Prof launches first Sustainable Road Safety lab

Civil Engineering Professor Gordon Lovegrove is bringing Canada’s first research lab on Sustainable Road Safety (SRS) to UBC’s Okanagan campus.

The lab will be the first in the world to build, apply and validate expert systems that reliably predict road collisions associated with planned and existing community development patterns.

The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide, 20 to 50 million people are injured or disabled each year in road crashes. By 2020, the total number of road deaths is expected to increase by 65 per cent and become the third-worst global ‘disease.’

“To combat this ‘disease,’ reliable, science-based tools are needed to drastically improve road safety,” says Lovegrove. “The root-cause of the road safety problem lies in building communities that nurture over-use of the auto. One of the ways we can address that is by controlling land use so communities are more walkable, bikeable and busable.”

Lovegrove’s SRS research has developed and applied community-based, macro-level collision prediction models (CPMs) that empirically associate neighbourhood traits – demographics, traffic congestion, road network, and land use – with road collisions.

In theoretical applications, his models predict that sustainable development patterns can lead to significant, permanent and sustainable reductions in road collisions.

“The intent is to use our research lab to produce tools for use by community planners and engineers that predict the level of road safety in our community, using an array of GIS (geographic information systems), GPS (global positioning systems) and other online and in-field data-extraction tools coupled with an expert system,” says Lovegrove.

“We can not only create the tools that predict it, but use those tools to design land use and transportation changes to planned and existing communities that will reduce driving and improve safety.”

Lovegrove notes that follow-up monitoring and evaluation will then bring the research full-circle from theory to practice, to validate the models produced in the lab and used in the field.

“Then what you’ve got is a quantifiable defense for decision makers in control of land use to refine their communities into more walkable and less auto-dependent, more livable and less polluting, sustainable communities,” he says.

Lovegrove is one of only a handful of researchers working in this field worldwide, and the first to develop and demonstrate potential benefits in several case studies. His results suggest that the use of SRS principles and CPMs can help planners and engineers to preclude road safety problems, and their associated social and economic burdens, from occurring at all.

“Initial case studies suggest potential road safety benefits never seen before. For example, we have designed a neighbourhood layout prototype that newly developed models predict will have more than 60 per cent fewer collisions compared to conventional road patterns.”

Several Canadian practitioners and federal agencies have approached him to apply his research to test his results in full-scale applications.

Canada’s first research lab on Sustainable Road Safety will be up and running with the completion of the Engineering and Management building at UBC’s Okanagan campus in mid-2011.