The Complete Streets planning approach pushes for a future in which people of all ages and abilities can safely travel. Recently signed NJ legislation takes an important step toward this vision by ensuring that the travel needs of cognitively divergent individuals are addressed in Complete Streets Plans.
In January 2023, Governor Phil Murphy signed S-147 into law, directing the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) to update its Complete Streets policy to consider and implement design elements and infrastructure projects that promote the ability of persons diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) to travel independently.
This requirement follows important research conducted by Rutgers CAIT and VTC and funded by NJDOT, in which the travel behavior of over 700 adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was studied. The research concluded that individuals with ASD, seeking to travel independently, experience extraordinary transportation barriers that are complicated by the state’s auto-oriented street design and land uses. With fewer such persons driving cars, an improved network of walking and biking infrastructure opens a world of opportunities for engagement in civic life and to reaching essential destinations via public transportation.
NJDOT has undertaken a project that seeks to address how to accommodate the travel needs of people with ASD and/or IDDs through policy and design. The Department’s Bureau of Safety, Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs has engaged the Rutgers-Voorhees Transportation Center, NV5, Toole Design Group and a working group of NJDOT planners and engineers to assist with addressing the travel needs of cognitively divergent persons – and with meeting the requirements of the legislation.
The research team is developing a primer on Complete Streets and neurodivergence and will use the information gathered to help NJDOT develop universal design guidelines that will ensure the Department’s Complete Streets policy considers the needs of those with ASD and IDDs. The team will be sharing more information at the upcoming 2023 New Jersey Complete Streets Summit on November 1st. Not yet registered? Register Here.
A recently completed research study on NJ TRANSIT grade crossing safety focuses on identifying locations for rail grade crossing elimination. Researchers from Rutgers’ Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT), Asim Zaman, P.E., Xiang Liu, Ph.D., and Mohamed Jalayer, Ph.D., from Rowan University, developed a methodology using 20 criteria to narrow a list of 100 grade crossings to ensure appropriate identification for closure. The process helps NJ TRANSIT and New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) to direct limited funds to areas of greatest need to benefit the public.
Across the country, 34 percent of railroad incidents over the past ten years have occurred at grade crossings. The elimination of grade crossings can improve public safety, decrease financial burdens, and improve rail service to the public.
According to the proposed methodology, the 20 crossings recommended for closure located in Monmouth County (60%), Bergen County (25%), and Essex County (25%).
The researchers ranked grade crossings in New Jersey using the following data fields: crash history, average annual daily traffic, roadway speed, roadway lanes, length of the crossing’s street, weekday train traffic, train speed category, number of tracks, access to train platforms, intersection angle, distance to alternate crossings, distance to emergency and municipal buildings, whether emergency and municipal buildings are on the same street, and date of last or future planned signal and surface upgrades. This process resulted in a final list of 20 grade crossings eligible for elimination.
To understand how this study will be used, we conducted an interview with NJTRANSIT personnel Susan O’Donnell, Director, Business Analysis & Research, Ed Joscelyn, Chief Engineer – Signals, and Joseph Haddad, Chief Engineer, Right of Way & Support.
Q. How will the report inform decision-making?
It is important to have solid research and strong evaluation criteria, such as developed by this study, on which to base decisions for grade crossing elimination. In addition to the study, we looked at what other state agencies and transit agencies have done with grade crossing elimination, as well as criteria recommendations from Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Following up on this study, NJ TRANSIT and NJDOT are considering next steps that would be needed to close the 20 identified grade crossings. In New Jersey, the Commissioner of Transportation has plenary power over the closing of grade crossings.
Q. What other information will be needed to assess these locations?
Local concerns about grade crossing elimination tend to focus on traffic re-routing, including the possible impacts on neighborhoods, time needed to reach destinations, and emergency vehicle access to all parts of a community. The criteria established by the study addressed these areas of concern. Prior studies have determined that the road networks around the identified locations are adequate to accommodate re-routed traffic. The current research study took into account the findings from those prior studies. As each project moves forward, NJDOT will determine if additional information will be needed.
Q. Is elimination of any of these grade crossings part of NJ TRANSIT’s capital program?
All of the closings are part of the capital program. Funding for the grade crossing elimination comes from the federal government and NJ TRANSIT. NJ TRANSIT funding is in place to close the crossings.
