With a semester like no other coming to an end, we want to highlight undergraduate students who participated in research projects with the Transportation Research Center throughout the fall. All of these students participated in the CEMS Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, which provides funding for students to assist faculty with research during the academic year and summer term. Students interested in a transportation research experience through the REU program during the spring semester or summer are encouraged to connect with TRC faculty to discuss interests and current research opportunities.  

Rose O'Brien: Environmental Engineering '21

Next, we are featuring REU student Rose O’Brien. Rose is a senior majoring in Environmental Engineering, and she is working with Professor Greg Rowangould on a bicycle count project for the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC). Over the fall semester, Rose’s work included finding and mapping all existing bicycle count data in Chittenden County and studying how bicycle counts can be used to improve transportation system design and planning.

Thus far, Rose has learned that while there is a lot of bicycle count data in Chittenden Count, since there are few standards for how bicycle data are collected and that counts are sometimes collected for different purposes, data gaps still exist. Rose says that finding a cost effective way to fill in the gaps is important because bicycle count data can help guide where to build new transportation infrastructure, identify places where safety measures might be needed, and understand how the region’s bicycle improvements are working.

Rose will continue her work on this bicycle count project during the spring semester, and her next step will be identifying locations in Chittenden County where there are gaps in bicycle count data. Rose says that two of the larger goals of this project are to develop strategies to fill in the data gaps that are identified and to evaluate ways to better store and provide bicycle count data to those that can use it to improve planning and transportation projects.

Rose says that her research experience at the TRC has been a great way to explore transportation topics outside of the classroom. Additionally, Rose says that learning skills such as data postprocessing and research-style writing from this project have been helpful for her internship with VHB. She encourages other students to participate in transportation research because it provides the opportunity to learn about subjects that might not be available in typical coursework.

Anastasia Allen: Civil Engineering '22

Our next student is Anastasia Allen, a junior studying Civil Engineering. Anastasia is working with Professor Dana Rowangould to examine how people in rural and small communities get around, particularly those without access to a vehicle or experiencing financial constraints. Anastasia is exploring this question by analyzing data from the National Household Travel Survey using code that she wrote in R.

Although this research asked a lot of small and specific questions throughout the semester, Anastasia came away with a big realization: that public transportation needs to be improved in rural areas because so many people do not have adequate transportation to reach necessary destinations.  While there is still a lot of research to be done on this topic, understanding travel behavior and travel needs in small and rural communities is one of the overarching goals of the work she did this semester. Anastasia says that this research experience with the TRC helped her develop skills in data analysis and coding, and she is confident that these skills will translate well to future job opportunities. She hopes to eventually work in energy efficient building design but recognizes how important and relatable the lessons learned from transportation research are to maintaining sustainable environments overall.

Zach Roussel: Environmental Engineering '21

First up is Zach Roussel, a senior majoring in Environmental Engineering. Zach has been working with Professor Greg Rowangould and graduate student Erica Quallen on a project that is collecting new data to better understand travel behavior and transportation challenges in small cities, towns and rural communities. The project ultimately aims to identify opportunities for increasing access to the things people need, strengthening local economies, and cost-effective strategies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation.  

In his role, Zach evaluated Vermont’s climate action plans, legislation, and goals and collected data to begin studying how current efforts to reduce GHGs from transportation in Vermont are working and comparing them with other states in the Northeast region. Despite Vermont’s many GHG mitigation plans and strategies and aggressive GHG emission reduction goals,  Zach found that Vermont’s GHG emissions are actually increasing, with the majority of those emissions coming from the transportation sector. Zach also found that other rural states in the region, most notably Maine, are facing similar GHG mitigation challenges. Zach’s research highlights the challenges of reducing GHG emissions from transportation in a rural state and the need for new data to better understand the challenges and create innovative new strategies. When asked what he learned throughout this research experience, Zach hit on two key points: 1. That adopting aggressive climate change goals and plans are a good first step towards a more sustainable future, but we will not meet our goals without adopting more effective GHG mitigation strategies and, 2. Research is crucial for developing climate action plans and specific strategies that result in emissions reduction. Policy makers would benefit from better data to help them forecast the effectiveness of GHG mitigation strategies that they are considering and learn which strategies are working best overtime.  Zach encourages other CEMS students to give transportation research a try, even if they are feeling unsure about it: “You don’t have to be interested in transportation specifically to participate in research with the TRC. I have found so much that relates to my other academic interests such as environmental conservation and emissions savings” he says.