Brendan Murphy with award

USDOT Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Research and
Technology Greg Winfree, Brendan Murphy, and Council of
University Transportation Centers president Joel Volinski

Each year, the Roadway Safety Institute selects one graduate student for its Outstanding Student of the Year Award sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). This year’s recipient is Brendan Murphy, a 2015 graduate of the University of Minnesota’s civil engineering master’s program. Murphy is currently the lead data scientist at the Accessibility Observatory and a research fellow in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering at the University of Minnesota (U of M).

Murphy’s graduate work focused on connecting bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure with safe, multimodal transportation systems and the intelligent use of data in transportation and city planning. His approaches were used to help solve two key challenges identified in existing research of nonmotorized travel safety: the need for metrics that reflect the risk exposure produced by cross-modal traffic volume interactions, and the need for risk models that can be applied in local contexts such as individual streets and intersections.

In a project led by Andrew Owen, the director of the U of M’s Accessibility Observatory, Murphy is helping to develop a risk model for pedestrian and bicycle travel for individual intersections and road segments in urban areas. The researchers are using the city of Minneapolis as their test bed for data collection and analysis and hope to extend their analysis to other cities as data become available to them, Murphy says.

His current work at the Accessibility Observatory continues to build on these efforts; Murphy assists in developing and maintaining tools and systems for collecting and analyzing data describing transportation systems and accessibility.

“My research interests lie at the intersection of urban connectivity, transportation equity, environmental sustainability, and livability,” Murphy says. “I use GIS analytics and data to study the evolution of transportation networks over time and examine how these metrics relate to issues such as user safety. Far too many pedestrians and bicyclists are injured or killed in collisions with cars and trucks on our cities’ streets, but we can reduce these rates through more intelligent multimodal roadway design when we have a better understanding of exactly how people get around in our urban areas.”

As part of the award, Murphy traveled to the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting held in Washington DC, where he was recognized for his achievement by officials from the USDOT.

“I found it invigorating and inspiring to be surrounded by so many other young researchers focused on attacking the problems of sustainability, population growth, and our transportation future from a wide variety of angles,” Murphy says. “The location of the conference in our nation’s capital also gave attendees a glimpse of how our cities’ urban fabric should be woven—with a focus on walkable, connected spaces, usable bike sharing, and useful rail-based mass transit.”

In addition to his master’s degree, Murphy also holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Minnesota. In the future, Murphy plans to continue developing and applying his spatial data analytics skills to solving problems in the nation’s urban transportation networks and environments. In addition, he hopes to help empower more people to choose walking and biking over driving and to advance understanding of the design and transportation network principles that can foster safer, more sustainable cities.