The TRC focuses on promoting sustainable transportation systems and planning through the study of risk and resiliency, especially in northern, rural, exurban and micropolitan contexts. We define risk and resiliency broadly as critical performance measures of the efficiency, sustainability and equity of transportation systems. Our focus on risk and resiliency incorporates the study of factors that compromise mobility and strategies that promote society's successful adaptation and responsiveness to these risk factors. Core areas of scholarship within this domain include: vulnerability and resiliency of networks and infrastructure to natural hazards, winter conditions and human disruption; human behavior and safety in both utilitarian and leisure travel; technical challenges and uncertainties in vehicle fleet electrification; sources and impacts of water and air pollution from transportation infrastructure and associated land use and mitigation strategies for these sources; adaptive governance and institutional strategies for transportation investment; and health-promoting forms of mobility. We place a particular emphasis on how these areas of inquiry can contribute to societal adaptation to climate change and higher energy prices.
The TRC integrates research, graduate education, and workforce development efforts to address its thematic priorities. It provides unbiased expertise for communities and public agencies pursuing sustainable transportation solutions, while advancing the field of transportation research at the national and international levels. It is also a regional leader in workforce development, actively promoting innovative programs and partnerships that bring new talent to the field. It places a strong emphasis on outreach, communication of findings, engagement of stakeholders, and partnership with entities throughout Vermont, New England, and the world. The TRC is committed to addressing problems through interdisciplinary scholarship and diverse qualitative and quantitative methods, including Geographic Information Systems, complex systems modeling, advanced statistics, remote sensing, survey analysis, collaborative processes, focus groups, critical media analysis, and 3D visualization, among others.
The TRC has forged a unique niche at the intersection of transportation studies, social science, environmental science, urban planning, health sciences, and engineering. With the help of the Office of the Vice President for Research, TRC has become a leader in graduate education and scholarship at the University of Vermont. Its focus on risk and resiliency places it in a key nexus for research and scholarship, particularly in the context of climate change, economic instability, and rising energy prices. This thematic emphasis also strongly complements the Transdisciplinary Research Initiative (TRI) spires of excellence, all of which deal extensively with issues of risk, uncertainty and resiliency. The US Department of Transportation research funding it has distributed to faculty across the campus has helped start a thriving hub of interdisciplinary transportation research at UVM. The TRC's graduate certificate in Sustainable Transportation Systems and Planning brings together students from different career stages and disciplines to pursue studies that enhance critical thinking. The TRC's diverse funding and excellent grant management also make it a model for the administration of soft-funded centers at UVM.
The TRC is composed of core staff, faculty and graduate students; a network of faculty partners from all units at UVM and from state government; several transportation-related laboratories; and two advisory boards. Support for its efforts comes from a diverse portfolio of individual project grants, large center grants and analytical services.
Transportation systems regularly experience disruptions caused by natural disasters, extreme rainfall, winter conditions, and human events such as traffic accidents or planned closures. Identifying the network components where disruptions have the greatest potential to cascade through the system is critical to designing efficient mitigation and recovery strategies. The ability to better assess risk and plan for resiliency will become increasingly important as climate change leads to more extreme weather events and supply-demand imbalances lead to long-term energy price increases. TRC researchers use a variety of modeling, engineering, statistical and GIS tools to improve our ability to predict respond to and plan for network disruptions. Research in this focus area includes assessing the risk that extreme weather and climate change pose to transportation infrastructure, developing original metrics for measuring the criticality of individual road segments to network wide performance, designing structures and materials that are more resistant to hazards, optimizing snow and ice control routing measures and developing new methods for predicting and monitoring damage to roadways.
The safety, effectiveness and efficiency of our transportation systems depend on the interplay between the engineering characteristics of our vehicles and infrastructure and on travelers' decision-making and behavioral patterns. Individual driving styles (e.g. how aggressively drivers brake, accelerate and follow other vehicles), characteristics of vehicle occupants (e.g. number of people, age, distracted driving), and infrastructure characteristics (e.g. grade, curvature and intersection type) are key factors in safety outcomes and emissions. Furthermore, characteristics of individuals, groups, and communities determine behavioral decisions, like mode choice, route choice, and vehicle occupancy. The nature of these relationships may differ significantly between utilitarian and leisure travel. Under this topic area, TRC researchers conduct activities such as: studying driver behavior in work zones; using simulation modeling to better understand traveler behavior and travel demand in parks and public lands; using surveys to study when recreational road congestion becomes unacceptable; assessing travel and location choices of seniors; examining driver responses to fuel efficiency feedback; studying obstacles to ride sharing and carpooling; and instrumentation of vehicles to collect second-bysecond driver behavior data for improving vehicle simulations, characterizing emissions patterns and identifying behavioral and infrastructural contributors to accident risk.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are a promising technology for reducing emissions and diversifying the primary energy sources used for transportation. Because vehicle electrification brings together two complex, formerly isolated systems--the transportation systems and the electric power system--there are considerable uncertainties about the viability and impact of widespread EV deployment. These uncertainties include questions about how vehicle range and charging times integrate with current travel patterns and how charging demand might unbalance the power generation and distribution systems. TRC research in the area includes assessing the capability of EVs to serve current travel patterns, modeling the impact of vehicle charging on local electricity distribution infrastructure and generator dispatch decisions, and using agent-based modeling to explore vehicle adoption patterns.
The transportation sector is a significant source of air and water pollution primarily due to tailpipe emissions and run-off from roadways and other impervious surfaces. In addition to tropospheric pollutants that can have direct impacts on public health, the transportation fleet also produces greenhouse gases, which lead to global impacts. A number of behavioral, technical and planning factors can either exacerbate or mitigate these pollution sources. On the technical side, alternative paving materials and constructions practice can reduce the negative impacts of run-off while vehicle characteristics such as hybridization and fuel type profoundly impact the quantity and composition of tailpipe emissions. Emissions are driven by behavioral factors--such as driving style, vehicle choice, and occupancy--and by structural factors--such as land use patterns and available modes to choose from. TRC researchers study both the technical and behavioral aspects of pollution creation and mitigation. Our work in this focus area includes testing optimal designs for porous pavements, collecting and comparing second-by-second emissions data from hybrid and conventional vehicles, studying the public health impacts of pollution, conducting regional greenhouse gas accounting, modeling the impact of land-use change on emissions and run-off and providing education and outreach on driving strategies (collectively referred to as "eco-driving") that reduce fuel consumption.
Funding mechanisms and governance systems play significant roles in shaping the transportation system and allowing it to respond effectively to disasters or other system shocks. Transportation agencies at all levels (local, state and federal) must balance the needs of multiple stakeholder groups when making investment decisions. These decisions impact the cost of accessing and using the transportation system for different user groups and therefore have important impacts on equity and economic development. Our work in this area includes simulation modeling of alternate decision-making approaches, the exploration of equity and access issues for vulnerable populations as well as the economic efficiency of funding decisions.
Active or human powered transportation, such as walking and bicycling, can offer health as well as mobility benefits. Health benefits can accrue directly to walkers and bikers through increased physical activity and to public at large in the form of avoided emissions from motorized transport. Utilization of these modes is considerably lower in the United States than it is in many other parts of the world, reflecting differences in land-use patterns, relative energy costs and cultural norms. Using integrated-land use modeling, innovative instrumentation, spatial analysis, surveys and in-depth focus groups, TRC researchers work to advance understanding of when, where and why individuals choose active transportation and how planners and policy makers can promote its use. They also study how health outcomes, such as obesity, are related to characteristics in the transportation system and built environment.
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