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The Road on Two Wheels

Though I haven’t written much in the past year, I’ve been logging away thoughts (engineering, and otherwise). One in particular kept resonating with me last summer when looking over some road designs: how can you design a road for all vehicles without having driven them?

Designers rarely refer to books alone, but utilize experiences that back up the numbers. You’d be hard pressed to find a transportation engineer in the United States that has never driven a car; it’s the most prominent personal transportation method here. But you might more easily find transportation engineers that have never driven a motorcycle. Or an FHWA Class 8, four-axled truck and trailer. Yet we design roads daily, sometimes with the use of simulations, sometimes with nothing more than a reference guide and our engineering judgement. But there’s a disconnect there. Last October, I aimed to remedy one part of this problem and have some fun doing it: learn how to ride a motorcycle. Continue reading

Roundabout Changes

I was a huge fan of the roundabout installation on Hillsborough St. near the NC State Bell Tower. It was well thought out, it reduced delay, and it was a pleasure to drive in. For a traffic engineer. Continue reading

The Lateral Forces of Earthquakes

So it seems there were a few damages from the Virginia earthquake earlier this week. The biggest damages on the news? The National Cathedral and the Washington Monument. The Washington Monument suffered some cracking at the very top and has since been closed indefinitely to the public until damages can be assessed. As for the National Cathedral, gargoyles, spires, buttresses, and walls cracked, shifted, or fell and shattered. Other homes and businesses near the epicenter were damaged as well.

While damages under 6.0 earthquakes are rare, they do indeed occur, especially in a region less known and under-designed for quakes. In fact, the area falls in a zone of very small seismic risk (see the 2012 International Building Code Map, courtesy of USGS), which is a big part of the problem. Another part of the problem is the age of these structures. Newer buildings and building methods are much safer than they used to be in this regard, but many older buildings will suffer problems, especially since there is little desire to improve them and little funding to do so. Continue reading


Hot on the heals of budget deals, deficit raising, and spending cuts in Washington comes a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers saying that our failing infrastructure will impact the US Gross Domestic Product by 2.7 trillion dollars by 2040. All due to funding gaps between what we use and what we actually pay to maintain. This will cause 400,000 lost jobs, lower incomes, lower spending, and lower exports, worsening the US trade position. Transportation is quite possibly the MOST important infrastructure to a first world economy, it would be a shame to have made decades of investment to watch it crumble. Care about your transportation systems? Vote accordingly and write your congressmen, both local and national.

Full story: Reuters

Waging War on Left Turns

Left turns are terrible. When they aren’t extremely hazardous for drivers, they cause significant delays for other movements in the intersection because of dedicated left turn phases. Engineers have been plagued with this problem for years and have come up with many solutions, but usually the public doesn’t want anything to do with them. Even when they work exceptionally well, the Jughandle, the Michigan Left, and the all-powerful SPUI (single point urban interchange) all took time to introduce to the public. Even the roundabout is feared in areas where drivers don’t use them often, and the super-street causes uproar over driveway access to businesses. A personal favorite of mine, one I studied extensively in an unconventional intersection design course, is the Diverging Diamond Interchange. I designed a hypothetical DDI for Raleigh back in undergrad. It’s neat, but it’s been a hard press on the public to try something as different as driving on the wrong side of the road. Continue reading

Transportation Civil Rights

A new transportation bill is going to decide how the United States spends money on transportation for the next six years. Unfortunately, those to whom this legislation has the most impact have the smallest voice. According to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights report “Where We Need to Go: A Civil Rights Roadmap for Transportation Equity“, most funds only cover highways and very little public transportation. Millions of poor and working-class people are cut off from being able to go anywhere because the average cost of owning a car is around $9,500 a year and the current poverty level is at $22,350. I’ve long been a proponent of public transportation for it’s efficiency but it’ll never work as well in the United States as it does in countries in Europe due to our population density. This does NOT mean we don’t need it. We sprawled ourselves out much too far and built too many roads out to suburbs, roads that require upkeep and gas taxes to maintain. Now we pay the price for making the wrong investments without seeing the true cost of a highway system that squeezes every dollar out of American transportation funding.

Public transportation is very important in urban areas, and without it, many can not get to the job they need to live the American dream. It seems that the millions of Americans who have always had access to a personal vehicle don’t understand the lives of people who don’t, and don’t want to pay for them to have an opportunity to work and contribute to society. As a country we need to rethink our transportation policies, so that highway drivers understand the real cost of an American transportation system, and mass transit is finally given the funding it needs to become useful to Americans in highly populated areas.

Full article in Wired.

Graduate Lab Testing

Someone shared this video with me recently and I wanted to post it. It’s a video showing numerous contained demolition experiments for graduate student projects at the NC State Constructed Facilities Laboratory. I worked in this lab in the summer of 2006 on many graduate theses, and at least one of these experiments I recognized from actually standing nearby when the beam exploded. Others I recognize from projects I worked on, but I may not have been present for, such as the experiment on adding FRP (fiber reinforced polymer) strips to steel beams to increase their strength.

Enjoy the video. The music is fantastic.


Railroad Grade-Crossing Hazards

Two weeks ago, an unfortunate collision occurred at a railroad grade crossing in Maine. Reuters reports that a dump truck was hit by an Amtrak train and the driver was fatally wounded. Four passengers aboard the train were injured as well. Terrible. At-grade railroad crossings are some of the most dangerous intersections we have on our road system and they should be avoided whenever possible. Fortunately, many public agencies are fully aware of hazards associated with them and are taking steps to fix them. Here is a list of policies in the United States associated with at-grade crossings, published by the Federal Highway Administration. If you live in North Carolina, rest assured that NCDOT can and will use its power to remove, abandon, close, or regulate all railroad grade crossings. That is, if politicians don’t try to stop the sensibilities of the engineers there.

You might also be interested to know that railroad companies are also very aware of these hazards. CSX, for example, is “firmly opposed” to at-grade crossings and supports policies in place by the USDOT and state agencies to limit their use. You can read more about their leadership in this area on their website.

It’s a shame to see collisions on train tracks. Look both ways when you have to cross tracks and don’t, under any circumstances, try to “beat” the train or drive around protective barriers. It’s not worth it.

Full story at Gizmodo.

New Roundabout, New Collisions

I was reading this News & Observer article today about the new roundabout on Hillsborough St in Raleigh, NC. Raleigh Police have cataloged more than 40 collisions at a new roundabout installation at it seems at least a few people have some ruffled feathers.

At first this number seems high, but it’s important to remember a few key thoughts about the safety, design and installation of new traffic patterns. Continue reading

Safety Study

For my Highway Safety graduate level course at NC State, I conducted a field study at the intersection of Glenwood Ave and Peace St in Raleigh, NC. The study evaluated the current status of field conditions, conflicts, previous collision reports, and recommended a few counter measures that might reduce conflicts at the intersection.

I’m really enjoying the class. If you’re interested in reading the study, I’ve attached it to this post.

Safety Report