News on UTC Research Projects
Research Completed in 2017
Framework for Intercity Rail ROI. Several states have pursued new high-speed and intercity passenger rail (HS&IPR) services to keep up with an unprecedented surge in ridership since 2000. Amtrak, the primary intercity rail service provider in the country, reported more than 30 million passenger rides in 2015, a significant increase when compared to 2000 ridership statistics. A team from the UTC completed a report that resulted in a framework to present the return on investment from HS&IPR that explicitly allows for a variety of alternative perspectives, including spatial areas of concern (national, regional or local benefits) and the viewpoints of specific stakeholders.
The study takes an integrative approach to encapsulate all benefit and cost elements involved in conventional benefit-cost analysis (BCA), economic impact analysis (EIA), and social impact analysis (SIA). BCA is an assessment process focusing on the overall benefits and costs incurred in the lifetime of a project and depicting the benefits and costs in terms of the net present value.
The report, “Framework for Assessing the ROI for High-Speed and Intercity Rail Projects,” is comprised of five chapters that address the need for a framework to address ROI, cost elements, benefit and impact elements, the methodology employed and the specific framework developed.
IDOT Public Engagement. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has committed to improving its public engagement program and the quantity and quality of feedback and ideas it receives from Illinois residents. In 2016, IDOT commissioned a study — “Recommendations to Enhance Quality Engagement” — to identify effective public engagement strategies for statewide Departments of Transportation.
To build on the 2016 report, researchers from the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement (IPCE) and the Urban Transportation Center (UTC) completed a follow-up study in early 2017 that utilized an innovative online approach to supplement IDOT’s traditional public engagement methods. Through a multi-phased process, residents of Illinois voted on and submitted ideas and ranked their priorities related to transportation goals and modes. The unique strength of this multi-phased process was its ability to capture high quality ideas from the public and statistically representative public priorities – it was both open and representative.
Learn more from an abstract and read the complete report: “A New Approach to Public Engagement: Capturing Better Ideas and Representative Priorities from the Public for the Illinois Department of Transportation.”
Illinois Maritime Transportation System. Illinois has 1,118 miles of navigable waterways passing through or bordering the state. From a commercial transportation perspective, these navigable rivers and Lake Michigan make up the Illinois Maritime Transportation System. The system primarily transports freight. Passenger travel on these waters is most often for recreation. Industries based in Illinois are responsible for nearly 20% of the waterborne freight shipments in the United States; however, Illinois has a fragmented system to provide oversight and support for the maritime industry.
In summer of 2017, the UTC produced a research report, “An Analysis of the Illinois Maritime Transportation System,” that provides IDOT with an analysis of the Illinois Maritime Transportation System in order to effectively plan, develop and implement maritime into a comprehensive statewide transportation system.
Integration of Transit Modes. Transportation agencies can launch regional efforts to integrate busses, trains and other transit options by first deciding on the mission or vision from participating organizations or agencies and setting up a process to collect performance, financial and operational data.
Four other components needed for effective transit integration include:
- Establishing the roles performed by planning, provider and funding agencies.
- Determining the level of integration of various resources, such as equipment, people and existing infrastructure.
- Linking information technology systems from participating agencies.
- And, setting the organizational structure for planning, operations, policy and financial roles.
These six components were key findings from a research report, “Integration of Transportation for Improved Mobility,” which presents a broad perspective on the history, benefits and challenges behind regional transportation integration. UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj and Dr. Paul Metaxatos, Associate Director for Research Programs coordinated the project.
New Starts Ranking. Establishment of consistent guidelines to evaluate the merits of federally-funded transportation projects considered under the New Starts program could create best practices that will lead to a more streamlined selection process and demonstrate greater government transparency. This summary encapsulates the findings of a study undertaken to analyze the decision-making process for allocating federal dollars to help fund rail, bus, streetcar and rapid transit projects that are part of long-range local or regional plans.
A research team from the Urban Transportation Center at UIC conducted interviews with representatives from seven transportation agencies and metropolitan planning organizations to gain insight into how transit capital projects were reviewed and prioritized before a request got submitted for New Starts funding. As noted in the report, “A Review of Capital Improvement Grant Program and the Need for a Uniform Project Selection Process,” the New Starts selection process criteria differed within regions of the nation over time. Visit this page to read an abstract of the New Starts report project, or download the complete report. The project was coordinated by UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj.
CPS Travel Training. The current travel training program (TTP) designed to help Chicago Public School (CPS) special needs students navigate public transportation independently can be enhanced through a revised structure that measures the program’s merits, improvements and compliance.
Researchers came to that conclusion by building a “logic model” or formal process to evaluate the effectiveness of the program and an integrated theory-driven framework for future implementation of a revised TTP. The findings are outlined in “CPS Travel Training Evaluation Project,” a report designed to assess the potential costs and benefits of expanding the current program. The project was coordinated by UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj and Dr. Eric Welsh, Director of the Center for Science Technology and Environmental Policy Studies and Professor of Public Affairs at Arizona State University.
