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Issue 483, 5 June 2002

Using student brainpower

Leeds undergraduates have been helping towns in England solve their local transport problems and plan for the future, as part of final year projects for the four-year MEng in civil engineering.

Thirsk in North Yorkshire and St Neots in Cambridgeshire have benefited from the students' projects, with help from their tutor Professor Tony May,  also a consultant in urban transport policy.

"The government provides councils with money through local transport plans, but  only for implementing changes, not for research into which changes would be most effective," said Professor May. "Working with us and opening the research to our engineering students provides a solution."

Professor May normally works for towns and cities with populations of over 250,000, running computer models of their transport systems to determine the influence of different transport initiatives. Providing something similar for towns as small as 4,000 inhabitants, without the luxury of a computer model, proved quite a challenge.

"It was back to basics, with spreadsheets and graphs," said Professor May. "One problem was a lack of data to apply to the model, but despite the limitations, the students came up with some concrete suggestions for the towns involved."

Debbie Hudd has developed proposals for restructuring Thirsk's bus services and changing how parking is provided and managed in the town.

St Neots has benefited from two student projects. In the first, Karen Evans assessed the viability of options which had gained the highest votes during a local consultation process: her recommendations are now being implemented, including red routes, better traffic signals and improved parking.

Richard Wright is looking at options for a new road bridge across the river. His findings will enable Cambridgeshire county council to decide whether the bridge is a viable option to include in the next round of bids for government funding.

Professor May said: "With students conducting research as part of their studies, councils can get the information they need, and students are given the opportunity to apply the knowledge gained from their degree courses to make a real contribution."

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