When data—not cars­—drives the new American city

Contact: Cindy Wagner

"Advances in technology have increased opportunities to achieve safety and mobility goals." - Dr. Valerian Kwigizile

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—From roundabouts and bike lanes to the increase in e-scooters and e-bikes to commuter updates going directly to your smartphone, a quiet revolution is occurring across the United States in an effort to craft safer and more mobile cities. At the center of much of this work is WMU’s Dr. Valerian Kwigizile, associate professor of civil and construction engineering and co-director of the Transportation Research Center for Livable Communities.

A portrait of .

Dr. Valerian Kwigizile

A leading researcher in traffic safety, Kwigzile’s recent research examines how crowd-sourcing data can be used to both understand cities and to communicate with motorists. By applying recent innovations in data collection and analysis, he focuses on three aspects of city design: safety of streets, evaluation of transportation infrastructure and investigations of how new technologies generate data that can be used to improve mobility.

“Advances in technology have increased opportunities to achieve safety and mobility goals,” says Kwigizile. “For example, planning a safe infrastructure for non-motorized traffic (pedestrians and bicyclists) has been a challenge due to the lack of exposure measures—primarily data on the number of users. With the increase in smartphone usage by road users, crowdsourced data through tracking applications has become one of the potential reliable sources of exposure data.”

Crowdsourcing data through tracking applications provides researchers data on how many and how often people use traffic infrastructure. This information provides insight into how dynamic cities are and how certain designs can either promote or inhibit infrastructure use.

“In recent years, micro-mobility mode use has been spreading across the globe. Introduction of autonomous vehicles is another advance in technology that creates the need for more research on the safe interaction of road users as well as impacts of such technologies on mobility,” says Kwigizile. “With such changes in the transportation sector, research on how the costs and benefits can be equitably shared is also needed.”

Michigan case study

Kwigizile’s traffic research focuses on non-motorized traffic and aging drivers, transportation planning, intelligent transportation and traffic enforcement. He recently conducted research to assess the effectiveness and impact of digital message signs on traffic flow using Michigan as a case study. With funding from the Michigan Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Kwigizile studies ways to improve messaging and traffic. In one of his past research projects, he identified redesigns that benefit aging drivers and minimize misinterpretation of road signage, limiting the number of crashes. Implementing subtle changes to fonts, lettering, paint, countdown signage and box-span traffic signals has significant impact on making roads safer. 

About Dr. Valerian Kwigizile

During the past ten years at WMU, Kwigizile has secured external research funding exceeding $8.4 million and co-authored more than 80 research papers published in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. He is a registered Professional Engineer with over 20 years of industrial and academic experience. He is also a member of the U.S. Transportation Research Board standing committee on pedestrians.

Kwigizile earned a Ph.D. from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a Master of Science from Florida State University and a Bachelor of Science from University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.