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ASU Takes Lead in U.S. Transportation

A new ASU research center will work to aid U.S. Department of Transportation efforts to improve how the nation's local and regional transportation systems serve their communities. Credit: Shutterstock/Arizona State University

Arizona State University researchers are poised to help boost innovation in the planning and design of future enhancements to the nation’s transportation systems.

ASU has been named the lead institution for a new U.S. Department of Transportation Tier 1 University Transportation Center that will focus on improving regional travel demand forecasting.

The center’s work will be part of a larger DOT program to develop new systems and technologies that provide better surface transportation mobility and accessibility across the country.

The new center, called the Center for Teaching Old Models New Tricks — or TOMNET for short — puts ASU in charge of a consortium that includes researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Washington and the University of South Florida.

It’s one of 20 Tier 1 centers recently awarded to universities around the country — selected from more than 200 proposals — and the first and only one to be led by an Arizona university since the inception of the University Transportation Centers program two decades ago. The new awards provide each of the Tier 1 centers $7M over five years.

Combining Complementary Areas of Expertise

TOMNET’s mission is to significantly improve data models and analytical tools that are used to plan transportation infrastructure, operate multimodal systems and optimize travelers’ movements in complex networks, said Ram Pendyala, the center’s director.

The inspiration for the TOMNET center is drawn from the decades of complementary research and experience of Pendyala and Georgia Tech Professor Patricia Mokhtarian, the center’s research director.

More than simply advancing the analytical aspects of forecasting models, Pendyala said, TOMNET will incorporate “human factors” into its research by exploring ways in which sociological and psychological aspects of people’s attitudes and values can be used in predicting transportation choices and mobility patterns.

“If we can find ways to successfully integrate these kinds of behavioral variables into our analytics, then I think we can make a quantum leap in our ability to predict future travel needs and desires,” he said.

Taking a Multidisciplinary Approach

Collaborations among ASU transportation engineers and researchers in a variety of other disciplines will be key to making that leap.

Computer science faculty members in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decisions Systems Engineering, one of the Fulton Schools, will be providing the statistical matching, data fusion, machine-learning techniques and computational algorithms necessary to weave analytics and human behavior studies together in the formulation of new travel demand forecasting models.

Faculty in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning will be contributing their expertise, led by assistant professor Deborah Salon, TOMNET’s associate director.

Venu Garikapati, assistant research professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, is the center’s assistant director. He will work closely with Pendyala and the consortium of researchers to develop and test new travel forecasting models, coordinate the center’s research and education activities, and facilitate technology transfer.

Serving the Needs of All

Pendyala points out that infrastructure planning and design are critical to providing transportation alternatives that enable people to access opportunities to engage in activities such as work, school, shopping and social recreation.

The center’s research team will include faculty with specific expertise in environmental economics. They will help assess the value that people attach to various facets of transportation systems and the implications for travel choices, willingness to pay for mobility options, and quality of life.

The plan is for TOMNET to work with the Maricopa Association of Governments — the regional planning agency for the greater Phoenix area —and other local and state agencies across the country to test the effectiveness and improved accuracy of the center’s innovative travel behavior models.

Read more at ASU Now.

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