When decision makers consider adopting a new policy approach to a problem, one of the first questions they ask is: Will it work? Say Happyville traffic engineers want to replace some traffic signals with roundabouts to reduce accidents. The Happyville city council will want to know if their multi-million dollar investment is likely to have a significant impact on safety. Or say that the Garden Plains Aldermen want to put in speed humps near a school to reduce traffic speeds, but they hesitate to do so, given the strong opposition from the fire department, unless they are sure the humps will actually have the desired speed-reducing effect.
Planners are often asked to evaluate the potential effectiveness of a new policy under consideration, and one extremely useful technique for doing so is to review existing research. This assignment gives you a chance to learn more about the effectiveness of a transportation policy of your choice at the same time that you practice your skills at finding and evaluating research. In particular, you will work on developing three skills:
Finding research on transportation policy
Making sense of complex articles.
Technical research articles can be hard to understand and evaluate. You can,
however, learn a great deal from reading these materials, even when you don't
understand every detail.
Making sense of contradictory or inconclusive research findings. You may discover that researchers report inconclusive or contradictory findings about a policy's likely impact. Planners must be able to sort through such a messy situation and draw overall conclusions from the entire body of research reviewed.
Task 1: Pick a policy (Policy X) and one of its likely outcomes to evaluate (Goal Y). Identify a very specific policy that a local government might adopt to achieve a specific transportation-related goal. Examples include:
Synchronizing traffic signals (the policy) to reduce congestion-induced delay (the goal).
Replacing traffic signals with roundabouts to reduce accidents.
Installing speed humps to reduce traffic speeds.
Installing red-light cameras to reduce red-light running and accidents.
Eliminating marked crosswalks to reduce
Task 2: Find ten research studies
to review. Identify ten journal articles or technical research reports
in which the author(s) explain the results of a single study that they conducted
investigating the effectiveness of the policy you are studying. At least six of
the items your read must be articles published in peer-reviewed academic
journals. (Note: URBP 178/ENVS 178 students only have to find six research
studies, with three published in peer-reviewed journals.)
Try to find relatively recent studies. Ideally, they would all be from the last five years, though on some topics that might be difficult, in which case it's fine to go back ten years.
If you don't know how to tell if a journal prints peer-reviewed articles, read the advice at http://www.lib.utexas.edu/lsl/help/modules/peer.html or http://www.nau.edu/library/information/guides/peer-reviewed.html. As both of these websites mention, you can check a periodical title at Ulrich's Periodicals Directory to see if it is peer-reviewed. The SJSU library subscribes to Ulrich's, which you can access through the library's list of databases (http://www.sjlibrary.org/research/databases/index.htm?getType=3.
Task 3: Meet with Asha at least 3 weeks
before your paper is due to discuss the studies you found. At least 3 weeks
before your paper is due, arrange to meet with me to discuss the research
studies you found. A day before we meet, email me a list of the citations
for the studies you plan to write about, plus a table summarizing the main
points of each one (see sample table handed out in class). When we meet, I can let you
know if the studies you found look appropriate for the assignment. In addition,
we can discuss your initial thoughts on the analysis you plan to write.
Task 4: Write a report reviewing the
likely impact the policy will have. Write a memo to a group of policy
makers who have asked you to assess how likely it is that Policy X will achieve
Goal Y. They want to know if Policy X will or will not have the intended
impact (e.g., reducing congestion, accidents, or whatever your policy is
supposed to achieve). In writing the memo, follow these guidelines:
Introduce the memo by explaining what Policy
X is and what it is intended to achieve (Goal Y). Keep this part of the memo
very brief, just a paragraph or two.
Based on the results on all the studies you
found, tell readers whether Policy X is likely to have the desired impact, and
if it is likely to do so in all circumstances or only in certain cases.
Also, assess how much confidence you have in the results of these studies.
For example, do they all agree on the likely outcome, or is there much
disagreement, which might suggest some uncertainly in what impacts Policy X
really has? Also, do you believe the studies to be credible and of high
quality, or do you suspect for some reason that they may not have been very well
done and are not too trustworthy?
What not to do! Do not simply
summarize the results of each study! I cannot emphasize enough that this paper
should not read like a list of abstracts, where you merely relate what each
study found, one after the other. Instead, review all the studies and look
for the patterns that they tell collectively. Also, keep in mind that
your task is to analyze the quality of the research, not merely to repeat what
the authors wrote.
For URBP 256 students, the assignment should
be 1,500 to 1,800 words in length, excluding footnotes and the bibliography.
For ENVS 178/URBP 178 students, the assignment should be 1,200 to 1,500 words,
excluding footnotes and the bibliography. Note that I will stop reading
(and grading) papers after I reach the word limit.
The footnotes and bibliography should be
prepared according to the directions on the course
Task 5 (URBP 256 students only): Prepare an 8-minute presentation of your findings to give to the class. You may prepare a handout or use PowerPoint visual aids if you wish, but they are not required.
The memos will be graded primarily on:
The quality of the analysis.
The clarity, organization, and grammatical correctness of the writing.
Whether or not the memo covers all the topics specified.
The class presentation for URBP 256 students will not count towards your assignment grade unless you fail to give the presentation on the date it is due, in which case you will be penalized by one full letter grade.
Also, if you do not complete Task 3 on time, you will be penalized one full letter grade on the final assignment.
This assignment is worth 30% of your course grade.
|Document||Study Location||Date Data Collected||Methods||Key Findings||Likely Limitations||Other Notes|
|Ko & Lu 1998||Montana||1997||Counted deer killed at 3 locations with crossings & 3 without crossings||20% decrease in deaths, overall, at locations with crossings||Me: Only 18 deer killed overall. Since so few deaths occur anyway, the sample size is too small to be very meaningful?|
unicorn deaths at 17 road locations before/after wildlife crossings put in
||No observable change in unicorn deaths from the crossings||- Authors
observe that traffic on the 17 roads increased greatly after the crossings
were put in, so maybe overall the crossings helped?
- I wonder if it is possible that dead unicorns vanished before researchers noticed them?
|My notes aren’t too thorough, so I should reread article carefully . . .|
|Nowakowsky 2009||CA, OR, WA||2005-2007||Counted deer deaths at 102 locations, before/after wildlife crossings put in||Deer deaths went from 289 before crossing, to 139 deaths after crossings||??||Nice large sample size – seems like a reliable study?|
|Return to URBP 256 course page|
Page last modified: 26 February 2009