Student Transportation Engineers Examine Joshua Tree Congestion

Alma Carrillo and Andrew Timothy gather transportation data at Joshua Tree National Park

UPDATE 5-22-14: UCI transportation engineers win ITE Student Chapter of the year for Southern California section, besting Cal Poly Pomona and UCLA for the top spot.

UCI’s student chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) heads to the ITE Southern California Section Student Competition this week where the students will present results from their Joshua Tree National Park Transit Feasibility Study.

The National Parks Conservation Association commissioned the UCI students, primarily civil and environmental engineering seniors, to study the feasibility of establishing a shuttle transit system to alleviate traffic and parking congestion for visitors to Joshua Tree. The students were mentored by ITE faculty adviser Professor Stephen Ritchie and doctoral student Sarah Hernandez.

“This is the most ambitious project yet undertaken by our student chapter, and it provided an outstanding opportunity for students to work on complex real-world problems and gain skills that will be invaluable for their future careers,” says Ritchie. “ Our chapter has placed first and second in the annual ITE Competition in the last three years, and while we’re naturally hoping for a place on the podium this year, most of all I’m extremely proud of the dedication, professionalism and team effort of our chapter.”

Over the past year, 30 ITE students divided into five groups and worked on the project. They studied the characteristics of park visitors and their willingness to use a shuttle system, the costs of establishing and running a system, what types of buses would make the most sense, the emissions and environmental impact (sustainability) of running shuttles, the routing and frequency of buses, and where to locate parking lots outside of the park. They made three trips to Joshua Tree to gather data from park rangers, survey visitors and assess the traffic at the most popular sites during peak visitor times, including the February President’s Day holiday weekend.

UCI's ITE students visit Joshua Tree to conduct transit feasibility studyThe ITE is an international professional, educational and scientific association for transportation engineers. Each year, ITE student chapters complete a major project in traffic engineering, transportation modeling or other areas of transportation engineering. They then compete for Chapter of the Year. This year, UCI will compete against student chapters from four California State Universities -- Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles and Pomona -- as well as USC and UCLA.

The students will also present their findings to the National Parks Conservation Association and Joshua Tree National Park senior management at the end of the May.

Allison Rodriguez, vice president of UCI’s ITE student chapter, says the group will propose the use of propane buses to transport visitors to and from the following sites: Hidden Valley, Barker Dam, Keys View, Ryan Mountain, Jumbo Rocks, Joshua Tree Visitor Center and the Oasis Visitor Center. They developed recommendations for extra parking spaces for transit users at the Joshua Tree and Oasis Visitor Centers, as well as additional infrastructure such as bus shelters, crosswalks, lighting, signage, restrooms and emergency call boxes.

“The anticipated 12-year cost of implementing and operating the transit system is between $20-30 million depending on the elements included in the final design,” Rodriguez explains.

“This has been a great experience,” she added. “I really enjoyed being out of the classroom, collecting data, and helping design a real system. It was exciting.”