Student action team collaborates with METRO to improve transportation in Houston

Higher-capacity bike racks for buses, cellphone apps with real-time information about bike-rack availability and increased bike parking and storage at bus stops and transit centers. Those are just three suggestions made by Rice’s Houston Action Research Team (HART), which is working with METRO to improve its transportation services for Houston bicyclists.

HART, part of Rice’s Office of Fellowships and Undergraduate Research, includes several small, interdisciplinary teams of undergraduates who work together to solve community problems in Houston. Team members draw on each other’s strengths, and every member has opportunities to lead the team.

The METRO project was initiated through the efforts of HART advisers Elizabeth Vann, associate director of civic research and design for the Office of Fellowships and Undergraduate Research, and Robert Stein, the Lena Gohlman Fox Professor of Political Science as well as an avid cyclist and community figure. The advisers reached out to METRO to see about the possibility of putting HART students to work researching connections to public transit for cyclists.

“METRO has a long history of working to integrate bike, bus and rail modes of transportation, and our students have shown a strong interest in identifying ways to enhance these efforts,” Vann said.

As luck would have it, METRO is currently working on initiatives to develop better connections between buses and bikes, so the partnership with Rice University and HART was “just the right fit,” said Clint Harbert, METRO’s senior director for system planning and development.

“Transit planning requires out-of-the-box thinking,” Harbert said. “Partnering with local universities, like Rice, encourages innovative solutions and seamless, green, experiences for cyclists and pedestrians engaged in public transit.”

The research phase of the project took place during summer 2013 and recently concluded. Team members Skye Kelty, Austin Jarvis, Laura Lopez and Maria Rangelhad already studied bus-bike transit strategies in other U.S. cities. The transit authority provided existing ridership information to the four, and the researchers conducted surveys on METRO buses to identify opportunities and challenges for local bus-bike transit.

The team used the results of its surveys to recommend strategies for better bike-bus integration across METRO’s service area. Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen will continue Rice’s collaboration with METRO this fall, when students from ENG 120 will work on designs that METRO may consider for implementation.

For more information on HART, visit http://ugresearch.rice.edu/content.aspx?id=4294968061

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About Amy Hodges

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.