Return on Investment for Passenger Rail. Significant investment in the passenger rail network across the United States can result in a wide range of economic benefits including greater productivity, higher property values and reduced costs to other transportation modes. Furthermore, dollars spent on expanding and improving passenger rail will provide people with the ability to move around more freely and easily.
These are two key findings from a survey of transportation professionals polled for a study on the potential economic and societal gains realized through greater funding for passenger rail service. UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj led the project, which resulted in a report, “Results from a Survey of Transportation Professionals Regarding the Return on Investment for Passenger Rail.” Sixty-six professionals from the public and private sectors participated in the survey, which was conducted in 2016. Participants represented nine areas of the transportation industry – from agency leadership and operations management to consultants and economic development specialists.
A goal of the research was to develop an integrated framework of knowledge regarding benefits gained from passenger rail investment. Learn more about the research findings from a news story. Or, read a project abstract and get access to the complete report.
Catching Up to Automated Vehicle Technology. Much of the research and public discussion on the development of Automated Vehicle (AV) technology has focused on passenger vehicles but the widespread introduction of AV technologies will have major impacts on freight industry in the near future. Freight is expected to be an early adopter of AV technology as even limited implementation of the technologies will lead to substantial reductions in fuel costs, increased efficiency in scheduling and bundling shipments and possible increased flexibility in other costs through increased hours of operations.
In May 2017, the UTC produced a report, “Catching up to Automated Technology: How DOTs Can Stay Ahead of the Curve For Freight,” that provides analysis on the potential benefits and challenges automated technology holds for freight. The findings indicate that relatively simple actions by government agencies can help them recognize what legal and regulatory changes will be necessary as well as physical changes to the transportation infrastructure need to be made so that technologies can be safely introduced and their full potential can be achieved. Bob Ginsburg, UTC Research Assistant Professor, served as principal investigator. Learn more from the project abstract and get access to the complete report.
UTC in the News — 2017 and 2018
In early February, Baltimore shut down its Metro rapid transit line to conduct needed track maintenance. In this February 13 article published by the Baltimore Sun, UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj offered thoughts on the practice of “slow zones” as a way to keep trains moving when existing infrastructure is in need of repair or replacement.
Large-scale transportation projects can change the “flavor” of a neighborhood. UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj offered that comment in the article, “CTA proposes route for transportation desert,” a report published February 5 by the Columbia Chronicle on the proposal to extend the CTA Red Line rapid transit service south to 130th Street.
Is congestion pricing — a practice to charge drivers a toll to enter an express lane — the answer to help reduce congestion on metropolitan Chicago highways? The Columbia Chronicle asked UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj for his thoughts. Read this December 11 article from reporter Blaise Mesa to learn more.
The horrific attack on cyclists in New York City prompted the Columbia Chronicle to publish a report November 13 on bike safety along paths in Chicago. UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj offered thoughts in the report written by Savannah Eaden.
Metra will hold public hearings this fall to address its budget and gain insight from the public on service. On November 1, UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj was interviewed by Jason Marck about Metra’s future during a live segment aired on the WBEZ radio program Morning Shift.
In fall, the Chicago Transit Authority announced it plans to replace fabric seating with hard-surface seating on some el cars and buses prompted a report from the Columbia Chronicle newspaper. UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj was quoted by reporter Jackie Murray in the October 23 article; he noted that public transportation agencies are being responsive to passenger needs.
Future spending plans to improve transportation infrastructure in Illinois — such as the proposal to expand I-55 from the southwest suburbs to the city — must be totally transparent in order to advance. That was the perspective of UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj,as noted in a report published October 16 by the Illinois News Network. Reporter Cole Lauterbach produced the report.
Research co-authored by the UTC developed a framework to gauge the return on investment for inter-city high-speed passenger rail service. The report was released by the American Public Transportation Association. Learn more from this article posted October 5 in Metro magazine. And, a news article on the research also was published in the October 5 issue of Mass Transit magazine.
Hyperloop is a conceptional transportation mode that could transport people and products at very high speeds. On September 20, UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj shared insight on the concept during a segment of Chicago Tonight, the popular public affairs program aired on WTTW. View the Hyperloop segment, which was moderated by Brandis Friedman and included thoughts from Dr. Joe Schwieterman, Director of the Chaddick Institute at DePaul University.
A proposal from SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk to build a new high-speed rail network from O’Hare to the Loop generated lots of commentary. UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj shared thoughts that appeared in a June 29 Crain’s Chicago Business commentary and during a July 5 segment broadcast on The 21st, public radio covering Illinois news.
