UB, partners receive $8.2M to help vulnerable populations with transportation

electric shuttle in motion.

Researchers will utilize UB's driverless electric shuttle, pictured here, to study how to improve transportation in and around the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Photo: Douglas Levere

by Peter Murphy

Published February 19, 2021

UB researchers are part of an $8.2 million effort to improve transportation options for vulnerable people in the city of Buffalo.

The project, called “Complete Trip Deployment,” is led by Virginia-based ICF International and funded by an $8.2 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant.

The project brings together researchers from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the School of Architecture and Planning (SAP), who will serve as technical leaders.

Local partners include the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc., Niagara International Transportation Technology Coalition, New York State Department of Transportation, and the city of Buffalo.

The project focuses on addressing the transportation needs of three distinct populations: people with mobility, visual and hearing disabilities; people living in low-income neighborhoods; and older adults.

“The transportation needs of such populations are varied,” says the UB team leader Adel Sadek, professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. Sadek also serves as director of UB’s Transportation Informatics University Transportation Center and is founding director of the Stephen Still Institute for Sustainable Transportation and Logistics.

“People living in low-income neighborhoods may have to depend on public transportation for access to jobs and satisfy their mobility needs. Older adults may not be able to drive, and depend on public transit and specialized needs. People with disabilities require accessible transportation systems and safeguards at roadway intersections,” Sadek says.

“Our proposed deployment brings together an open trip planner-based transit planning app and an electric self-driving feeder shuttle service that is integrated with the app to provide circulation in the BNMC campus.”

Faculty members in SAP will bring to the project an inclusive design lens, drawing upon past experience with similar projects, according to Jordana Maisel, assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and director of research for the school’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access.

“We have done extensive work on Complete Streets implementation and some of the work we have done evaluating street improvements will likely be included,” Maisel says. “We have also done extensive work on wayfinding, including developing touch-sensitive models and guided instructions using geocoding and signage systems that will likely be incorporated into the BNMC wayfinding efforts.”

For the project, the researchers plan to develop low-cost sidewalk interventions to improve accessibility; universally designed intersections using tactile and mobile technologies to enable travelers with disabilities to navigate intersections; and electric, self-driving feeder shuttle services, including conducting research with Olli, UB’s driverless electric shuttle.

Researchers from SEAS and SAP have collaborated on similar projects previously, including self-driving vehicles.

“This project is further evidence that there’s broad interest from the UB community in connected and autonomous vehicles, and it further solidifies UB’s role as the leader in this emerging area within the region,” says research team member Chunming Qiao, SUNY Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

The project’s interdisciplinary nature marks another university-wide collaboration in transportation for UB, and continues the tradition of working together in the research area, Sadek explains.

“UB has always taken an interdisciplinary approach to transportation research and education,” he says. “This is exemplified through the establishment of the Stephen Still Institute for Sustainable Transportation Logistics.”

The institute is named for Stephen Still, an alumnus who provided UB with $4 million in 2017 for its creation. It’s a collaboration between researchers in SEAS, SAP, the School of Management and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Still, a professor of practice in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, is also a research team member on the project.

“We will look at automated transportation alternatives that have the potential to provide the greatest level of service to the mobility disadvantaged in the vicinity of the BNMC,” Still says.

Other UB researchers involved in the project are Victor Paquet, professor and chair of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Edward Steinfeld, founding director of the IDEA Center and SUNY Distinguished Professor of Architecture.

The project will benefit communities in downtown Buffalo and the medical campus, Maisel says.

“It’s incredibly multidisciplinary, engages key community partners and has the potential to have a real impact in the community and serve as a best practice for other communities,” she says.

According to Sadek, the project could serve as model to be implemented at a national level.

“The main goal of the U.S. DOT in funding these projects is for these projects to serve as model deployments to other regions around the country,” he says. “The system, once developed and evaluated, should help connect people who do not own a car to jobs and opportunities, as well as health care services. The project should also help showcase our region as a leader in transportation innovation and equity.”