Researcher spotlight: John Hourdos
Roadway Safety Institute researcher John Hourdos has extensive experience with the theoretical and practical aspects of traffic safety as well as traffic flow theory and modeling. His initial work focused on automatic incident detection on freeways, and he is internationally known for his work in microscopic simulation and modeling. During the last five years Hourdos has focused on research in traffic safety—especially in the early detection of crash-prone traffic conditions on freeways, the causal analysis of crashes, and the modeling of driver behavior related to crashes and near-crashes.
“I have shown that certain conditions are favorable to crashes and that it is possible to detect them in real time,” says Hourdos. “That work has recently achieved real-world application in the form of an automated queue warning system operation on I-94 westbound in the Twin Cities, which is already producing encouraging results.”
As director of the U of M’s Minnesota Traffic Observatory (MTO)—a high-tech transportation research facility affiliated with the RSI—Hourdos works to test and evaluate new transportation strategies and traveler information technologies using a network of video and radar detectors that turn westbound I-94 in Minneapolis into a fully instrumented field laboratory.
“The unforgiving conditions on this stretch of interstate show us that traffic is truly a collective phenomenon,” Hourdos says. “Our work in the MTO demonstrates that crashes bear a collective responsibility and are very rarely the result of the actions of one or two individual drivers. We see that our behavior as drivers can generate oscillations that travel upstream and generate impossible-to-avoid conditions five or even ten vehicles behind us.”
Currently, Hourdos is working on an RSI project to develop a connected vehicle testbed within the I-94 field lab and build on previous MnDOT-funded research that resulted in the development of an infrastructure-based queue warning system at this location.
“We are looking forward into the future and developing an environment where connected vehicles can be tested and safety applications developed and deployed in a real-world setting,” Hourdos says. “Ultimately, this research will help create a driving environment in which connected vehicles ‘talk’ to each other and warn their drivers about possible dangers ahead.”
In addition, Hourdos is working to debunk what he believes to be dangerous misconceptions about autonomous vehicles. “There is an unfortunate perception that autonomous and automated vehicles are going to solve all problems from road congestion to safety,” says Hourdos. “This is not directly true, and their effect on traffic individually as well their collective effect when their numbers increase needs to be understood and modeled in great detail in order to avoid making conditions even worse than they are today.”
Hourdos received his M.S. and Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota, where he has worked full time as a research associate since 1996. He is currently director of the MTO, a research associate professor in the U of M’s Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering, and a Center for Transportation Studies Research Scholar. Hourdos is affiliated with several professional organizations, including the Institute of Transportation Engineers, Engineering Society of Greece, European Ramp Metering Group, NCHRP Research Panel (member), Transportation Research Board (affiliate member), Traffic Simulation Subcommittee of the Transportation Research Board, Committee on Freeway Operations of the Transportation Research Board, Committee on Safety Data, Analysis, and Evaluation of the Transportation Research Board, and the American Society of Civil Engineering. He also serves a reviewer for the ASCE Journal of Transportation Engineering and the Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems.