News | PSR ITE Student Chapters Collaborate to Bring Transportation Professionals to Campus

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by James Huang, USC B.S. Industrial Engineering, USC M.S Transportation Engineering 2023, Viterbi School of Engineering, ITE USC Vice President

We are pleased to announce a new collaboration between two Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center (PSR) member chapters of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, - Northern Arizona University (NAU) and the University of Southern California (USC).  These two chapters have joined together to create a joint speaker series, starting in the 2021-2022 academic year. The collaboration kicked off in October with the NAU ITE Chapter bringing alumnus Rae Stephani, (BS, Civil Engineering, NAU, 2018) now Project Engineer at Y2K Engineering, LLC, in Denver, recently being promoted from Traffic Engineer. 


This session was hosted by Katherine Riffle, (MS, Civil Engineering, NAU, 2021), NAU ITE president, and PSR Master’s Student of the Year, and was an interesting dive into Y2K engineering's philosophy and highlighted projects. Y2K is a “plangineering” firm, which means that it combines planning and engineering. Y2K has a particular focus on multimodal/active transportation design.


Rae Stephani, Civil Engineering, NAU


Rae graduated with a Civil Engineering degree from NAU, but only through taking classes on transportation planning did she realize that transportation engineering, and active transportation in particular, was her calling. In the past 3 years, Rae progressed from Engineering Designer to Traffic Engineer, to Project Engineer. In this speaker session, Rae dived into several projects on which she worked.


One of Rae's favorite transportation safety planning projects was in the active transportation realm, where her team evaluated 46 trail crossings and proposed improvements in Gilbert, Arizona. Rae's team had to answer different questions about pedestrian safety and balancing it with traffic flow. They also addressed the difficult question of how best to gather safety data, as there were many near-misses that were not documented. To solve this, roadway speeds and crashes in proximity were analyzed to determine multimodal safety, and the trails themselves were looked at to determine the usage of the paths themselves. The final deliverable was a preliminary design so that the city could fund this in capital planning. Additionally, the team took a look at the surrounding area to recommend safety improvements.


In most of Y2K's projects, Rae shared, the team is responsible for the initial "conceptual design" stage that will be refined later. Most of the work lies in turning abstract planning ideas into something more realized and capable of being visualized by non-engineering stakeholders. In many cases, the projects are filling in small gaps in the network, yet require coordination with multiple projects. 


Rae's noted that her favorite project was one in the town of Guadelupe, in the Phoenix Metro area. Rae described how this project was one of the most impactful for her because of the impact it had on the small community that previously did not have multimodal connections. The end result of this was bicycle lanes and added amenities to a previously intimidating road. There were a lot of small details to be ironed out--whether it was reaching out to the public or curb space, but it's these small details that Rae said made the biggest difference. In the end, the city of Guadelupe received federal funding as a result of the detailed preliminary plans.


Rae also talked about her experience combining data analytics with transportation to inform stakeholders. Y2K Engineering built an automated Signal warrant analysis tool that required an understanding of traffic analysis concepts and also a knowledge of Excel/Data programming.