In June, the Illinois Department of Transportation announced it would halt road construction projects given the Illinois budget impasse. Transport Topics magazine contacted Bob Ginsburg, UTC Research Assistant Professor, for comments. Read the June 25 article written by reporter Marissa Gamache.
Median planters were installed more than 20 years ago along busy Madison Street in Chicago’s West Loop. Now, there’s talk of having the planters removed. Reporter Eva Hofmann interviewed UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj for an article that appeared in the June 2 issue of the monthly Gazette newspaper.
Federal support for public transit infrastructure was the subject of an online article published April 5 in The Ringer, an online source for national news, culture and sports. UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj shared insight for the article, written by staff writer Victor Luckerson.
Research Completed in 2016
TOD Studio Report. Identifying the benefit of putting surplus land allocated for parking to more productive use for future redevelopment projects was among the findings of UIC graduate student research teams charged with preparing plans to enhance the financial value and vibrancy of two different Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) rapid transit stations.
The student teams developed the so-called transit oriented development (TOD) reports through a graduate-level studio course offered by the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Spring 2016 semester. One team studied the Linden station on the Purple Line in Wilmette, and the other team focused on the Ashland/63rd station on the Green Line in Chicago’s Englewood community. The student teams conducted research into the communities, the surrounding residential and commercial markets and the constraints and potential of the CTA stations. An analysis was completed of CTA-owned parking lots adjacent to both stations to determine usage and market value. Read a news story, and contact us to request a copy of the TOD Studio report. On December 22, Wilmette Life reporter Kathy Routliffe filed a report on the proposed recommendations for the Linden station.
Transit Agencies and Extreme Weather. Transit agency professionals have a moderate-to-high level of confidence that the systems they manage will continue to operate during an extreme weather event, while acknowledging that extreme weather incidents are happening more often and becoming more severe. And, case studies of two transit agencies revealed: 1) Commuters use below grade rapid transit stations more often during heavy rain or snow than above-ground stations. 2) Installation of shelters and benches at bus stops or on subway platforms helps maintain ridership on extreme weather days, and may even cut down on ridership loss during extreme weather events.
These are among the conclusions reached by researchers studying the impact of severe weather on public transit systems. Two separate reports were prepared and managed by the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with support from researchers at Arizona State University. Learn more from a news story.
- Read an abstract and get access to the complete report on the national survey of public transit officials.
- Read an abstract and get access to the complete report on the effects of extreme weather on ridership.
Rail Transit Expansion in Chicago Central Area. A study managed by the UTC resulted in a whitepaper that proposes the design, funding and creation of a new transit line called the “Connector. Its goal would be to add needed capacity in the central are of Chicago, the fastest-growing part of the city. Assuming a 7-10 year implementation time frame, the Connector’s first phase would come online just as north and northwest side “L” lines reached capacity. This would enable the central area to absorb a larger share of subsequent increases in transit demand.
The paper recommends construction of 14 miles of new transit line; approximately 2/3 would be located on or adjacent to existing rail right-of-way, vacant land or public property. The Connector would be built in phases and would be funded by a 0.25% property tax increment levied through a special service area (SSA). The central area is dependent on rail transit, and the majority of central area workers use transit to get to their jobs. Researcher Ed Zotti was principal investigator.
Veterans One-Click Transportation Resource Center. Illinois veterans and their families seeking information on transportation options to serve their personal needs can now get detailed and accurate travel information from a new “one-click” website.
Through the One-Click Transportation Resource Center, veterans and their families– as well as senior citizens, persons with disabilities and all Illinois residents – can quickly find up-to-date travel information for public and specialized transportation, commercial transportation like intercity bus and rail service, and ride share and car share options.
The website — http://tranpro.utc.uic.edu/ILGoVets/ — also links to the Google Trip Planner Transit page and contains a scalable Illinois map with locations of veteran service centers. It was constructed upon the TRANPRO Information Management System, a digital source that maintains Illinois Public and Specialized Transportation Provider Inventory data. Read a news story on this project. UTC Senior Associate Lise Dirks was principal investigator. On November 3, Next City writer Jen Kenny published this article on the One-Click resource.
Benefiting From an Off-Peak Delivery Program in Chicago. Reduced traffic congestion, better air quality, more efficient distribution of goods to businesses and stores, and an improved environment for pedestrians would be key benefits from implementing an off-peak delivery (OPD) program in congested parts of Chicago.
To make such a program happen, business and civic leaders will need to encourage it and the City would need to make it a priority. A formal pilot program could be a useful step to test the idea, measure the public and private benefits, and address possible concerns of supply chain carriers, businesses and residents.
Those were among conclusions reached in a recent report on policies and practices that can be used to shift deliveries of goods from congested peak traffic periods to less-congested off-peak times. Off-peak delivery programs have reduced costs and improved traffic flow in several domestic and international markets. Get more details from a news story and download the report from this abstract. The study was prepared by UTC researchers James C. LaBelle and Sheena F. Frève.
