News

David Kack named WTI Director

Outdoor portrait of David Kack in 2020

Last week, Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering (NACOE) Dean, Brett Gunnink, named David Kack as Director of WTI.  David has served as Interim Director since last July, in addition to his duties as SURTCOM Director and Mobility Program Manager.  The College highlighted the appointment in an article on the NACOE homepage.

In more good news, NACOE also selected David for its 2020 Research Professional Employee Award for Excellence, in recognition of “extraordinary service during the most challenging of times.” Due to current event restrictions, the awards ceremony will be scheduled for a later day.

Congratulations, David, and thank you for all your hard work on behalf of WTI!

Watch Our Road Ecologists in Action!

graphic of a hat and magnifying glass over an image of the globe with the text "where in the world is WTI?"

Conservation groups – including the National Wildlife Federation, Save L.A. Cougars, and ARC (Animal Road Crossings) – marked Wildlife Crossings Week (May 4 – 8) by hosting a series of webinars on current efforts around the world to enhance habitat connectivity.  Road Ecology Program Manager Rob Ament led a session on “Improving Ecological Connectivity: the IUCN’s Transport Working Group,” highlighting his collaborative work with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.  Rob’s full presentation is available to view on the event’s Facebook page.

Did you miss the Earth Optimism Summit hosted by the Smithsonian last month? It also showcased successful conservation actions during a multi-day event. WTI Research Scientist Marcel Huijser led a workshop entitled “Road Ecology – are we taking the right turns?” His presentation is now available to view at on the Summit website.

Catching Up with the Fellows

The placement year for the Class of 2019-2020 Public Land Transportation Fellows (PLTF) is drawing to a close.  Over the last three weeks, Naomi Fireman, Nate Begay, and Vince Ziols have been featured in “Takeover Tuesday” posts on LinkedIn, reflecting on their experiences working and learning in US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) wildlife refuges.

Naomi Fireman at Potomac River Wildlife Refuge 2020
Naomi Fireman

Naomi Fireman has been stationed at Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Northern Virginia, where she has assisted with a variety of projects to enhance transportation facilities within and between the individual refuges that make up the large complex. Highlights included re-designing a refuge entrance, planning and installing new bike racks, and applying for a federal grant to complete a trail project.  Naomi noted, “Especially nowadays we can see how important it is for people to connect to and get out into nature. I am proud to be helping improve my refuge’s accessibility and connectivity to the local area and beyond.”

Nate Begay outside with flag that reads Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge
Nate Begay

On the other side of the country, Nate Begay has been working with staff and partners at Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge (VdO) in Albuquerque, NM to improve transportation access, as well as expand educational programs.  Some of his favorite projects have included bringing a bike share station to the visitor center, helping staff design the refuge trail network, and designing an outdoor classroom for field trips. Nate appreciated the chance to collaborate with the many local stakeholders who support the Refuge: “Working with Valle de Oro has allowed me to not only give back to my community, but also follow my passion of working in public lands.”

Nature trail near shoreline in Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge
Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

Vince Ziols has had the unique opportunity to spend nearly two years at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge (DRIWR) in Michigan. In his first year, he completed a number of transportation planning projects to facilitate access to the Refuge by residents of Detroit and other surrounding communities.  DRIWR then extended his fellowship for a second year, which has allowed him to put many of the projects into action, including extending a regional bus route to the Refuge Gateway and Visitor Center, helping a nonprofit organization secure a $1.9 million grant for trail development, and implementing a trail signage and safety plan. According to Vince, the fellowship has had several valuable benefits: “I have found another home here in Detroit and know that my experience as a PLTF has prepared me for the next step of my career.”

Vince conducted a wrap-up presentation webinar last week, which is available to view on the Fellows project page of the WTI website.  Naomi will present her wrap-up webinar on Wednesday, June 3, at 11 a.m. (EST), and Nate’s will be scheduled for later this summer. To read the Fellows’ entire “Takeover Tuesday” posts, visit the Federal-Public Lands Transportation Institute page on LinkedIn.  For more information on the Fellows program, go to the PLTF page on the WTI website.

Look What’s Popping Up in Bozeman

Seven staff members from WTI and City of Bozeman at traffic calming installation in Bozeman, Montana

On Saturday, May 2, WTI and the City of Bozeman teamed up to assemble pop-up calming installations in a West Bozeman neighborhood on Yellowstone Avenue.  Staff worked together to complete the project in one day, while practicing social distancing guidelines and wearing masks, of course. Team WTI included Danae Giannetti, Andrea Hamre, David Kack and Matt Madsen, while Team Bozeman included two WTI alumni — Dani Hess and Taylor Lonsdale.  Can you spot our staff and partners behind their socially responsible masks?

