Thursday, November 15, 2018

As a recipient of a Graduate Summer Fellowship, Fernando Oliveira was able to incorporate his research for transportation projects in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area with practical application. Fernando spent three years in his home country of Brazil working on his degree in structural engineering before coming to Iowa to complete it, and then moved directly on to a master’s degree in urban and regional planning. The summer fellowship allowed him to obtain his first practical experience in the United States.

During his first year as an urban planning student, Fernando began working with Assistant Professor Steve Spears on research to develop a non-motorized traffic monitoring program in Cedar Rapids. The goal of the project is to estimate regional distance traveled and crash rates for cyclists and pedestrians. The project is supported by a grant from the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Transportation Safety Improvement Program, awarded to the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center.

The fellowship gave Fernando the opportunity to build on that research and share his knowledge with transportation professionals at the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in Cedar Rapids. He says, “The fellowship was a great experience because I could apply what I learned in my first year and see a little bit of what I will face in the future. The best part of the experience has been the ability to connect my research project with the fellowship.” Fernando worked on seven projects during his 12 weeks at the MPO with the bulk of his time being spent on the Iowa Standardized Mode Structure Analysis Zone and Transit Safety Improvement Project.

The MPO is standardizing their travel demand model to fit the Department of Transportation’s Iowa Standardized Model Structure. The IDOT has set up zones to show how people travel throughout the state, specifically to look at how intersections are controlled. Fernando was tasked with classifying whether intersections were controlled by a stop sign, yield, or traffic light for the entire MPO area (seven cities). To complete the modeling, he learned to use TransCAD in order to classify 5000 intersections and then was able to apply his ArcGIS skills to map them. TAZ redistricting software was then employed to predict traffic flow in road change scenarios, followed by further analysis with TransCAD.

Fernando additionally devised a way to improve the MPO’s pedestrian and cyclist counting programs, drawing on his knowledge from research performed for the Transit Safety Improvement Project of Non-Motorized Traffic Monitoring grant. After completing research on different methodologies, he was able to develop a dynamic spreadsheet that only requires the user to plug in pedestrian and cyclist counts in order for all estimation factor calculations to be automatically computed.

Other projects gave Fernando a wealth of experience as he researched Safe Routes to Schools, trail grants, possible traffic calming techniques for bicycle boulevards, created maps of cycling trails in the MPO area, and participated in community engagement at an open house held at NewBo City Market to gather public input for the Transportation Improvement Project. The fellowship included interacting with a variety of stakeholders, not only with the public but also in meetings with Council Members of jurisdictions that belong to the Corridor MPO, Iowa DOT staff, consulting firm representatives and the long range transportation plan advisory group.

Fernando went beyond his fellowship work and spent time volunteering for community service projects which included participating in the City of Cedar Rapids Mayor’s 1-Bag Challenge street clean-up project, cleaning up trash on trails, and pruning and clearing several trails.

Brazil has vast differences in wealth between its populations. As a result of experiencing that, Fernando’s career interests have always been on how to improve communities in a way in which the whole community can benefit for a better quality of life. The Graduate Summer Fellowship gave him the opportunity to begin to make a difference.