The Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) and the Texas Department of Transportation have been selected for a $1.9 million federal grant to develop a next-generation intersection that promises to improve safety for the most at-risk road users.
“Protecting pedestrians, cyclists, and others who share the road with vehicles is key to a safe and accessible community,” said U.S. Congressman Michael McCaul in announcing the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grant. “I’m encouraged to see TxDOT and TTI collaborating on this research and development effort that will advance safer mobility for all who use our transportation systems.”
The Smarter Intersections Project builds upon prior research by the two agencies that involves communications technology to alert pedestrians and bicyclists to buses making turns. The newly funded effort will use cellular signals transmitted from transit buses and emergency vehicles to hardware installed at intersections. Auditory and visual alerts about approaching or turning vehicles will provide an added layer of warning for vulnerable road users — those who are statistically more likely to be killed or injured in crashes, even those at lower speeds. That includes bicyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, scooter riders, individuals using wheelchairs and mobility devices, and those who are blind or visually impaired. Extending the alert system to deliver the same information to automated vehicles will also be explored.
Of the almost 43,000 Americans who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2021, about 20 percent were vulnerable road users, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And according to TxDOT, one in five fatal crashes in Texas involve a pedestrian and one in 50 involve a bicyclist.
“Safety is our top priority at TxDOT and this new technology could help protect pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers across the state,” said Texas Transportation Commissioner Robert C. ‘Robie’ Vaughn. “Unfortunately, fatalities have been rising every year for pedestrians and bicyclists in Texas, and this grant will help us innovate new ways to protect those most vulnerable on our roadways.”
The project will deploy technology at five signalized intersections near Texas A&M University in College Station that are busier and more complex than those involved in the earlier research. With nearly 73,000 students, the campus offers an ideal location for the effort due to the high volume of cyclists, pedestrians, and bus riders.
“The Texas A&M University System values its long-standing partnership with the City of College Station and the Brazos Transit District,” said A&M System Chancellor John Sharp. “We’re delighted that we can put TTI’s world-class expertise to work in our home community and then transfer that knowledge to make travel safer everywhere.”
TTI’s project team boasts decades of experience in safety technology, intersection design, connected transportation, and transit system operations.
“Given the rapid advancement of vehicle technology, the cars and trucks we drive today are actually computers on wheels,” says TTI Agency Director Greg Winfree. “Our vehicles are clearly getting smarter. Using our broad expertise, TTI plans to make our intersections smarter, as well.”
In addition to enabling vehicle-to-intersection safety warning signals, the Smarter Intersections Project will explore the feasibility of developing a smart phone app to help blind or visually impaired people more easily and safely navigate intersections.
“We look forward to working with TxDOT, our local partners, including Texas A&M University Transportation Services, and Beep, an automated shuttle service company, to develop and demonstrate the smarter intersections,” notes Katie Turnbull, TTI senior research fellow and principal investigator. “The project illustrates the benefits of using the Texas A&M-RELLIS campus to pilot test concepts and move successful applications into local communities to improve the safety of all road users.”