Monica Menendez, NYU Abu Dhabi – Sharing the Road

Can’t we all just get along on the roads?

Monica Menendez, associate professor of civil and urban engineering at NYU Abu Dhabi, looks into the best way to move people around a city.

Monica Menendez is an Associate Professor of Civil and Urban Engineering at New York University in Abu Dhabi and a Global Network Associate Professor of Civil and Urban Engineering at the Tandon School of Engineering in New York University. She is also the Director of the NYUAD Research Center for Interacting Urban Networks (CITIES).

Between 2010 and 2017, Monica was the Director of the research group Traffic Engineering at ETH Zurich. Prior to that, she was a management consultant at Bain & Company. She joined Bain after receiving a PhD and a MSc in Civil and Environmental Engineering from UC Berkeley in 2006. During her studies there, she received, among other awards, an NSF Fellowship and the Gordon F. Newell Award. In total, she is the recipient of more than 20 scholarships and awards from well-known and prestigious organizations, professional societies, and universities.

Monica also holds a dual degree in Civil Engineering and Architectural Engineering from the University of Miami, from where she graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2002.

Her research interests include monitoring, modeling, and control of multimodal transportation systems, considering new technologies and data sources. She is an active reviewer for over 20 journals, and and a member of multiple editorial boards for top journals in Transportation, including Transportation Research Part C and IEEE Transactions in ITS, as well as the Advisory Committee for the International Symposium on Transportation and Traffic Theory (ISTTT). Monica is the author of over 65 peer reviewed journal publications and over 160 book chapters, conference proceedings, and technical reports.

Sharing the Road

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The way to get around some cities is rapidly changing. Major arterials are being closed to private cars in favor of buses. Cities are adding dozens of miles of protected bike lanes. How do cities arrive at decisions like this? Exactly how much of the limited road space should each mode – cars, buses, bikes, pedestrians – get?

This is a sensitive topic, as benefits to one transportation mode typically come at the expense of the other ones. Studies on the efficiency tradeoffs between different modes are limited, in part because the interactions across modes can be rather complex. For example, common wisdom says buses are more efficient than cars at transporting people, but that’s not the whole story. Buses are larger, slower, and stop more frequently. As a result, they can be very disruptive to the overall traffic, ultimately lowering the throughput of a city in terms of how many vehicles per hour it can handle. This picture changes completely if we were to focus on the number of passengers per hour instead, as buses can carry significantly more passengers than cars.

New monitoring and modeling tools now allow us to quantify these tradeoffs, both in terms of vehicles and in terms of passengers. This is crucial for a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages associated with each transportation mode from a holistic perspective, and it helps cities come to good decisions about how to share their roads more efficiently.

The need for this sort of decisions is unlikely to go away soon. It is almost as old as cities themselves. Even before cars, pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages were competing for the available road space. As cities continue to evolve, we are going to have to keep adjusting the balance of roads, so that we can share them in a way that makes the most sense for everyone, maximizing the overall people mobility.

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