Rensselaer Launches New Center of Excellence for Sustainable Urban Freight Systems

March, 2013

Led by Rensselaer Professor Jose Holguín-Veras, New $4 Million Center Is Designated by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations as a Center of Excellence

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute today announced the launch of its new Center for Sustainable Urban Freight Systems.

Dedicated to investigating new ways of infusing sustainability and efficiency into the way businesses send and receive goods, the new $4 million center is funded by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF) through its Future Urban Transport research program and recognized as a VREF Center of Excellence.

Along with Rensselaer, the center’s core research partners are the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom, Kyoto University in Japan, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Monash University in Australia, and Pennsylvania State University.

“Rensselaer is a driving force in transportation engineering research, and we are pleased to partner with the Volvo Research and Educational foundations on the new Center of Excellence for Sustainable Urban Freight Systems,” said David Rosowsky, dean of the School of Engineering at Rensselaer. “This collaboration positions Rensselaer and the School of Engineering to make an even greater impact on transportation systems research, a critically important field that affects all of our lives.”

“Urban freight, ‘the last mile,’ accounts for a large and increasing part of urban transport flows. The challenges this poses require urgent attention,” said VREF Chairman of the Board Anders Brännström. “New solutions to managing freight in urban areas are emerging, and the need for new knowledge and collaboration is greater than ever.”

“The Rensselaer Center of Excellence is an outstanding partnership between university, industry and cities, which we expect will take an international lead in developing new ideas for innovation in urban freight,” said VREF Director Henrik Nolmark.

Transportation engineering expert Jose Holguín-Veras, the William H. Hart Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a member of the university’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will lead the center.

“The fundamental quest of the Center for Sustainable Urban Freight Systems is one of behavior modification: to change the idea of urban freight systems from one driven by profit maximization to one that accounts for the externalities produced,” said Holguín-Veras, also the director of the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment within the Rensselaer School of Engineering. “Our research team will use technology, public policy, and proactive engagement of the private sector as building blocks to design and implement actionable strategies to transform and push forward the leading edge of urban freight systems.”

Urban freight transportation systems represent a multifaceted challenge. The imperative of companies to maximize their profits often leads business owners, regulators, and others to concede some of the less desirable byproducts of freight transportation: delivery trucks causing traffic congestion and air pollution in city centers, which in turn make the city centers less hospitable and accessible to travelers, tourists, and local residents. This challenge has significant technological, political, social, and environmental implications.

The new Center for Sustainable Urban Freight Systems seeks to jumpstart the creation of a framework that engages and fosters collaboration between cities, the private sector, and academia to tackle this universal challenge. Center researchers will seek to develop and identify a holistic, integrated suite of technologies, regulations, and incentives to help shape a new paradigm of freight transportation systems that are more cost efficient, more energy efficient, and less disruptive to commuter traffic in urban centers.

Research conducted within the new center will draw upon past and current freight systems and traffic management studies conducted by center partners in collaboration with the cities of New York, London, Osaka, Yokohama, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, The Hague, Melbourne, Chennai, Toronto, and Albany.

Core industry partners of the center are DHL, TNT Express, the European Shippers Council, the National Confederation of Transport in Brazil, the Truck Industry Council in Australia, the Freight Transport Association in the United Kingdom, American Trucking Association, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Foundation.

Additionally, the Center for Sustainable Urban Freight Systems will benefit from collaboration with its associate research centers across six continents: Chalmers University of Technology and University of Gothenburg in Sweden, Universidad de Los Andes and  Universidad del Norte  in Colombia, United Arab Emirates University, Universidad de Cantabria in Spain, Universidad Ibero-Americana in the Dominican Republic, University of Pretoria in South Africa, Institute for Transport and Logistics in Italy, Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, SouthEast University and Dalian Maritime University in China, University of Toronto, and Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil.

About the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations

Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF) is a collaboration between four independent foundations: the Volvo Research Foundation; the Volvo Education Foundation; the Pehr G. Gyllenhammar Foundation; and the Håkan Frisinger Foundation for Transport Research. The foundations finance research and educational projects. VREF initiated the Future Urban Transport (FUT) research program, which aims to create strategies for developing sustainable transportation systems in large urban areas around the world.

Professor José Holguín-Veras is named the William Howard Hart Professor.