Q. Are there benefits of the research study beyond identification of the 20 grade crossings?
The research study developed the criteria and process for identifying grade crossings for elimination. This framework can be used in the future to assess other grade crossings for possible elimination. NJ TRANSIT is grateful to NJDOT for funding this important research project to improve safety.
For more information on this research study, please see the resources section below.
In 2019, a team of researchers from New York University and Rutgers University examined ways to calibrate and develop Safety Performance Functions (SPFs) to be utilized specifically to address conditions on New Jersey roadways. SPFs are crash prediction models or mathematical functions informed by data on road design. These data include, but are not limited to, lane and shoulder widths, the radius of the curves, and the presence of traffic control devices and turn lanes. With these data, SPFs help those tasked with road design and improvement to build roads and implement upgrades that maximize safety.
The Highway Safety Manual (HSM) presents SPFs developed using historic crash data collected from several states over several years at sites of the same facility type. These SPFs data cannot be transferred to other locations because of expected differences in environment and geographic characteristics, crash reporting policies and even local road regulations. To help SPFs better reflect local conditions and observed data, one of two strategies is usually undertaken to fine-tune SPFs: calibrating the SPFs provided in the HSM so as to fully leverage these data or developing location-specific SPFs regardless of the predictive modeling framework included in the HSM.
The research team, led by Dr. Kaan Ozbay (of NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering), chose to pursue both of these strategies. The research report, Calibration/Development of Safety Performance Functions for New Jersey, can be found here. A webinar highlighting the research and findings can be found here. A monograph, supported by the NJDOT funded study and partially by C2SMART, a Tier 1 UTC led by NYU and funded by the USDOT, was also recently published and can be found here.
SPFs can be utilized at several levels. At the network level, researchers and engineers use SPFs to identify locations with promise for improvement. SPFs can be used to predict how safety treatments will affect the likelihood of crashes based on traffic volume and facility type. SPFs can be used to influence project level design by showing the average predicted crash frequency for an existing road design, for alternate designs, and for brand-new roads.
SPFs also can be used to evaluate different engineering treatments. In this case, engineers and researchers return to a site where a safety countermeasure has been installed to collect and analyze data to see how the change has affected crash frequency. They examine before and after conditions and measure if the prediction made using the SPF was accurate or needs improvement (Srinivasan & Bauer, 2013). In the end, SPFs are only as good as the data used in their development.
NJDOT and the NYU-Rutgers team set out to calibrate SPFs using New Jersey’s roadway features, traffic volumes and crash data, and if necessary, to create new SPFs that reflect conditions in the state. The facility types considered for this research project included segments and intersections of rural two-lane two-way, rural multilane, and urban and suburban roads. In examining these datasets, the researchers identified areas where data processing improvements could be made to enhance the quality or efficiency in use of the data in addition to pursuing the stated goal of developing New Jersey-specific SPFs.
For example, utilizing the data provided by NJDOT, the research team developed methods for processing a Roadway Features Database of different kinds of road facilities. The researchers utilized the Straight Line Diagrams (SLD) database, which offers extensive information about the tens of thousands of miles of roadways in New Jersey, but observed issues and errors in the SLD database that required corrections. For example, the research team utilized Google Maps and Google Street View to conduct a manual data extraction process to verify information in the SLD database (e.g., confirm whether an intersection was an overpass, number of lanes, directionality) and extract missing variables, such as the number of left and right turn lanes at intersections, lighting conditions, and signalization needed for the analysis.
The research team also needed to develop programming code to correctly identify the type and location of intersections and effectively work with available data. The team developed a novel “clustering-based approach” to address the absence of horizontal curvature data using GIS centerline maps.
Police reports of crashes often have missing geographic identifiers which complicates analytical work such as whether crashes were intersection-related. In NJ, police are equipped with GPS devices to record crash coordinates but this crash information is somewhat low in the raw crash databases before post-processing by NJDOT. The researchers employed corrective methods and drew upon other NJ GIS maps to provide missing locations (e.g., Standard Route Identification or milepost).
The processing challenges for roadway features, traffic volumes and crashes encountered by the research team suggest the types of steps that can be taken to standardize and streamline data collection and processing to secure better inputs for future SPF updates. Novel data extraction methods will be needed to minimize labor time and improve accuracy of data; accurate crash data is integral to employing these methods.
