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Seniors Take on Crosswalk, Win Senior Design Project of the Year

The Oak Ridge project team.

Left to right: Ken Kolesar, Andrew Granger, Nick Coates, Jonathan Dean, and Ben Coughenour

More than any other class offered by the department, the senior design class gives students a taste for the real-world work they will encounter upon graduation.

One team, consisting of Nick Coates, Ken Kolesar, Andrew Granger, Ben Coughenour, and Jonathan Dean, recently had hands-on experience improving an intersection in Oak Ridge, which was in need of a crosswalk to slow traffic and allow pedestrians a safe way to cross the intersection. Their efforts won them the Senior Design Project of the Year.

The team worked closely with the Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning (TCWP) throughout the project to protect the Cedar Barrens State Natural Area. They hosted “weed wrangles” and public forms to learn about the group’s concerns and desires in the final design.

In this process, they learned that the TCWP supports the addition of a crosswalk at the entrance to the Cedar Barrens, but they did not want increased bicycle traffic into the Cedar Barrens due to risks for the rare species that live there. To meet this need, they designed bicycle prevention infrastructure at the entrance of the Cedar Barrens to protect the area.

Senior Lecturer Jenny Retherford said that this part of the project showed how dedicated the team was to the effort.

“They used the time to both engage and give back to the local community through clean-up service, but also engaged in formal and informal conversations with people who care for the natural preserve,” she said. “Then, in the spring, the team participated in the same event; this time, there was no value to the course grade—they did this because they were that enthusiastic about the work they were doing and the real people interested in them, their project, and their work.”

The team chose not to adopt the traditional hierarchy and instead chose division leaders for each aspect of the project.

“This non-traditional structure fostered a spirit of camaraderie and collaboration that made the long hours and hard work much more effective and enjoyable,” said Ken Kolesar, who led the traffic data collection.

To engineer a fix for the crosswalk, the team needed to collect traffic data from a traffic camera. This involved an innovative effort and cutting-edge use of tools. The only device that would gather all of the needed data was a traffic camera, but the cameras available through the university required either an external power source or an internet connection, neither of which was readily available near the intersection.

This led to the team building their own traffic camera using a GoPro and a cordless drill battery mounted in a lockable case. The team collected 5,000 lines of data in the form of vehicle and pedestrian counts, flow paths, and unimpeded vehicle speeds.

They encountered another hurdle when filling in some necessary topographical data at the site. The equipment they were using worked at UT but failed to work at the site. Rather than completely losing the opportunity to collect the desired data, the team used the lidar 3D scanning capability of an iPad to scan the area of interest.

Using the base of a light pole included in the scan at a known location and elevation allowed the point cloud to be placed in the proper location to fill in the missing topographical data.

Coughenour developed multiple crosswalk designs to choose from, with the goal of creating an updated and aesthetically pleasing pedestrian infrastructure while ensuring the changes were beneficial to the safety of all road users.

They decided on the design that incorporated a stamped asphalt surface to provide a visually appealing pedestrian crossing that also serves as a traffic calming element by presenting an altered ground surface to motorists. They also chose rapid flashing pedestrian crossing beacons at each crosswalk to serve as a traffic calming device and provide pedestrian right-of-way warnings to vehicles.

The proposed crosswalks required filling in sections of the existing stormwater drainage ditches on either side of one road in the intersection. This meant replacement stormwater drainage infrastructure needed to be installed on the site, which was designed by Coates.

Granger’s role was to consider the construction needs and produce a feasible, affordable design. The final delivery to the client included an estimate of probable cost, which was $112,000, construction schedule, and equipment selection.

Additionally, before the end of the project Kolesar welcomed a new baby girl, which required his teammates to exhibit patience and understanding as he adjusted to the new role while doing his responsibilities.

“They have all been very understanding and have gone so far as making my daughter an honorary member of the team by allowing her to attend our team zoom meetings when necessary,” said Kolesar.

The team learned that their final design will likely move forward into construction in the near future.