Message from the Director: Our Research and Work Continues

Portrait of David Kack from 2020

Greetings from WTI! To staff, research partners, and friends of WTI who read our newsletter, I hope you are all staying safe and healthy.

During this extraordinary time, we are all understandably focused on the immediate and critical needs of ourselves, our families, and our communities. To the extent possible, however, WTI continues to conduct research, follow up on current projects, and assess future research opportunities. As Jason Carter, Vice-President of Research for Montana State University, said last week: “This event brings into sharp focus the importance of our research mission to push the boundaries of human knowledge in all directions. The research we conduct today has the potential to save lives tomorrow, and make for a more sustainable, prosperous, and equitable world.”

We are fortunate that many of our researchers can safely conduct their work from home and other remote locations as needed. The WTI headquarters offices are quieter than usual, but administrative, financial, and communications staff are available to provide support to WTI staff and all of our research partners.

Clearly, national and local conditions are changing rapidly, thus we will continue adapting how, where, and when we work. To our research partners, please keep in touch if you have current needs, or want to discuss evolving or emerging issues that may change where we focus our collaborative efforts in the future.

Communication remains more important than ever. While my “open door” approach is still in place, the door itself may have to be virtual for a few more weeks. Feel free to contact me at dkack@montana.edu or at 406-994-7526.

David Kack, Interim Executive Director

Do You Know a Good Candidate for the Public Lands Transportation Fellows Program?

ogo: Transportation icons including, shuttle bus, hiker, cyclist, tour boat and car. Text: Public Lands Transportation Fellows Program

The application process for the 2020 Public Lands Transportation Fellows (PLTF) Class is now open!! The PLTF program provides fellowships to recent graduates (sometimes current graduate students) in a transportation-related engineering, planning, or resource management program. They receive a unique opportunity for learning, career development, and public service within a federal land unit or agency headquarters.  This year, the program is seeking applications for five positions: one at the Southeast National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Louisiana, one at the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Complex in Massachusetts, and three within the National Park Service.  Learn more at the PLTF Application webpage, then help us get the word out!

WRTWC Releases “Playbook” for Launching University-Public Agency Partnerships

Cover image of University Partnership Playbook with 5 photos of rural settings and transportation professionalsThe West Region Transportation Workforce Center has released the University Partnership Playbook, a step-by-step guide for creating multi-project collaborations between public agencies and universities.  The collaborations offer students hands-on transportation project experience within their university courses and provide agencies with added expertise and capacity for community-based projects.

The Playbook uses the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities (EPIC) Model, a framework for making university resources (faculty, students, laboratories, specialized and multidisciplinary expertise, etc.) available to public entities to help solve their priority challenges.  At the same time, it promotes professional development and career awareness opportunities for university students.

Designed for public agencies and other potential partners who are interested in starting or expanding a partnership with a university, the playbook includes:

  • Tried and true implementation steps for organizing a successful university partnership
  • Common challenges and fixes
  • Adaptations to the model
  • Success stories from different locations around the country, which highlight potential outcomes and benefits

The University Partnership Playbook is available to read or download on the WRTWC Resources webpage.

TRB Committee Elects WTI Researcher as New Chair

Congratulations to WTI’s Natalie Villwock-Witte! She was selected as the new chair of a National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board (TRB) Committee — ADA 40, Transportation Needs of National Parks & Public Lands. She will serve a three-year term starting in April, succeeding outgoing chair and longtime friend of WTI, Steve Suder.

WTI has a long history with this committee and its research.  Retired WTI Executive Director Steve Albert was a founding member and held several leadership positions through the years.  A number of other WTI staff have served on the committee and been active in its activities, including two national conferences on the transportation needs of national parks and public lands.

Postcards from TRB

Group photo of ten WTI staff members at TRB Annual MeetingFourteen WTI researchers, affiliated faculty, fellows, and staff have returned from a busy and productive week at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. The premier transportation research event of the year, the meeting is attended by more than 13,000 transportation leaders, practitioners, and researchers from around the world.  The U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, addressed attendees at the Chair’s luncheon, speaking on initiatives to deploy innovative technologies such as V2X, or “vehicle to everything” communication.

WTI staff played key roles across numerous topics and forums – presenting research at panels and in poster sessions, participating in committees, and leading workshops. One of the highlights was the well-attended workshop on “Rural Transportation for Everyone: Policy and Practice in 2020,” led by Jaime Sullivan.

 

Naomi Fireman at podium giving presentation on e-bikes
Fellow Naomi Fireman presents e-bike research at a panel on bicycle safety

12th TRB International Conference on Low Volume Roads comes to Kalispell, Montana

Kalispell, Montana proved to be an ideal venue for the 12th TRB International Conference on Low Volume Roads, held in late September.  Sponsored by the Transportation Research Board and co-sponsored by the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the conference welcomed 250 participants from 22 countries who experienced low volume roads in northwest Montana firsthand.   The conference provided 27 sessions covering 104 presentations, six hands-on workshops, and a field tour highlighting demonstrations of a variety of low volume road management tools.

