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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Top DOT Leaders Name Winner of Innovation Challenge

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Senior U.S. DOT leaders recently convened in Kendall Square to choose the winner of Volpe’s fourth Innovation Challenge.

The Innovation Challenge is an annual event that encourages multidisciplinary staff teams at Volpe to develop and pitch creative ideas to improve some aspect of the transportation enterprise. A winning team is selected to receive seed funding to further its idea.

Participating teams spent more than three months developing their ideas, analyzing alternative approaches to solving the problems, quantifying the benefits, and developing their pitches for a panel of seven senior U.S. DOT judges. The four finalist teams competing for seed funding delivered presentations in December describing the challenges they chose to tackle, the solutions they proposed, and the impacts those solutions could have on the future of transportation.

The Pitches

The competing Volpe teams proposed the following:

  • Use available traffic stop and crash data to research how effective traffic stops are in promoting highway safety, and whether unintended consequences (e.g., secondary crashes) offset the intended safety benefit.
  • Develop a methodology for identifying and influencing hard-to-reach individuals and target communications efforts around U.S. DOT safety regulations to help ensure compliance.

  • Develop a new interactive tool to 1) visualize interactions between multimodal transportation and social vulnerability, 2) identify vulnerable hotspots, and 3) provide U.S. DOT and the public with a source for exploring the social equity implications of U.S. DOT programs.

  • Create a tool that operators and safety critical transportation employees could use to learn about their internal levels of distraction and reduce instances of distraction. The tool would combine a self-assessment component with training.
A panel of six seated judges watch teams on stage at Volpe deliver their Innovation Challenge pitches.
The judges: (Front, LTR) FMCSA Associate Administrator Larry Minor, SLSDC Deputy Administrator Craig Middlebrook, FHWA Associate Administrator Jeff Lindley, FAA Deputy Assistant Administrator Pam Whitley, (back, LTR) PHMSA Assistant Administrator and Chief Safety Officer Stephen Domotor, FTA Executive Director Matt Welbes, and (not pictured) Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology Greg Winfree. (Volpe photo)

The Winning Team: TransportSE: Moving Justice Forward

The 2015 Innovation Challenge winning team, TransportSE: Moving Justice Forward, proposes to create a new interactive screening tool to visualize interactions between multimodal transportation and social vulnerability.

This unique methodology aims to compile multiple vulnerability categories into a single, transparent, customizable tool that could be used to identify vulnerable locations. The proposed Transportation Social Equity (TransportSE) tool would provide U.S. DOT agencies and the public with a readily available, easy-to-use source for exploring the social equity implications of U.S. DOT programs.

Existing U.S. DOT efforts to address social equity in transportation include the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice and the Ladders of Opportunity program.

Vulnerable populations typically experience the most negative transportation impacts: living near highways, railroad tracks, fossil fuel pipelines and processing facilities, and aircraft flight paths. Often, these populations are most reliant on transportation systems and are most vulnerable to service disruptions. However, experts lack tools to analyze the impacts of transportation programs and projects on the most vulnerable populations.

TransportSE is a tool designed to fill the current gaps.

Next Steps

The winning team’s next step is to develop a prototype by early fall 2016. The development process will incorporate an iterative schedule, which will allow for stakeholder input along the way.

“The Innovation Challenge was a whirlwind experience, as our idea evolved and improved at each step of the process,” said Peter Herzig, TransportSE team lead. “We are excited to begin developing a tool that will support DOT’s Ladders of Opportunity goals and social equity objectives, and are optimistic about future opportunities and partnerships.”

Innovation Challenge Winning Team

A team photo of Innovation Challenge 2015 Winners TransportSE: Moving Justice Forward.

The winning team, TransportSE: Moving Justice Forward, includes (above, left to right) Dr. Erika Sudderth, Abygail Mangar, Peter Herzig, Clark Calabrese, and Andrew Breck.

2015 Innovation Challenge Judges

Volpe’s 2015 Innovation Challenge was judged by a panel of top transportation leaders:

  • Stephen Domotor, PHMSA Assistant Administrator and Chief Safety Officer
  • Jeff Lindley, FHWA Associate Administrator
  • Craig Middlebrook, SLSDC Deputy Administrator
  • Larry Minor, FMCSA Associate Administrator
  • Matt Welbes, FTA Executive Director
  • Pam Whitley, FAA Deputy Assistant Administrator
  • Greg Winfree, Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, Office of the Secretary