The William Howard Hart Professor of Rational and Technical Mechanics (1883) Endowed Chair was the first endowed chair at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and is one of the highest honors bestowed on a Rensselaer faculty member.

"The year 1883 is made memorable by the endowment of the chair of rational and technical mechanics; the first to be endowed. Sixty thousand dollars [$1.33 million  in 2009 dollars] was given for this purpose by Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Hart, as a memorial to her husband, with the condition that the chair should be designated the William Howard Hart Professorship of Rational and Technical Mechanics. The communication to the board of trustees offering the endowment was dated June 11, 1883. Mr. Hart was the son of Richard P. Hart, who had been a trustee of the school in its earlier days (1825-43)."
History of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institure, 1824-1934, 3rd Edition by
      Palmer C. Ricketts (Ninth President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment

The Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment (CITE)'s vision is to become a national and international leader in research, education, outreach, and technology transfer in the areas of infrastructure, transportation, and their linkages to the environment. In achieving this vision, CITE will emphasize the use of multidisciplinary approaches, as they provide the only way avenue to deal with the complexity of the challenges faced by mankind at this particular moment in history. To this effect, CITE will work together with engineers, scientists, policy makers, and community leaders to find research-based solutions to relevant problems impacting infrastructure, transportation, and the environment.

CITE is expected to take a proactive role in the respond to the major challenges that shape this period of history. Among them, it is important to highlight:

  • The deplorable state of the Nation's infrastructure and the need to create new paradigms of design and operation for sustainable and resilient infrastructure and transportation systems.
  • Climate change and its impacts on coastal areas that are increasing their population share.
  • The research needs associated with unmanaged urbanization and rise of megacities.
  • The anticipated increase in natural and man-made disasters and the need to develop new paradigms of resilient and sustainable infrastructure, and transportation systems.

CITE's work will take advantage of:

  • The potential of multidisciplinary approaches to study and solve complex problems.
  • The important role played by engineers, scientists, and policy makers towards achieving energy and environmental goals.
  • The pervasive role of information technology, sensors, and wireless technologies that can enhance engineering decision making.
  • Rensselaer's research platforms (CCNI, EMPAC, and others).
  • The availability of outstanding faculty in the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Decision Sciences and Engineering Systems, Economics, Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering; and Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering.
  • The leadership role played and collaborations with leading universities such as Cornell University, New York University, Columbia University, University at Buffalo, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Rutgers University, and many others.

In fulfilling its vision, CITE is expected to be a proactive agent of change that foster high impact basic and applied research, its transition to real life implementation, and the education of the next generation of leaders.

Signature projects:

  • "Integrative Freight Demand Management in the New York City Metropolitan Area" (United States Department of Transportation); July, 1 2007 - June 30, 2009; PI: José Holguín-Veras, Professors Satish Ukkusuri, Kaan Ozbay, and Drs. Allison de Cerreno and Alain Kornhauser are Co-PIs; Total budget $1,865,136). This project focuses on designing and testing an innovative freight demand management for the NYC metropolitan area.
  • "NCFRP 26: Freight Data Cost Elements"
  • "NCFRP 25: Freight Trip Generation and Land Use"
  • "NCFRP 38: Improving System Performance in Metropolitan Areas"
  • "DRU: Contending with Materiel Convergence: Optimal Control, Coordination, and Delivery of Critical Supplies to the Site of Extreme Events" (National Science Foundation CMMI-0624083); January 2007 - December 2010; PI: José Holguín-Veras, Professors Tricia Wachtendorf and Satish Ukkusuri are Co-PIs; Total budget =$749,298). This project focuses on the development of new paradigms of supply chain modeling integrating social sciences and logistics.
  • "Corridor-based transportation management," and "Mobile sensors as traffic probes" (PI Jeff Ban, total $100,000) Use mobile sensors (e.g., cell phones, GPS devices) to probe traffic flow to reconstruct traffic states, to evaluate system performance, to assist in the development of efficient and effective system control and management schemes. Apply system analysis, network modeling, and simulation techniques to study transportation corridor systems to evaluate system performance, identify bottlenecks, develope mitigating strategies, and simulate the improvements.
Rensselaer is a member of the
University Transportation Research Center.
CITE is a member of the Council of University Transportation Centers, and a collaborating institution of UTRC.

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