research on the road
Dougald (left) and Brian Smith sit in the back of the Smart
Travel van, reviewing traffic data as it is collected on computer
By Matt Kelly
a long way from counting cars by hand to see how bad traffic is.
Smith, assistant professor of civil engineering at U.Va., and
Lance Dougald, a transportation engineer for the Virginia Transportation
Research Council, sat in the parking lot of the Charlottesville
Fire Department on the 250 bypass, monitoring traffic with a video
camera that hovered overhead on a pole and computers from the
back of the Smart
Travel van. As the cars whizzed by, they appeared on a video
terminal, their speed registering and a letter popping up to denote
can get a print of how the highway is operating, Dougald
said, scanning the images on the computer screen.
van, which the University purchased in February and had customized
by engineering students, is a mobile data-gathering machine, using
the video camera mounted on a 45-foot telescoping aluminum pole
to monitor traffic. The information is fed into a computer that
records details including speed, distance between vehicles, classification
of vehicle, extrapolation of number of cars per hour and traffic
flow. The data, which is preserved on video tape, can be customized
such as logging only vehicles of a certain size.
owned by the University, the van is used by both U.Va. and the
Virginia Transportation Research Council to gather data and perform
studies, such as determining existing traffic patterns and flows,
to aid in predicting how new construction or highway changes would
affect traffic. The research council studies transportation for
government and private firms.
are some travel research vans available from private companies,
but this is the only one in Virginia, according to Smith, who
said the Universitys van was designed as well as put together
by students, with engineering graduate student Michael Pack heading
the team. The vans final price tag of about $100,000, was
about 50 percent less than it would have cost to buy it custom
built, Smith said, adding that it was a good experimental project
for the engineering students. Future students will have an opportunity
to make suggestions and changes.
students started with a V-10 cargo van designed as a television
remote truck and fitted it with computers and its extended pole.
Dougald said it could be parked on the shoulder of the road, with
the camera aimed at traffic inches from the van. They have used
this technique for studying traffic patterns on the Washington
Beltway, he said.
weve had it, weve come up with so many more applications,
Dougald noted that the van can also be connected to traffic lights
to control them manually, and it can program messages for a computerized
sign board. If there is congestion ahead, for example, it can
advise drivers to slow down.
is a good tool, especially now with traffic such an issue in the
larger cities, Dougald said.