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UAlbany Data Scientists Leading Nationwide Initiative to Improve Transportation

Members of the Albany Visualization And Informatics Lab team: left to right, computer science graduate student Eric Conklin, Lewis Mumford Center Director Catherine T. Lawson, and AVAIL project manager Matthew Wolkoff. (Photo and treatment by Mark Schmidt)

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 18, 2014) — Applying pioneering web-based solutions, UAlbany associate professor and Lewis Mumford Center Director Catherine T. Lawson and the Albany Visualization And Informatics Lab (AVAIL), have been selected by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to lead a multi-state initiative to advance transportation planning in such areas as truck routing, pollution control, travel safety, traffic patterns, and more.

The UAlbany team has been awarded an initial $150,000 from FHWA’s Transportation Pooled Fund Program, which is supported by several states’ departments of transportation (DOTs). Utilizing innovative techniques, AVAIL will create software to enable government agencies, academic institutions, private industry and the general public to benefit from improved data visualization and analysis.

“Back in 1998, I met with Federal Highway Administration staff to talk about a future where archived Weigh-in-Motion (WIM) data would be visualized to enhance evidence-based transportation planning – and the future is finally here,” said Lawson, who is chair of UAlbany’s Department of Geography and Planning.

AVAIL is gaining momentum as a leading data science group within the Mumford Center. Its mission is to empower a new generation of students to assimilate computer science knowledge and subject-matter expertise within the field of data science. By seeking out these types of challenging projects, AVAIL is formulating practical technology solutions for private business and government clients.

In the new FHWA project, AVAIL’s lead programmer, Alex Muro, will work with UAlbany computer science graduate students to create new open source transportation planning tools from WIM data, which Lawson calls “an amazing, yet untapped resource.”

Other recent AVAIL projects have included creating open-source demand forecasting for New Jersey Transit bus ridership, a cloud-based decision-support system for a statewide network of automated weather stations, and a set of interactive maps to increase participation in the establishment of new community gardens in Glasgow, Scotland.

The 20-year-old Transportation Pooled Fund Program is a popular means for State DOTs, commercial entities, and FHWA program offices to combine resources and achieve common research goals. Pooling resources reduces marginal costs, and gets the most out of taxpayer dollars.

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