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Public health students propose solutions to micromobility vehicle challenges on Texas A&M campus

Recommendations target pedestrian safety as use of these low-speed vehicles grows
Two women on microbility vehicles—one on a bicycle and one on a motorized scooter—pass each other on a crosswalk in front of a university building

Eight seniors in the Texas A&M University School of Public Health used their capstone course project to analyze the growing use of micromobility vehicles on the university’s sprawling campus. Many of the team’s recommendations are now being considered for implementation by Texas A&M’s administration in order to make the campus a safer place for pedestrians, micromobility users and full-size vehicles.

The students—Janeth Aviles ’24, Adrian Barajas ’24, Brianna Dorotik ’24, Laticia Ellankil ’24, Katherine McGee ’24, Hadley McGhee ’24, Chase Parrish ’24 and Yulissa Rodriguez ’24—were part of the PHLT 445 Honors Capstone course, taught by Jennifer Griffith, who had support from instructors Tommy McDonald and Adam Pickens. The required course was a culmination of the students’ undergraduate academic experience.

Unlike the School of Public Health’s traditional capstones in which students responded to a hypothetical request for proposals, the honors capstone course required students to work closely with a real client on a complex challenge.

“The goal for the entire semester was that they were listening to what the client identified as major needs and major issues or concerns around micromobility safety and use on campus,” Griffith said. “Then they had to determine what they would do as public health students to develop a plan that would address the challenge.”

Analyzing a complex challenge

The term “micromobility vehicle” encompasses skateboards, bicycles and scooters as well as personal vehicles that are designed with an electric drive system. These human- or electric-powered vehicles are lightweight (under 500 pounds) and low-speed (less than 20 miles per hour).

The use of micromobility vehicles on and around Texas A&M’s campus has expanded significantly as the growing student body navigates the 5,200-acre campus. More students are using the campus’s shared services while others have taken advantage of lower prices to purchase their own micromobility vehicle. Texas A&M Transportation Services’ 2023 Mobility Survey found there has been a 16 percent increase in the use of micromobility vehicles as the primary means of transportation on campus and a 12 percent increase in students making these vehicles their primary way to get to campus.

Now a regular part of campus life, these vehicles also pose a real safety concern for people who are distracted. “The days are over when individuals can walk out of a building with over-the-ear headphones on and engrossed in watching what is playing on the phone without looking out for their own personal safety,” said Byron Prestridge ’94, manager of Texas A&M Transportation Services’ Sustainable Transportation Department.

Although there wasn’t data about micromobility-related mishaps available for Texas A&M, the public health team did identify this type of data at a peer institution, Arizona State University. That data indicated that 25 percent of pedestrians reported a crash or near-miss within the last year, 81 percent were hit by someone on a bike, e-scooter or skateboard, and 89 percent of the crashes resulted in an injury.

Not surprisingly, many Texas A&M stakeholders are concerned. The Transportation Services’ study found that 52 percent of pedestrians believed that current university infrastructure inadequately separated pedestrians and cyclists.

Yet in developing solutions to this growing safety issue, Texas A&M Transportation Services leaders wanted to use the School of Public Health team’s project to create a win-win situation that is respectful to micromobility vehicle users, pedestrians and full-sized vehicles.

“One of my unique challenges to this group was not to give into pointing fingers and isolating one group,” Prestridge said. “It isn’t just the responsibility of those that choose to use these devices. We’re in a new paradigm and we’re all going to have to learn how to adjust.”

Presenting recommendations

The student team spent the spring semester researching the issue, including analyzing data and developing a budget and evaluation plan. The students also met with key stakeholders, including representatives from the Texas A&M Police Department, University Health Services, and Division of Marketing & Communications.

At the end of the semester, the team gave a presentation of their recommendations to Prestridge and key Texas A&M Transportation Services leaders and allies.

“They didn’t need notes or prompts in their final presentation,” Prestridge said. “They were passionate about what they were talking about, which to me meant they were fully engaged. This wasn’t an exercise for them; they were engaged with intent and passion, and it really showed in their work product.”

The team identified a knowledge gap between micromobility safety and Texas A&M’s regulations. The students noted in their presentation that even those who are aware of the rules tended to be noncompliant.

Using this information, the students recommended a three-year, three-phase implementation plan.

The first phase focuses on preparing online micromobility infrastructure. The team’s recommendations included supporting implementation of a registration website, Bike Index, for micromobility vehicles that are used on campus; having a micromobility acknowledgement form for students to complete on the university’s Howdy Portal; and creating an online micromobility resource center.

The second phase involves creating an awareness campaign. The team noted that the recommended process would increase awareness of micromobility safety and the university’s regulations, which would lead to a reduction of on-campus traffic violations, accidents and congestion. In the long term, the team believed the recommendations would improve micromobility safety.

The third phase focuses on enhancing physical micromobility infrastructure. The team recommended implementing gated micromobility parking and creating Howdy Zones in high-student-traffic areas to encourage “Good Ag” behaviors of greeting each other with “Howdy.” They also suggested identifying detour routes for no-ride zones that reroute micromobility vehicle users and establishing “kiss-and-drop zones” to address traffic congestion in areas where students and others are dropped off.

Applying knowledge

The capstone project team came away with a deeper understanding of how to integrate their undergraduate learning and to successfully use soft skills such as collaboration and communication, all of which they will need in their respective careers.

Many team members described feeling challenged when they learned the focus of their project.

“It is easy to see how public transportation is a public health issue, but we didn’t necessarily have transportation-specific expertise from our classwork,” said Parrish, who completed his bachelor’s degree in public health and plans to attend medical school. “It was surprising at first how little we knew about the specific topic going into it and how much we had to research.”

This capstone project challenged the students to stretch far beyond what they believed they could do.

“Our professors said, ‘Here’s the issue. Now go and fix it.’ Everything was completely in our boat, which at first seemed overwhelming and we were drowning at first,” said Barajas, a resident of Laredo who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public health and will be attending Texas A&M School of Law in the fall. “But once they gave us the assignment, it inspired our creativity. We had to figure out where, when and how to implement the recommendations and what the budget would be. We quickly took the project apart and divided it up, started researching, and taught ourselves about the issues.”

Ultimately, the project bolstered each team member’s confidence. “I learned about the capability that I possess as an undergraduate public health student,” said Rodriguez, a resident of Laredo who earned her bachelor’s degree in public health and will pursue a career in health policy and management. “While there were times in which I doubted that I could be successful in creating a project of this capacity, I ultimately demonstrated that I do have the potential to utilize a variety of critical thinking skills to develop an intuitive presentation.”

The team also appreciated the opportunity to give back to Texas A&M before they graduated.

“I walked two miles from my apartment through all of campus to get to the School of Public Health for my classes, so I got to see all of the mobility issues, with people walking, using these micromobility devices, and trying to drive through campus but can’t because of the constant crowds,” said Parrish, who is from Fort Worth. “Since this will continue to be an issue, I think this project has given us an important role in trying to make things safer in terms of these huge crowds that are moving around Texas A&M’s campus. That’s a cool opportunity.”

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