this news and so honored and pleased to have his hard work and research recognized in this truly significant way with a national award.

The title of Dr. Qiang’s dissertation was: "Network Efficiency / Performance Measurement with Vulnerability and Robustness Analysis with Application to Critical Infrastructure." The other committee members were: Professor Ana Muriel of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at UMass Amherst, Professor Sanjay Nawalka of the Department of Finance and Operations Management at the Isenberg School, and Professor June Dong of the School of Business at SUNY Oswego.

Dr. Qiang will receive the $2,000 award at the CUTC banquet to be held in Washington DC on January 9, 2010. He was notified of his selection for the award by Robert H. Plymale, President of the Council of University Transportation Centers, and Laura Spitz, the Member Services Program Manager of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association in Washington DC. CUTC was founded in 1979 by major transportation research centers and institutes in the United States. It serves as a forum for the universities and centers to interact with government and industry. Its members number over 70 of the nation’s premier university-based transportation research and education programs.

That is how my great Transportation Day ended and it began with four team project presentations in my undergrad transportation & logistics class at UMass Amherst. The undergrad student team projects that were presented yesterday were on the following topics (and they were simply terrific):

1. Smart Grids -- this project discusses the challenges with electric power generation and distribution and what problems the smart grid with associated technologies should help to overcome. It also relates this network applicationto the transportation network models discussed in the course. This project also describes the role that ISO -- New England plays in terms of reliability for power in New England.

2. Dubai -- this project discusses traffic congestion in this very unusual city and what is being done in terms of transportation planning and development from infrastructure development and enhancements, such as the new driverless metro to automated toll and fare collections to better integration of existing modes with new modes. It also discusses the impact of the economic crisis on Dubai and Dubai World. The project also highlights the use of hybrids for taxi services and the design of maritime routes for freight transport to/from the various man-made islands.

3. The San Francisco Bay bridge -- this project traces the history of the bridge, which is one of the most widely used in the US (close to 300,000 vehicles per day, when it is open). It also highlights certain dramatic closures of the bridge (such as due to the 1989 earthquake) and the most recent one, which occurred this past Fall, with 5,000 pounds of metal falling during the evening commute. The project describes the impact of the 6 day closure because of the structural failure and the impacts of ongoing repairs to the bridge, which include, interestingly, moving necessary parts for reconstruction by barge.

4. Obama's stimulus plan and effects on transportation infrastructure in MA -- this project lays out what are identifiable so-called improvements -- from road improvements, to bicycle lane additions and changes, to ferry port construction. The students did a massive investigation of transportation projects in the state and concluded that, in effect, except for some shovel-ready projects, some of which were "on the books" for about a decade, the results are disappointing.

Tomorrow, five more team project presentations will take place. The projects to be presented tomorrow include:

5. Calcutta traffic and what can be done about it -- Calcutta is the economic hub of east India. It is also the 8th largest city in the world and accommodates 15 million people. The transport system is a mix that includes mass transport and the old modalities such as rickshaws. The project will discuss the numerous problems, including the lack of traffic discipline, regular traffic jams, etc., and what can be done to reduce some of the congestion.

6. Traffic around UMass Amherst -- this project will use the network and will estimate the user travel time functions to determine the estimated travel times and optimal routes of travel. The most congested links will be determined based on different levels of travel demand.

7. The Sagamore bridge, repairs, and impacts -- this project is by a team that includes a student from Cape Cod with direct interest in this topic.

8. Gibraltar and different modes of transport, including air travel to this unique destination.

(There is 1 more presentation scheduled but I don't have my notes on it).

I will be posting this year's projects in a few days on the Virtual Center for Supernetworks website.

As for office hours, a former student, who is now in industry in Connecticut, drove up to surprise me and we chatted for about an hour. In the conversation, he mentioned the book, "Traffic," by Tom Vanderbilt, which I gave to all of the students in my last year's transportation and logistics class (it was smaller than this year's class and my chaired funds could afford it then). He had heard an interview with Vanderbilt recently and was thrilled that he had his terrific book.