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A Civil Engineer’s Go-To Diet

Dr. Thomas Brennan  is an Associate Professor of the Department of Civil Engineering. His summer 2021 Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience project involved a unique type of diet without the quinoa and kale salads: road diets. 

According to Dr. Brennan, a more equitable infrastructure has the ability to encourage a healthier lifestyle with more walking, biking, exercise and buses while still providing enough transportation opportunities. One example to reference is the biking culture in Copenhagen. In During MUSE 2021, Dr. Brennan and his students studied the impacts of incorporating road diets on two roads in north Jersey. A road diet is when you reduce the number of lanes available for cars. Just because you put a road diet in, that does not necessarily mean that it makes the intersection worse. In doing so, you then have space to add other things such as bike lanes, parking or pedestrian access. 

This MUSE lab spent the summer developing performance metrics to analyze the impacts of road diets on a myriad of factors including congestion, long term demographics, socioeconomics, housing, various population types and cost-benefit analysis to name just a few. He and his students continually monitored the surrounding areas including schools, neighborhoods and communities. They utilized Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) data. One of their goals was to determine how to increase passing traffic while encouraging multimodal transportation (bikes & buses) that are cheaper, environmentally conscious and healthier alternatives to cars.

Dr. Brennan mentions how work in his transportation lab is so incredibly interdisciplinary. There are so many connections to so many other fields that can be explored. With the Psychology Department, how can we investigate the psychological aspect of Covid-19 on driving? With the material science and environmental experts, how does salting the roads during winter affect the environment? With economists, what’s happening with the infrastructure? He also states how a major aspect of transportation is that we all have opinions on it. We all have places to be and experience it everyday.

Advice from Dr. Brennan to students interested in research: Speak to the professors, make sure you like the subject matter and seek out professors that are publishing papers. 

– Anisa Lateef ‘22


Meet Bryan Remache ‘22

Headshot of Bryan Remache.

Hometown: East Windsor, NJ

Hobbies: Collecting Magic: The Gathering cards

@ TCNJ: hanging with friends, chilling at home

What kind of stuff are you working on in the lab?

In general, the research in the transportation lab tends to revolve around performance metrics. Those metrics are used to evaluate how transportation infrastructure, like roadways or intersections, are doing using whatever data source is available at key study sites. Sometimes we try to develop new metrics, other times we try to improve existing metrics.

What is the significance of the research you are doing this summer?

During MUSE 2021, our main objective was to work with data around something called road diets. Road diets typically are lane reductions on stretches of road which could be in the form of reducing lanes from 4 lanes to something like 2 lanes. We were trying to analyze the impact on congestion these changes could have in a before-and-after-type study by seeing how speeds may have changed in performance metrics.

What made you want to pursue this type of research?

I started research out of curiosity of what it could be like. I found that I really enjoyed working with data and trying to figure out how everything works. This type of research helps you develop new skills sets and improve problem solving skills which I find helpful for my career path.

Could you describe the lab environment for people who have never experienced something like this before?

For the most part, research has been conducted online. Since I was working with a friend most times, the environment was friendly and conductive to brainstorming ideas to help further along the research.

Any advice for future students working in a lab? 

For me, most of the process was establishing a goal and trying to figure out how to be able to get to that goal. There may not be a set way of doing things so if you like that, research is probably fun for you. At the start, you may not know a single thing about what is going on but that’s also part of the fun in trying to understand and learn.

What’s a fun fact that you’ve learned while doing MUSE?

Motor vehicle crashes have scales based on crash severity called the KABCO scale. That scale also allows for societal costs to be estimated based on the type of incident that occurred. For instance, a crash with a fatality involved in New Jersey has an equivalent cost of $11,295,400 dollars while a regular crash involving property damage only has an equivalent cost of $11,900.


Meet Daniel Comeau ‘22

Headshot of Daniel Comeau


Hometown: Bordentown, NJ

Hobbies: Woodworking/Furniture Making, Hiking/Camping

@ TCNJ: Treasurer for Chi Epsilon – The Civil Engineering Honor Society, Member of Tau Beta Pi – The Engineering Honor Society

What kind of stuff are you working on in the lab?

We retrieve large amounts of data from commercially available sources and it’s our job to work with the data to develop a visually intuitive way to evaluate the impacts of road diets before and after installation.

What is the significance of the research you are doing this summer?

We are developing a performance metric to quantify the congestion impacts of a lane reduction called a ‘road diet’ for planners and engineers to better inform the public about the expected impacts implementing a road diet would have.

What made you want to pursue this type of research?

I’ve been interested in the work Dr. Brennan does for a long time and I was interested in the more technical side of civil engineering. This gave me the opportunity to explore that side.

Could you describe the lab environment for people who have never experienced something like this before?

We worked remotely over the summer since our work was on the computer.

Any advice for future students working in a lab? 

Stay focused and if you get stuck, break the problem down into more manageable steps. It’s just like any other problem you’re going to try to solve.


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