Enhancing Mobility in Metropolitan Chicago. Explosive growth in technology is spawning new services that can and should be integrated with public transit to dramatically improve mobility throughout metropolitan Chicago, especially for those who don’t own a car or lack viable transit options.
More needs to be done to provide people with the transportation options they need to reach jobs, schools and other destinations. Among the recommendations: broaden the role of public transit agencies to achieve mobility goals, change the way transit systems are funded, and adopt a commute trip reduction program.
Those were among the conclusions from a recently-completed report that analyzed existing transit services and challenges within the Chicago region and identified ways to deliver affordable, reliable and abundant mobility options. This news story provides more details on the mobility study, and the entire report can be downloaded from this abstract. UTC researchers James C. LaBelle and Sheena F. Frève completed the study. On October 10, Crain’s Chicago Business published an online commentary by Mr. LaBelle on one key finding from the mobility research. And, the Active Transportation Alliance published a blog on the research.
Pedestrian/Bicyclist Perceptions on Safety at CTA Grade Crossings. Women are more safety-conscious than men when proceeding across street-level rail crossings, while guys 21 years old and younger who are in a hurry sometimes ignore activated warning signals and proceed across railroad tracks. People over 51 years old take more notice of active warning devices than passive ones like signage, and everyone becomes less aware of an oncoming train if they’re talking on a cell phone or listening to music through ear buds when approaching a railroad crossing.
These findings, and many others, were among the conclusions made by researchers who conducted surveys and studied pedestrian and cyclist activity at seven Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) rapid transit grade crossings in metropolitan Chicago. The objective of the study was to contribute to the still limited research on pedestrian and cyclist safety at rail grade crossings and expand the scope of a previous study.
Learn more from a news story and download the complete report, “Pedestrian/Bicyclist Warning Devices and Signs at CTA Rail-Highway Grade Crossings.” The principal investigator was Paul Metaxatos, Ph.D, UTC Associate Director for Research Programs and Research Associate Professor.
Recommendations to Guide IDOT in Better Engagement. Learning more about the cultural makeup of particular communities, leveraging existing knowledge and relationships, and communicating with people informally in places they gather on a regular basis are practices the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) can follow to bolster engagement practices with citizens across the state.
These are among the eight recommendations proposed in a new research report designed to provide a roadmap of sorts for the transportation agency in order to expand and improve outreach initiatives aimed at the general public and grow efforts to reach disadvantaged or underserved communities. The study, “Recommendations to Enhance Quality Public Engagement,” was managed by the Urban Transportation Center and completed by a team at the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement.
Read a news story and get access to the complete report. UTC Research Assistant Professor Dr. Robert E. Ginsburg led the study. Also, online resource MetroQuest recently published a post analyzing the IDOT engagement report.
Prioritization Framework Proposal to Guide Future IDOT Projects. One of the key challenges facing states and municipalities is how to prioritize and select future transportation improvement or expansion projects. A new report has proposed a new process designed to provide the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) with a preliminary structure for both long-range planning decisions and project selection. The process would prioritize projects based upon a federal planning framework style called Performance-Based Planning and Programming and allows for flexibility so it can be applied to any future transportation project.
If applied, the proposed UTC Framework would be used by IDOT to initially establish long-range transportation goals and policies and then set priorities for projects through input from local jurisdictions. Next, the department would develop procedures to rank and score projects; the ranked projects would later be reviewed by an IDOT panel for potential funding. Read a news story and get access to the report, which was managed by UTC Research Assistant Professor Dr. Robert E. Ginsburg.
Measurement Standards for Maritime Freight Industry in Illinois. Formation of organized stakeholder groups, defined measurement standards and a better analysis of existing industry data are needed to develop solid performance measures to expand and improve maritime freight transportation in Illinois. A recent UTC research report, “Developing Performance Measures for the Illinois Maritime Freight Transportation System,” provides key recommendations for creating the framework needed by Illinois to better utilize commercial waterways.
An improved system for moving freight through Illinois waterways can provide jobs and other economic benefits and help ease congestion on state highways. Plus, development of performance measures is essential to the federal government’s Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) surface transportation bill. Funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation, the report was managed by UTC Research Assistant Professor Dr. Robert E. Ginsburg. Read a news story and get access to the report.
UTC Research Archives — 2013-15
Learn more about transportation research completed by UTC researchers by visiting the Research Archives page. You can read short reports on eight reports on topics involving mobility, safety, freight and more.
UTC in the News — 2016
Please click on this link to get access to 2016 news reports featuring UTC faculty and staff researchers.
UTC in the News — 2015
Please click on this link to get access to 2015 news reports featuring UTC faculty and staff researchers.
UTC in the News — 2014
Please click on this link to get access to 2014 news reports featuring UTC faculty and staff researchers.