How experiential learning translated into award winning research 

Sustainability in transportation is an issue many countries are facing, as the carbon emissions released by major gas and electric forms of transportation contribute to world-wide pollution. Professors Carol Atkinson-Palombo and Norman Garrick have lead research in an Amsterdam program that focuses on safety in sustainable forms of transportation. Photo by KBO Bike on Unsplash.

Sustainable Amsterdam, a University of Connecticut study abroad program, indirectly led to award-winning interdisciplinary research that could be applied to U.S. transportation policy.  

In 2018 and 2019, geography professor Carol Atkinson-Palombo from the geography department and civil and environmental engineering professor Norman Garrick led a three-week study abroad program to Amsterdam, Netherlands. During the program, students from 10 different academic disciplines learned about sustainable cities and sustainable transportation, such as bikes.  

“I think that having that international experience has been really important for students because it completely changes their perspective on things,” Atkinson-Palombo said. 

The trip inspired several students to work on transportation safety research. One UConn graduate student, Ge Shi, picked up where other students left off to begin his own project. He investigated the fatalities of pedestrians and bicyclists in the Netherlands compared to those in the U.S. The research revealed that the Netherlands had similar traffic fatalities to the U.S. in the 1970s. By 2019, the death rate had fallen 70% compared to the U.S.  

“Today, the risk of fatality for people on foot and for people in vehicles in the Netherlands is almost identical,” according to an article in the Bloomberg CityLab.  

“The Netherlands has been able to make really great improvements in all aspects of its transportation. If you design your city for active transportation such as walking and biking, like they have done in lots of cities in Europe, you cut greenhouse gas emissions and also make improvements in safety and affordability.” 

Carol Atkinson-Palombo, Geography Professor.

For its research, the team won best paper for the Transportation Research Board Committee on Transportation Safety Management Systems.  

“These are tangible policy findings. So, people can take our work and it can go straight into policy,” Atkinson-Palombo said.  

Pete Buttigieg, the Secretary of Transportation, plans to unveil the new National Roadway Safety Strategy, which could be shaped by this research.  

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