The installation in West Bozeman 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 have expressed concerns about speeding vehicles. Several projects in 2019 used street art as a traffic calming strategy.

And… speaking of WTI alumni Dani Hess, did you know that the City of Bozeman recently selected her to serve as its news Neighborhoods Program Coordinator?  Her appointment was highlighted in a local news story by KHQ Channel 6.  Congrats, Dani – WTI looks forward to more opportunities to work with you on local projects!

Why did the bear cross the road? Because he had it all to himself

rural two-lane road with no vehicles in mountainous region

Discover Magazine Interviews WTI Researcher about Wildlife Behavior during Pandemic

Humans are staying home more and traveling less during the current COVID-19 restrictions.  What does that mean for wildlife?  Discovery Magazine recently talked to WTI Research Scientist Tony Clevenger for an online article called “National Parks Are Empty During the Pandemic — and Wildlife Are Loving It,” about what happens when there are fewer vehicles, people, and noise on public lands. Tony discusses how large species, like bears, notice and take advantage of the empty travel corridors: “As you get people off trails and reduce the amount of human activity and movement in some of these rural-urban areas, wildlife really seem to key into that.” He also discusses how parks may have opportunities to enhance their habitat conservation efforts based on what they learn about wildlife during these unique conditions.

FoRRRwD Webinars continue on May 12

Logo for National Center for Rural Road Safety

The National Center for Rural Road Safety is co-sponsoring a series of webinars with FHWA and NLTAPA on the Every Day Counts round five (EDC-5) initiative, “Focus on Reducing Rural Roadway Departures (FoRRRwD).” The theme of the next webinar will be Innovative Mechanisms to Deliver Safety Projects. This free webinar will be presented on May 12, 2020, at 1 pm (Eastern time). Presenters from Maine, Mississippi, and Montana will share their guidance and experiences.  More information is available on the FHWA registration webpage.

New Project will Explore Technology Applications for Rural Areas

Line of vehicles backed up on one side to a rural road in Montana

WTI researchers Natalie Villwock-Witte, Karalyn Clouser, Jaime Sullivan, and David Kack have embarked on an FHWA task order project to explore the relationship between socio-economics, infrastructure, and travel behavior in rural communities. “Emerging Technologies and Opportunities for Improved Mobility and Safety for Rural Areas” will evaluate potential applications of new transportation modes and advanced technologies to address the unique transportation needs in small communities and rural areas.

The research team includes the Cadmus Group (project lead), WTI, and EBP-US (formerly the EDR Group). WTI’s role will encompass tasks to describe the rural landscape, define unmet transportation needs, identify potential strategies to address the unmet needs, and develop case studies.  “New transportation options such as shared mobility and connected vehicles are transforming transportation in urban and suburban settings,” said Natalie; “we’re excited to explore which ones can be successfully implemented in rural areas and how they can have economic and quality of life benefits for residents.”  Karalyn added that the project also addresses the varying definitions for “rural” throughout transportation research: “Another important benefit is the opportunity to develop a consistent, data-driven description of rural that can be applied to other projects in the future.” As the project progresses, future information will be posted available on the WTI website project page.

WEBINAR: Focus on Reducing Rural Roadway Departures (FoRRRwD)

Logo for National Center for Rural Road Safety

The National Center for Rural Road Safety is co-sponsoring a webinar with FHWA and NLTAPA on the Every Day Counts round five (EDC-5) initiative, “Focus on Reducing Rural Roadway Departures (FoRRRwD): Funding and Data to Identify Projects.” This free webinar will be presented on April 16, 2020, at 1 pm (Eastern time). Presenters from three states will share their guidance and experiences.  More information is available on the FHWA registration webpage.

WEBINAR: Reducing Disparities between Rural and Urban Seatbelt Use

On April 22, 2020, at 1 pm (Mountain Time), CHSC will present “Together for Life Utah: Reducing Disparities Between Urban and Rural Seat Belt Use Rates.” In 2013, the Highway Safety Office of the Utah Department of Public Safety engaged CHSC in a multi-year pilot project to reduce the significant disparities in seat belt use rates between Utah’s urban areas and rural areas. In this webinar, learn how the Together for Life Project successfully promoted seat belt use in seven rural counties by bolstering family rules, workplace rules, and bystander engagement. To register, visit the CHSC Webinar page.

Big Turnout for Webinar on Traffic Safety Culture Messaging

On March 25, Center for Health and Safety Culture Director Nic Ward led a webinar for the National Center for Rural Road Safety on “Traffic Safety Culture Messaging.” More than 300 people attended the forum, which summarized different forms of traffic safety culture messages, discussed the importance of a positive message “frame,” and presented aspects of message design to overcome audience resistance.  The webinar is available for viewing on the Safety Center’s Archived Webinar webpage.