The research team modified the spreadsheets developed by the HSM and used by the NJDOT staff. The calculated calibration factors and the developed SPFs are embedded in these spreadsheets. The users can now select whether to use the HSM SPFs with the calculated calibration factors or the New Jersey-specific SPF in their analyses
The researchers’ data processing and calibration efforts sought to ensure that the predictive models reflect New Jersey road conditions that are not directly reflected in the Highway Safety Manual. The adoption of this data-driven approach can make it possible to capture information about localized conditions but significant expertise is required to carry out calibration and development analyses. With more research—and improved data collection processes over time —the calibration and development of SPFs holds promise for helping New Jersey improve road safety.
Srinivasan, R., & Bauer, K. M. (2013). Safety Performance Function Development Guide: Developing Jurisdiction-Specific SPFs. The University of North Carolina, Highway Safety Research Center. Retrieved from https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/49505
Partnering with the Federal Railroad Administration, New Jersey Transit and New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), a research team at Rutgers University is using artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to analyze rail crossing safety issues. Utilizing closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed at rail crossings, a team of Rutgers researchers, Asim Zaman, Xiang Liu, Zhipeng Zhang, and Jinxuan Xu, have developed and refined an AI-aided framework for detection of railroad trespassing events to identify the behavior of trespassers and capture video of infractions. The system uses an object detection algorithm to efficiently observe and process video data into a single dataset.
Rail trespassing is a significant safety concern resulting in injuries and deaths throughout the country, with the number of such incidents increasing over the past decade. Following passage of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act that mandated the installation of cameras along passenger rail lines, transportation agencies have installed CCTV cameras at rail crossings across the country. Historically, only through recorded injuries and fatalities were railroads and transportation agencies able to identify crossings with trespassing issues. This analysis did not integrate information on near misses or live conditions at the crossing. Cameras could record this data, but reviewing the video would be a laborious task that required a significant resource commitment and could lead to missed trespassing events due to observer fatigue.
Zaman, Liu, Zhang, and Xu saw this problem as an opportunity to put AI techniques to work and make effective use of the available video and automate the observational process in a more systematic way. After utilizing AI for basic video analysis in a prior study, the researchers theorized that they could train an AI and deep learning to analyze the videos from these crossings and identify all trespassing events.
Working with NJDOT and NJ TRANSIT, they gained access to video footage from a crossing in Ramsey, NJ. Using a deep learning-based detection method named You Only Look Once or YOLO, their AI-framework detected trespassings, differentiated the types of violators, and generated clips to review. The tool identified a trespass only when the signal lights and crossing gates were active and tracked objects that changed from image to image in the defined space of the right-of-way. Figure 1 depicts the key steps in the process for application of AI in the analysis of live video stream or archived surveillance video.
The researchers applied AI review to 1,632 hours of video and 68 days of monitoring. They discovered 3,004 instances of trespassing, an average of 44 per day and nearly twice an hour. The researchers were able to demonstrate how the captured incidents could be used to formulate a demographic profile of trespassers (Figure 2) and better examine the environmental context leading to trespassing events to inform the selection and design of safety countermeasures (Figure 3).
A significant innovation from this research has been the production of the video clip that shows when and how the trespass event occurred; the ability to visually review the precise moment reduces overall data storage and the time needed performing labor-intensive reviews. (Zhang, Zaman, Xu, & Liu, 2022)
With the efficient assembly and analysis of video big data through AI techniques, agencies have an opportunity, as never before, to observe the patterns of trespassing. Extending this AI research method to multiple locations holds promise for perfecting the efficiency and accuracy in application of AI techniques in various lighting, weather and other environmental conditions and, more generally, to building a deeper understanding of the environmental context contributing to trespassing behaviors.
In fact, the success of this AI-aided Railroad Trespassing Tool has led to new opportunities to demonstrate its use. The researchers have already expanded their research to more crossings in New Jersey and into North Carolina and Virginia. (Bruno, 2022) The Federal Railroad Administration has also awarded the research team a $582,859 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grant to support the technology’s deployment at five at-grade crossings in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Louisiana. (U.S. DOT, Federal Railroad Administration, 2021) Rutgers University and Amtrak have provided a 42 percent match of the funding.
The program’s expansion in more places may lead to further improvements in the precision and quality of the AI detection data and methods. The researchers speculate that this technology could integrate with Positive Train Control (PTC) systems and highway Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). (Zhang, Zaman, Xu, & Liu, 2022) This merging of technologies could revolutionize railroad safety. To read more about this study and methodology, see this April 2022 Accident Analysis & Prevention article.