PROJECT News: Scan of Communities with Fewer than 10,000 People finds Biking/Walking to be “Wheelie” Popular

Walking and bicycling have become increasingly popular transportation modes as people consider the positive impacts of active living. While there are examples of large, urban areas driving the implementation of infrastructure to support these modes within their jurisdictions, communities with populations smaller than 10,000 people may have limited infrastructure and know-how. Since 84% of communities in the United States are home to 10,000 people or fewer, these geographically distributed communities can have big impacts on transportation trends.

To investigate multimodal transportation options in these small towns, WTI researchers Natalie Villwock-Witte and Karalyn Clouser conducted Case Studies of Communities of Less than 10,000 People with Bicycle & Pedestrian Infrastructure. Funded by five state departments of transportation and the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM), the project examined 15 communities across five states (Florida,  Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Vermont).

Researchers traveled to each community to conduct on-site research on existing infrastructure and interact with community members. They collected geo-located photographs and data on active transportation infrastructure and condensed this information into infrastructure maps, conducted interviews, and provided on-site survey distribution. “For rural areas, in-person contact is key,” noted Villwock-Witte. “Local buy-in had a dramatic impact on data collection.”

The resulting case studies for each community highlight examples of active transportation infrastructure and outline characteristics that lead to a successful bike/walk culture. Also, the final report synthesizing all the case studies can provide guidance for other small communities. “These case studies,” said Villwock-Witte, “show that [bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure] does exist and describe how small communities across the U.S. have put it in place. The selected case studies are not the exception to the rule.”  As existing infrastructure, such as state highways through small towns, is reimagined, communities will look to their peers for inspiration noted Villwock-Witte. “I see lots of opportunities to build on this work in the near future and for many years to come.”

The case studies and final report are available on the project page of the WTI website

WTI Researchers to Teach MSU Course on the Intersection of Transportation & Health

Transportation systems that prioritize motor vehicles have been linked to poor air quality and negative health outcomes such as asthma, may endanger walkers and cyclists, and disproportionately shift the negative effects onto minority and low-income communities. As a new generation of transportation engineers, planners, and policymakers join the workforce, it is important that they understand and have the skills to address the relationship between transportation and public health.

WTI researchers Rebecca Gleason and Matthew Madsen have partnered with the MSU College of Engineering to teach ECIV 491: Sustainable Transportation and Community Health. The 3-credit spring semester course is for students with Junior standing or above who are studying engineering, community health, planning, or a policy discipline. “Cities and towns are not built within silos by only engineers,” said Madsen. “For them to be sustainable and healthy, they need to be planned and developed by many different professionals. This class will give engineers and students in other disciplines the chance to learn from each other.”

Sustainable Transportation and Community Health is designed to provide students with a broad perspective on transportation design by exploring the evolution of both the U.S. and Dutch transportation systems, their divergence, and the design standards that support active infrastructure. “The Netherlands used to be much more car-dependent,” Gleason noted, “but due to a concerted effort starting in the 1970s they have become a model for a more people-focused transportation network. However, the U.S. fully embraced the private automobile, especially after World War II, and while there are some places around the country that are more bicycle, pedestrian, and transit-friendly, they are now the exception.”

The course will also introduce students to the policies and tools used to incorporate health into transportation planning, as well as provide hands-on experience to plan, implement, and evaluate a quick-build traffic-calming project. “The course goal,” remarked Madsen, “is to demonstrate the need for a balanced transportation system that incorporates health and focuses on equity in relation to all users, especially the more vulnerable ones.”

Registration for ECIV 491: Sustainable Transportation and Community Health is now open for spring 2023. The class will be held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:2am5 to10:40am. For more course information please contact Rebecca Gleason or Matthew Madsen.


WTI Employees Recognized for Years of Service

Every October, Montana State University hosts the Milestones in Service Award banquet to recognize employees who reached five-year employment increments during the previous fiscal year. This year’s event included seven WTI employees celebrating significant work milestones. Of special note are David Kack, WTI’s Executive Director and Director of the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM), and Neil Hetherington, WTI’s Visual Communications Manager, for whom 2022 marks 20 years as MSU employees.  Thank you all for your years of hard work and expertise!

