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ODU Modeling and Simulation Engineers Develop Traffic Simulation Tool for Virginia Beach City Council

rmrobins-mike-robinsonMike Robinson

As Virginia Beach wrestles with urban planning issues for a growing, spread-out city, its leaders will have the help of a new tool developed by modeling and simulation researchers from Old Dominion University.

On Tuesday, June 11, Virginia Beach City Council was presented a completed "microscopic" model of the entire City of Virginia Beach developed by researchers from ODU's Center for Innovative Transportation Solutions (CITS).

The model is a product of a partnership between the city and CITS. Mike Robinson, director of the ODU center, said a microscopic model adds significant detail to traditional "macro" modeling, including individual traffic signal timing, right down to modeling the behavior of individual drivers.

"Because we're doing so many calculations, microscopic simulation can be done for a far wider area," said Robinson, who added it's been at least five years since Virginia Beach updated its existing traffic model.

"They can take that model we have given them and do future planning analysis. This really puts Virginia Beach at the forefront of traffic modeling," he said.

The microscopic modeling tool makes Virginia Beach one of only a handful of cities nationwide capable of doing traffic simulation modeling with that level of detail. The Virginia Beach model examines every primary and secondary road in the city, along with 371 traffic signals programmed to reflect the same timing patterns that real drivers encounter. Vehicle counts from nearly 500 locations and historic accident trends are incorporated into the model.

Robinson said simulations played for council members included a three-dimensional traffic flow through an intersection along busy Independence Boulevard. That's atypical of large-scale traffic models, which can't depict movement down to the level of individual cars. The heightened detail better mimics how things like bus stops and traffic signals add to congestion.

Virginia Beach City Council will use the tool to examine the long-standing proposal for the construction of the Southeastern Parkway and Greenbelt, a contentious, 21-mile highway the city has wanted to build as another access point to the Oceanfront.

Robinson said the microscopic model developed by CITS can aid in decision making about that project.

"Council will use that for future development decisions, modeling five different scenarios, including what traffic will look like in 2034 if the Greenbelt is not built," he said. "This can help the decision-making process for urban and traffic planners."

Opened in 2012, CITS focuses on developing and applying innovative techniques, including the expansive use of modeling and simulation, to address a broad variety of transportation challenges and issues facing the region, state and nation.

In addition to CITS being headquartered in Virginia Beach, ODU has many other ties to that city. The university has held classes in Virginia Beach since 1988, and currently offers 28 bachelor's and 17 master's and doctoral degree programs at its ODU Virginia Beach Center in Princess Anne Commons.