It is no accident that traffic signs are painted with reflective paint to increase visibility at night. It is no accident that some pedestrian crossings in Corvallis are equipped with lighted signals that make noise. And, it is no accident that colored bike lanes are being introduced in Portland to increase driver awareness of cyclists.
But, accidents happen. The city of Portland anticipates that 25% of all daily trips will be accomplished via bicycle by the year 2030, and as bicycle transportation grows in popularity nationally, bicycle fatalities are also on the rise. Recently, the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium (PacTrans) teamed up with a group of researchers from Oregon State University to examine the interaction between cyclists and truck motorists in downtown areas. Cyclists are very vulnerable to trucks entering the bicycle exclusive lane, and truck drivers have large blind spots and great inertia. What does a bicyclist do when a truck is in the bike lane? How does a bicyclist react to different configurations of traffic control devices, why do bicycle-truck accidents happen, and what should be done to reduce bicycle fatalities? These are the questions being investigated by PhD student, Masoud Ghodrat Abadi, with the Hurwitz Research Program.
Did you know Oregon State University has a cycling and driving simulation lab? We do, and we are one of six in the world! In the lab, a cyclist mounts a stationary bike, dons a pair of goggles that track eye movement, and pedals the bike in front of a screen that provides a 180 degree field of vision. The screen shows a virtual world where the cyclist encounters hazards, and their reactions are monitored. For automobile drivers, the experience is the same except of course the driver sits in a car that tilts as they navigate through the virtual reality. The whole time, Masoud is collecting data, and analyzing the interaction between drivers and cyclists.
Although the literal definition of Transportation Engineering is, “the application of technology and scientific principles to the planning, functional design, operation and management of facilities for any mode of transportation in order to provide for the safe, efficient, rapid, comfortable, convenient, economical, and environmentally compatible movement of people and goods.” It is simply the science of making transportation safe and saving lives. We humans need flashing lights, clear signs, and noises to help us avoid accidents. We are not perfect. For Masoud, this intersection between the physics of traffic and human psychology is gripping. Growing up, Masoud always had a talent for math and physics. It was no surprise that he would eventually pursue Engineering. Later when he was earning his Master’s in Transportation Engineering, he found that his field combined his research interests and his fascination with human behavior. This fascination is also influenced and satisfied by his love for teaching. Masoud is constantly learning about effective teaching and how to improve student performance. Masoud comes from a family full of teachers and a nourishing atmosphere at home. For this reason, he decided to pursue a PhD in Transportation Engineering because he wants to become a university professor and “teach for life,” which is rather appropriate considering the research he is pursuing could saves lives.
Lastly, Masoud would tell you to wear a helmet and stop listing to music while you bike. Everyone can learn to be safe.
Please tune into 88.7 FM KBVR Corvallis this Sunday at 7 pm to hear more from Masoud Ghodrat Abadi. You can also stream the show live.