The University of Maryland will lead a multi-agency center aimed at improving the mobility of people and goods across the country and participate in two others focused on transportation security and equity.
UMD and partner institutions—Morgan State University, North Dakota State University, San Jose State University, and White Earth Tribal and Community College in Minnesota—are awarding $10 million to the Center for Multi-Modal over five years Mobility in Urban, Rural, and Tribal Areas through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s UTCs (University Transportation Centers) program. The center is among 34 new UTCs funded by the federal agency.
“Together with our partners, we will work to expand transportation options for communities across the United States that have historically had limited choices,” said UMD Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Cinzia Cirillo, serving as the interim director of the Maryland University Transportation Institute (MTI). “We are excited about this opportunity to make a tangible difference.”
The new Tier 1 center will be housed at MTI, a research center that brings together interdisciplinary expertise from across the Maryland university system.
The center will focus on three strategic goals identified by the USDOT: economic strength and global competitiveness, equity, and climate and sustainability. Among other things, researchers will explore the potential of unmanned and autonomous vehicles – both on the ground and in the air – to streamline passenger and freight movement, investigating ways to incentivize greater use of public transport, the most important Identify factors contributing to transport-related injustice and explore the potential of modalities such as ridesharing, vanpools and microtransit.
Transportation in the US, while vital to both the economy and quality of life, raises equity and environmental issues. According to census data, a significant minority (8.5%) of American households do not own a car, while a National Equity Atlas report indicates that up to 18% of black households do not have access to a vehicle. In rural areas, public transport is often limited or non-existent due to small populations and a limited tax base. In part due to the heavy reliance on gas-powered vehicles, transportation is the single largest contributor to US greenhouse gas emissions.
Addressing these and other challenges has been a constant concern for UMD researchers. Cirillo, for example, has studied “entire roads” — that is, roads optimized for multimodal travel — as a way to reduce emissions and increase equity, while UMD assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering Xianfeng “Terry” Yang examines the potential of automated and intelligent vehicles as transit options for low-income and disabled Americans.
“It is important that we as a nation take steps to ensure the long-term sustainability of our transportation system and to address ongoing equity issues,” said Gregory F. Ball, UMD vice president for research. “UMD is uniquely well positioned to contribute to this effort, given our national reputation in engineering and in using data science to understand transportation-related problems.”
UMD is also a partner institution in a regional UTC, the Sustainable Mobility and Accessibility Regional Transportation Equity Center, led by Morgan State University (MSU). “This will further strengthen our longstanding relationship with MSU,” Cirillo said.
In addition, UMD is a partner in another Tier 1 University Transportation Center announced this month, the Research and Education in Promoting Safety Center led by Howard University. Nii Attoh-Okine, Chair of the UMD Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is part of the consortium in this grant.
“We are excited to be involved in three new UTCs designed to ensure America has a transportation system that provides safe and secure operations and supports our economic needs, while addressing long-standing problems of access and transportation justice as well as the impact on the climate,” said Attoh-Okine. “These new centers will further cement our reputation as a world-class transportation program that not only builds on past achievements, but evolves.”