Analysis of the Impact of Road Use for Alternate Transportation in Denali Park

Principal Investigator(s):

Max Donath, Professor, Mechanical Engineering

Project summary:

Faced with increasing visitation and pressure to defend or change the limits to road traffic, managers of public spaces, including the National Park Service, need to develop a greater understanding of the impacts of traffic volume and traffic patterns on the physical, biological, and social environment of roads through remote public spaces. The unique nature of the park road in Denali, Alaska, the behavior of tour buses at wildlife viewing stops, and the need to integrate social crowding and resource protection standards into any analysis, impose modeling constraints that traditional traffic planning models cannot handle. This provides an ideal situation to research and test new integrated traffic simulation tools. A previous study with Denali National Park developed an integrated simulation model capable of analyzing the impacts of vehicle specific driving behaviors and schedules on visitor experience and resource protection standards. This simulation tool extracts several performance measures that predict impacts to visitor experience, and resource indicators such as critical animal road crossing locations, by calculating the violation of set standards. Using this tool, impacts of several scheduling scenarios that increased road use levels during the peak season were investigated. The model forecasted that adherence to a high quality of visitor experience desired by the park service may be difficult to maintain on the park road if more vehicles carrying more visitors are allowed on the park road utilizing the current mandatory transportation system. Road crossing opportunities during migration and foraging seasons of Dall's Sheep were also negatively impacted at unacceptable levels. This research projects seeks to investigate several hypothesized alternative mandatory transportation systems, with the aim of accommodating more visitors while protecting visitor experience and wildlife resources. Planned removal of rest areas, creation of new rest areas, and new route service, will be tested with the developed simulation tool. This will require the modification of the original analysis tools to determine the possible effects of these changes on the visitor experience and resource protection standards that Denali hopes to maintain on the park road. One such system, that combines service into fewer route choices and carries visitors further into the interior of the park, was recently tested. A comparison of the impacts forecasted by the simulation model to actual base-line data from the current system is under development. Second, due to the complexity of the analysis and its potential for managing impacts, additional tools will be developed that will allow park managers to analyze and visualize violation of standards, as well as extract real data summaries from GPS and wildlife sighting databases for monitoring. Tools built to summarize real-time data to monitor social and wildlife resource indicator variables will have broad application and interest to managers of public spaces impacted by road use. This research addresses both issues by extending the integrated simulation tool and analysis techniques developed previously.

Project details:

  • Project number: 2009104
  • Start date: 04/2009
  • Project status: Completed
  • Research area: Transportation Safety and Traffic Flow