Emily Hennessy, a transportation engineering PhD student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department, has been awarded her second Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Hennessy will receive $10,000 from the program to support her research on “Assessing Equity through Accessibility” in pedestrian walkways.
Working with her advisor, Assistant Professor Chengbo Ai of the CEE department, Hennessy will pursue research to improve pedestrian safety, mobility, and accessibility by identifying and enhancing the connectivity of pedestrian infrastructure, including integrating data about such key factors as compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and community income.
As Hennessy explains, “In contrast to the conventional network-level studies of connectivity, which primarily focus on the topological linkage of pedestrian facilities, this proposed study aims to also incorporate other critical properties of pedestrian facilities, especially ADA compliance, safety, and travel efficiency.”
Hennessy adds that “The outcome of these analyses will serve as a framework for quantifying the overall accessibility and walkability of pedestrian networks. To this end, the proposed research will analyze comprehensive infrastructure data to develop a new holistic connectivity metric.”
As Hennessy explains about the need for her Eisenhower research, “Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act has brought about more accessible pedestrian facilities nationwide, but the gradual nature of infrastructure improvement projects often causes these networks to be discontinuous and disconnected…This research seeks to find correlations between the connectivity of accessible pedestrian networks and community income data to analyze equity on a large scale.”
Hennessy points out that, in 2019 alone, 6,205 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents in the United States, with another 76,000 injured. These pedestrian fatalities coincide with a 62 percent increase in urban areas since 2010.
“Pedestrians remain amongst the most vulnerable road users,” says Hennessy, “with pedestrian crash fatalities being 1.5 times more likely than those of passenger vehicle occupants on a per-trip basis.”
According to Hennessy, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Walkability Checklist” identifies factors such as sidewalk presence and condition, connected roadway crossings, pedestrian visibility, curb ramps, and more as key factors to the walkability of a neighborhood. These are factors which many communities lack.
“There is an urgent need to assess the condition, compliance, and connectivity of our pedestrian infrastructure at a network level,” Hennessy says.
That, in fact, is the overarching focus for her Eisenhower research project. It will develop a metric for measuring pedestrian network connectivity and accessibility, which will account for infrastructural features and detailed crash data that have not yet been considered in other analyses.
Hennessy received her MS in Transportation Engineering from Rutgers University and joined Ai’s group in 2020 to pursue her PhD. Her research interests include infrastructure resiliency and intelligent asset management using remote sensing. She is the president of the Women’s Transportation Seminar UMass Student Chapter and the recipient of multiple prestigious fellowships, including the Eisenhower Fellowship in both 2020 and 2021.