Blog Archives

Humphrey School works to ensure self-driving vehicles are accessible to all

A driverless bus on a city streetWhen Myrna Peterson wants to visit downtown Grand Rapids, Minnesota, from her home two miles outside the city limits, she uses the most convenient vehicle she has: her motorized wheelchair. Peterson, who has been in a wheelchair since she was seriously injured in a 1995 car accident, has few other options to get around town.

Grand Rapids, a city of about 11,000 people in north central Minnesota, is like many other small communities in Greater Minnesota. It has limited bus service, especially during the evenings and on weekends. People with mobility issues, like Peterson, face even more constraints when trying to go shopping, get to an appointment, or go out to dinner.

That’s why Peterson has become an advocate for more accessible transportation in her community, and wants Grand Rapids to be the location of a pilot program to test driverless vehicles. Peterson served on a task force, along with researchers from the U of M’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and CTS, to examine issues of equity and access to driverless cars for people with low incomes or disabilities.

Posted in Accessibility (for people with disabilities), Planning, Rural transportation, Technology, Transportation research

Policies needed to ensure the promise of self-driving vehicles for those unable to drive

Dashboard of a self-driving vehicleOne of the predicted benefits of self-driving vehicles (SDVs) is improved mobility and access for those unable to drive. The extent to which this happens, however, will depend not just on marketplace competition, but also on public policy decisions that ensure an equitable transportation system.

This is the conclusion of a new analysis by Frank Douma, director of the State and Local Policy Program (SLPP) at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Adeel Lari, director of innovative financing at SLPP; and Kory Andersen, graduate student in urban and regional planning. The research was conducted under the Transportation Policy and Economic Competitiveness Program, which is led by SLPP.

Posted in Accessibility (for people with disabilities), Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), Intelligent vehicles, Technology, Transportation research

Volunteer driver programs at risk from changing demographics, ridesharing services

Photo of elderly person being helped into a vehicleVolunteer drivers are a key component of human services transportation in Minnesota. They provide low-cost transportation for trips ranging from non-emergency medical appointments to general errands. Most of the organizations that use volunteer drivers are located in small towns or rural areas where dedicated transit services do not exist. But changing demographics and the rise of ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft could put many volunteer driving programs at risk, according to a new U of M study.

The project, funded by the Minnesota Council on Transportation Access, examined volunteer driver programs in Minnesota. The objectives were to learn which organizations use volunteer drivers, how they organize and fund their volunteer driver programs, and what challenges and barriers they face.

Posted in Accessibility (for people with disabilities), Rural transportation, Sharing economy, Transportation research

Helping visually impaired pedestrians find their way with new self-aware system

Visually impaired pedestrian walking with caneTraveling alone in an unfamiliar environment can be challenging for visually impaired pedestrians, largely because there is not enough information available to them to support decision making. For U of M researchers, helping these pedestrians overcome such challenges is a top priority.

“To improve mobility, access, and confidence in the transportation system, it is important to remove not only the physical barriers but also the information barriers that can impede mobility for people who are visually impaired,” says Chen-Fu Liao, senior systems engineer at the U of M’s Minnesota Traffic Observatory. In previous work, Liao developed the Mobile Accessible Pedestrian System (MAPS), which uses smartphone technology to provide location and signal timing information to visually impaired pedestrians.

Liao’s latest project, sponsored by the Roadway Safety Institute, aims to improve the app’s accuracy and reliability by developing a “self-aware” infrastructure system—one that can monitor itself and ensure the information it’s providing is up to date, even in a GPS-unfriendly environment.

Posted in Accessibility (for people with disabilities), Pedestrian, Safety, Technology, Transportation research, Urban transportation

Smartphone app helps visually impaired navigate safely

Photo of a blind pedestrian navigating a curbA recent article in the Star Tribune described how smartphones and a variety of apps are liberating the blind and visually impaired, allowing them to do everything from making calls with voice commands to identifying currency.

Chen-Fu Liao, senior systems engineer at the U of M’s Minnesota Traffic Observatory and a researcher with the Roadway Safety Institute (RSI), is using a smartphone app to help visually impaired pedestrians with navigation.

Posted in Accessibility (for people with disabilities), Pedestrian, Safety, Technology, Transportation research, Urban transportation
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