20 Years

Neil Hetherington, Visual Communications Manager (WTI)

David Kack, MS, Executive Director (WTI) & Director (SURTCOM)

15 Years

Laura Fay, MS, Senior Research Scientist (WTI) & Program Manager (Cold Climate Operations & Systems)

Rebecca Gleason, MS, PE, Research Engineer II (SURTCOM)

5 Years

Luca Allaria, IT Support Specialist (WTI)

Shawna Page, Field Training Professional (Local Technical Assistance Program; LTAP)

Matthew Ulberg, PE, Director (LTAP)

New Staff: Welcome Anna Price!

WTI is excited to welcome Anna Price as a new member of the communications team. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Anna moved to Bozeman to attend Montana State University where she graduated with an Honors Baccalaureate, a B.S. in Earth Science with a focus in Snow Mechanics, and minors in Math, Physics, and Water Resources.

Anna joins WTI with experience working in Bozeman transportation, most recently as the Sustainable Transportation Program Manager at MSU. While with the university, she developed staff and student programming, notably founding the Guaranteed Ride Home program, developing the student-led design and installation of campus-covered bike parking, and working on the 2017 MSU Bicycle Master Plan planning team.

In her new role as a Communications Specialist, Anna focuses on technical editing for WTI’s many researchers, ensuring that readers pay attention to the science, not the spelling. She is also writing for the WTI newsletter and developing public communications. Research and discovery is more useful when people know about it, and Anna is hooking readers with interesting articles.

Working in the office and remotely, Anna appreciates the comradery of her coworkers – good people and good scientists. She also enjoys the wide variety of projects on which she works and will continue honing her writing and communication skills so that the public remains informed on, and interested in, WTI’s ongoing research. When the opportunity arises, Anna loves to step away from her computer, get outside, and assist researchers with their fieldwork.

Outside of work, Anna wanders in the woods with her dog, Laszlo, packrafts, reads, and knits. She also takes care of her cabin, where she lives full time, and is currently prepping for winter. When not fending off the bears, rattlesnakes, and squirrels who also call the cabin “home,” Anna stacks huge quantities of firewood and tries to finish knitting that one sweater before the snow falls (third year’s the charm).

New Staff: Welcome Jen MacFarlane

The Western Transportation Institute is pleased to announce that Jen MacFarlane has transitioned from a temporary to permanent position as a public health research assistant. Originally from Colstrip, Montana, Jen is a student of both Montana State University and the University of Montana, where she earned a B.S. in Health and Human Performance and is currently working towards a master’s degree in Public Health.

With two decades of public health experience, Jen has devoted herself to helping Montanans. Her first public health position, as an AmeriCorps volunteer in West Yellowstone, focused on substance abuse prevention. Jen has since worked, and lived, across Montana developing programming for HIV prevention, tobacco use prevention, diabetes and hypertension, and other chronic health conditions. Most recently, she worked at the Gallatin City-County Health Department where she focused on chronic disease prevention and forming the department’s Cultural and Linguistic Appropriate Services committee. Jen also focused on coalition building and policy change; she was instrumental in the adoption of local policy that recognized e-cigarettes in the Clean Indoor Air Act and the inclusion of health-promoting language in the Gallatin County Growth Policy, Triangle Trails Plan, and Triangle Transportation Plan.

However, Jen’s professional passion is creating opportunities for and promoting, physical activity in communities. This led her to recognize the physical activity barriers related to the built environment, including transportation. At WTI, and as practical experience through her master’s program, Jen has worked to reduce activity barriers by installing traffic calming projects, educating students with bike rodeos, and creating a Traffic Calming Primer. She is currently assessing whether Montana’s ten most populous counties are including health performance measures in their transportation plans, thereby gaining insight into how, and if, local governments recognize the intersection of health and transportation. Long term, Jen’s goal is to create cross-sector collaborative efforts that lead to healthy communities.

Jen spends her free time with her family: three children, her husband, her parents, two dogs, a cat, a goose, and seven chickens. Because her children are nearly grown, they focus on the “fun stuff” such as running, biking, skiing, and backpacking. Jen is also a potter, a soapmaker, and a middle school cross-country and track coach. Once she completes her master’s degree, Jen plans to spend more time coaching and traveling. The first trips on her bucket list: bikepacking in Europe, and hiking in Peru.