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University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering
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Transportation laboratory to focus on traffic operations

Bin Ran and David Noyce

Bin Ran and David Noyce in the new Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory (large image)

A cramped basement room in UW-Madison's Engineering Hall is about the last place you would expect to find traffic signals and stop signs.

But under the direction of Assistant Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor David Noyce and Associate Civil and Environmental Engineering Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Bin Ran, the basement room has been transformed into the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory.

Aside from the traffic signals and signs, the lab features an array of computers outfitted with traffic operations, geometric design, transportation planning, geographic information system, and traffic simulation software. The two faculty members focus on transportation systems in their research.

"It's a unique opportunity for Bin and I to bring in our research expertise and work together under one laboratory," Noyce said.

The lab is a joint effort between the university and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. DOT has a long history of utilizing traffic research done at the university for safety and transportation system improvements. But Ran said the establishment of the laboratory allows for more consistent and timely interaction between university researchers and the transportation agency.

"We think we have the critical mass to move forward," Ran said. "DOT was very supportive of this effort."

Added Noyce: "Bin and I wanted to work with DOT to provide services and do some research in a productive and systematic way."

The 15 computer workstations can simulate real-time traffic conditions, so researchers can gather data on driver reactions and responses. Noyce and Ran also anticipate conducting detailed crash investigations and analysis, studying new traffic signaling methods, and assessing Intelligent Transportation Systems.

The computer workstations can be connected to DOT computers for training programs, and the laboratory also includes a projector and screen for viewing traffic videos or simulations. All told, the laboratory has room for 30 students, with each computer workstation featuring two keyboards and two mice to allow collaboration among students.

In that way, the laboratory serves two critical functions — as both a research tool and a classroom for undergraduate and graduate students, according to Noyce.

"This has become a state-of-the-art research laboratory — one you won't find at too many other universities," he said. "We want to bring what we do in the research program into the classroom. This lab allows us to bring it to the students."