The Western Transportation Institute (WTI) at Montana State University served as the local host and worked on site details for two years in preparation for this enormous event. WTI researchers Laura Fay, Natalie Villwock-Witte, Jaime Sullivan, Ahmed Al-Kaisy,  and Matt Ulberg, Director of Montana Local Technical Assistance Program presented at the conference.

Conference organizer, David Jones, University of California, Davis, was excited that the conference took place in a rural setting where the knowledge shared is most needed.  “Since 1975, this conference has been held every four years and provides a forum for the exchange of information and innovative ideas on all aspects of low volume roads,” said Jones.  “This year’s conference continues that long tradition.  Kalispell, with Glacier National Park nearby, is a beautiful area of the country and our local hosts excelled in providing a great venue with plenty of opportunities for activities.”

Colin Brooks and Rick Dobson of Michigan Technological University demonstrate an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) during a field tour at the 2019 Low Volume Roads conference.

Colin Brooks and Rick Dobson of Michigan Technological University demonstrate an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) during the LVR field tour.

Huijser Leads Webinar for USFWS

Marcel Huijser

In September, Research Ecologist Marcel Huijser was invited to present a training webinar for all the Regional Transportation Coordinators in the US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS).  The topic for this training was “Road Ecology: Issues and Solutions on and for USFWS Refuges.”  WTI has provided technical assistance to US Fish and Wildlife Service refuges on transportation-related issues for several years, through projects such as the Technical Support for National Wildlife Refuges project and the Workshop and Technical Support for USFWS project.

In other news related to Marcel’s research, his 2018 journal article in Biological Conservation on wildlife fencing continues to receive international attention. Last month, his co-author Andrew Jakes was interviewed about the research for a feature article in Der Spiegel, a leading news magazine in Germany.

WTI wins AARP Community Challenge Grant for Bozeman Street Project

Volunteers paint traffic calming murals along residential street.Congratulations are due to WTI and the City of Bozeman, recently selected for a Community Challenge grant awarded by the American Association for Retired People (AARP). WTI partnered with the City to submit a proposal for a traffic calming project, which will include pedestrian crossings, curb extensions, and traffic circles.  It will build on ongoing efforts of the partnership and neighborhood groups to test and evaluate temporary calming projects for effectiveness and public acceptance.

The AARP Community Challenge project awarded nearly $1.6 million to “quick-action” projects across the country, focusing on community projects that make immediate improvements or help jumpstart long-term progress.  Bozeman was one of only 159 projects to be selected from a highly competitive pool of more than 1600 applications.  In 2017, the City of Bozeman, WTI and their  other partners received an AARP Community Challenger grant for the Mobile Pop-up Project Trailer.

“We’re very excited to have continued support from the Livable Communities initiative at AARP,” said WTI Project Assistant Dani Hess, who led the award submission effort. “It’s great to see these short-term projects move towards longer term improvements with support from the City of Bozeman and the neighborhood groups who took initiative to make their streets friendlier for all.”

A Calming Presence – Street Art Aims to Slow Neighborhood Traffic

Volunteer poses with fish mural painted on Bozeman street as part of traffic calming projectTwo intersections in downtown Bozeman have unusual new inhabitants – brightly colored trout that swim and leap through a water mural painted right on the street.

Neighbors, volunteers, and educators helped create the installation, which is intended as a traffic calming measure to slow down cars traveling through this residential neighborhood.  It is the most recent project in an ongoing collaboration by the City of Bozeman and WTI to test temporary, low cost strategies in areas where neighbors express concerns about speeding vehicles.  In this case, the installations are located on South Church Street at the Olive Street and Bogert Place intersections, near popular pedestrian destinations including the library, Bogert Park, and Peets Hill.  “This is an area that will benefit a lot from these little design features,” WTI project assistant Dani Hess said. “It creates a visual narrowing that makes it a little harder to just cruise through here.”

WTI and the City of Bozeman have implemented other types of temporary calming projects.  Recently, they worked with the Lindley Park neighborhood group to install traffic circles on Cypress Street, which are intended to slow down vehicles driving by Lindley Park during events. Local businesses donated plants for both projects – Cashman’s, Vissers, Gallatin Valley Greenhouses at Bogert, and Greenspace LandGroup of student shows off painted traffic circle project in Bozeman Montana 2019scaping at Lindley.

Earlier in 2019, partners installed pop-up traffic circles near the Fairgrounds, and in the Cooper Park and Valley Unit neighborhoods.  Last year, WTI also worked with the City of Helena on a similar project. These projects have recorded reductions in traffic speeds ranging from 2% to 14%.

The educators who joined in on the painting projects have been in Bozeman participating in the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program.  High school and community college STEM teachers spend six we

eks learning about transportation research and technology, and then translate it into curriculum to take back to their classrooms.

The fish mural project received great local media attention including an article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and a feature story on NBC Montana News.

If you’ve seen the recent installations in person, organizers would love to hear your feedback!  Take a few minutes to fill out the Bogert Park project survey and/or the Cypress/Lindley Park survey.

Volunteers pose with with painted street mural traffic calming project in Bozeman Montana 2019