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Sean Qian, the director of the Mobility Data Analytics Center at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), is working with local municipalities to address their unique mobility challenges.

An expert in intelligent transportation systems, Qian, along with eight other CMU researchers, are partnering with the municipalities that recently won Carnegie Mellon University’s Smart Mobility Challenge.

The Challenge, sponsored by CMU’s Traffic21 Institute and its affiliated USDOT National University Transportation Center for Mobility, Mobility21, connects researchers with local communities to demonstrate how innovative technology can improve mobility in southwestern Pennsylvania.

An assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, Qian uses data from various sources to understand travel behavior and to help public transportation agencies make optimal decisions regarding efficient management strategies. In 2016, in a project funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, he developed a network model to predict real-time traffic evolution for all the highways and major arterials in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area. Additionally, he demonstrated that he could reroute and improve the city’s traffic flow by optimizing the messages fed to dynamic message signs.


Qian intends to improve traffic flows again, only this time, as part of the Smart Mobility Challenge, he will work on three local projects. In McKees Rocks Borough and Stowe Township, Pennsylvania, a new CSXrail terminal is planned to open in late 2017. The terminal is expected to bring a significant number of large trucks into the area and increase traffic congestion. Through the Mobility Data Analytics Center, Qian will conduct an in-depth analysis of the terminal’s potential impact on traffic by simulating time-specific traffic flows that include route choices for cars and trucks, travel times, traffic flow conditions, and emissions. He will also explore the potential use of the West Carson Street Extension and truck routing to manage traffic.

Crowdsourced data is of particular interest to Qian, and he is examining how it can augment Cranberry Township’s Coordinated Traffic Signal System. Interstates 79 and 376 (PA Turnpike) run through Cranberry, creating interesting challenges in coordinated operations. If a fender bender or even planned construction work occur, it can cause havoc with their typically efficient operation.

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Learn more about the Mobility Data Analytics Center.

Qian proposes to incorporate real-time data gathered from social media and INRIX, a company that provides real-time traffic information, to predict traffic delays. These predictions could then alert the public of the anticipated delay via dynamic road signs, smart phone apps, etc. The Cranberry traffic system will also be notified so that the system can adjust its traffic plan on a real-time basis.

In a third project based in Dormont and Mt. Lebanon, Qian is teaming with H. Scott Matthews, an economist and a professor in CMU’s Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy. These two Pittsburgh suburbs share parking and congestion challenges across the busy Business Rt. 19 corridor. Through parking data analysis and management, Matthews and Qian and intend to alleviate congestion issues using parking information provision and dynamic pricing. They plan to build a web application that provides parking information across the municipal boundaries while factoring in pricing consideration.