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Grant continues work to improve transit, sidewalk access

Main Street near UB campus

The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation at Carnegie Mellon and UB is studying ways to make buses safer and more accessible for all riders. Photo: Courtesy of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation

By BYRON SPICE

Published October 31, 2013

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and UB are collaborating on a five-year, $4.6 million federally funded project to advance physical access and public transportation for people with disabilities by bringing together computer science technology and the principles of universal design.

The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Accessible Public Transportation at Carnegie Mellon and UB has received a new grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) that extends the existing five-year grant that concludes this year.

The center will develop ways to empower consumers, manufacturers and service providers in the design and evaluation of accessible transportation equipment, information services and physical environments.

The center’s principal investigator is Aaron Steinfeld, an associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute who works on human-robot interaction and intelligent transportation systems in the Quality of Life Technology (QoLT) Center, headquartered at Carnegie Mellon.

Steinfeld will co-direct the center with his father, Edward Steinfeld, UB professor of architecture who heads the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA). The IDeA Center improves the design of environments and products by making them more usable, safe and appealing to people with a wide range of abilities. The center is a world leader in universal design, an important component of the new RERC’s work.

“Universal design is a human-centered approach to design and business practices focused on creating a more convenient, comfortable, healthier and safer environment for everyone,” says Edward Steinfeld. “It extends the lessons learned in design for disability to all riders, recognizing that the transportation environment presents challenges for all. It not only increases social integration for people who have physical and mental challenges but, by doing so, reduces costs by removing the burden of providing special services, facilities and products.”

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon will use Tiramisu Transit, an app developed under the prior RERC, to understand how real-time trip information and community dialog can empower accessible travel. UB researchers will continue design research to make boarding and disembarking buses faster, safer and more accessible.

Another project will leverage existing technologies supported by the Traffic21 program at Carnegie Mellon to develop software systems to help riders during multi-modal trips. Collaborations with industry also are planned, continuing the team’s prior work on vehicle designs with the Gillig Bus Corporation and starting a new effort with the Dallas Smith Corporation. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in Buffalo and the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh continue to assist the researchers as they develop new technologies and concepts.

“As with our first RERC grant, we think it is critical to include input from transit users in all of our projects,” says Aaron Steinfeld. “Transit is a community that includes riders, service providers and industry. Each has an important voice and valuable perspectives.”

For more information on the RERC on Accessible Public Transportation, visit the center’s website.