Transportation projects provide students the opportunity to analyze large datasets and answer real-world problems faced by transportation planning organizations. Some of the most common methodologies used in capstone projects include data collection and cleaning, developing demand models, forecasting, optimization, and impact analysis.
Data collection and cleaning is an essential first step in any transportation analytics project. Students will work with datasets on topics like traffic counts, origin-destination surveys, transit ridership, accidents, and infrastructure attributes. These datasets often come from multiple sources and are messy, requiring activities like data wrangling, handling missing values, filtering outliers, merging datasets, and formatting for analysis. Advanced techniques like web scraping and APIs may be used to automatically gather additional real-time or historical data. A significant portion of many projects involves exploring, understanding, and preparing the raw data for modeling and analysis.
Developing demand models is another core methodology. Students build statistical models to understand and predict travel demands based on explanatory variables. Common model types include multiple regression analysis to relate traffic volumes to land use or socioeconomic attributes. Logit or probit models are frequently applied to predict mode choices from individual, trip, and built environment characteristics. Time series and econometric techniques help explain trends and impacts over time. Spatial analysis using GIS supports development of origin-destination matrices and transportation system overlays for scenario testing. Model building involves variable selection, diagnostics of fit and outliers, and validation on holdout datasets.
Forecasting future year demands is a key deliverable. Using model results and assumptions of growth rates, land development, technology impacts and other factors, students employ tools to project multi-modal flows for horizon years like 5, 10 or 20 years out. Trend line, target-based and predictive analytics methods are applied at traffic analysis zone, link or corridor levels. Scenario development and comparison is common to examine alternative growth patterns or policy scenarios. Visualization of forecast volumes on maps supports exploration of potential infrastructure or operational needs.
Optimization represents another significant methodology. Students formulate and apply algorithms to identify lowest-cost or highest-benefit transportation network designs or operations strategies. Common optimization problems include transit route planning with objectives of coverage, ridership and operational efficiency. Traffic signal timing optimization aims to minimize delays. Network design optimizes roadway capacity expansion subject to budget constraints. Mathematical programming techniques like linear or dynamic programming are applied to systematically evaluate all feasible alternatives.
Impact analysis evaluates the effects of transportation projects, policies or events. Students employ modeling to estimate outcomes like changes in VMT, emissions, travel times, mode shares, accessibility and safety. Economic analysis assesses costs, benefits, return on investment and economic impacts. Health impact assessments evaluate effects on physical activity, air quality and social determinants. Equity analysis explores distribution of costs and benefits across demographic and spatial subgroups. Scenario comparisons and visualization of impact differences support evidence-based decision making.
Transportation analytics capstone projects provide opportunities for students to dive into real-world problems through tasks aligned with standard methodologies in the field. While each project is unique in its specific research questions and available datasets, activities consistently involve data preparation, modeling and analysis, forecasting, optimization, and estimating impacts – all contributing to recommendations that advance transportation planning and decision making. The technical and collaborative skills developed have direct applicability for industry careers managing and solving transportation challenges through data-driven methods.