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TransNet:
The Transportation Research Internet Cooperative

Randall Guensler, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
randy.guensler@ce.gatech.edu
John D. Leonard II, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
john.leonard@ce.gatech.edu
Johnny Dunning, Jr.
Graduate Student

School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA 30332-0355

Table of Contents

Abstract

Introduction

Background

Transnet
Structure

Transnet
Services

Automating
Maintanence

Administration

Conclusions

References

ABSTRACT

TransNet is an experimental service that provides a model for the organization and electronic dissemination of transportation knowledge. TransNet is an Internet cooperative whose members are universities that have a demonstrated interest in transportation research and that have the necessary hardware, software, and personnel to host a world wide web (WWW, or Web) site. TransNet provides the opportunity for hundreds of universities and other organizations to participate in the cooperative venture. Each host organization maintains a standard set of information services for one or more specific transportation-related research topics. This paper provides an overview of the TransNet project and describes the "nested matrix" approach adopted for topic organization. The nine basic services (literature, research, modeling, education, agency contacts, professional forum, multimedia, Internet links, and news) that will be provided by host universities for each transportation topic are described in detail. As TransNet evolves, and as more participants begin to host topic-specific service pages, a wealth of transportation research data and information will become readily accessible electronically to all interested parties.

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INTRODUCTION

One important benefit of the Internet is the shared responsibility for providing and maintaining information and services among a large number of active users. The Internet can provide comprehensive information while reducing the burden on individual organizations (Guensler and Bernstein, 1996). TransNet is an experimental service that demonstrates how the Internet can facilitate the distribution of transportation-related knowledge. In general, members of the TransNet cooperative are universities with a demonstrated interest in transportation research and with the necessary hardware, software, and personnel to host a world wide web (WWW, or Web) site. Each host organization maintains a standard set of information services for one or more specific transportation-related research topics. Each host provides information on publications, upcoming conferences, research results, public domain models, and other pertinent topics.

This paper provides an overview of the TransNet project, describes the "nested matrix" approach adopted for topic organization, and defines the basic services that will be provided for each transportation topic. As an example, the demonstration site for transportation emissions modeling developed by Georgia Tech faculty and graduate students illustrates the basic form and function of TransNet services. Information for potential members is also provided.

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BACKGROUND

The Web is an interlaced system of computers (servers) that provide information to requesting computers (clients). The client requests a "page" of information that may consist of text, graphics, audio and video clips. The server responds to the request by transferring the desired information to the client. The client is then responsible for correctly formatting and displaying the "pages" on the computer screen. Web pages can be linked to other web pages that need not reside on the same server (Levine and Baroudi, 1994; Lemay, 1996).

The TransNet system was inspired by the Transportation Research, Education, and Development (TREAD) world wide web server (http://transnet.ce.gatech.edu/tread) co-developed by ASCE Urban Transportation Division Education Committee and School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The TREAD server hosts the activities of several ASCE committees, Georgia Tech educational activities related to transportation, and provides access to information on various transportation education and research topics. TREAD also serves as a point of departure to other transportation Web servers. TREAD services include:

The TREAD server provides information on general transportation engineering and planning topics. Topic-specific information is not provided. Given that transportation research is partitioned in specific topic areas, the structure of the TREAD server was not suited for providing topic-specific information support. A new model for disseminating transportation-related information was required.

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TRANSNET STRUCTURE

The TransNet information server (http://transnet.ce.gatech.edu/transnet) organizes the broad field of transportation into a series of nested topic matrices. The first level matrix includes twenty five primary topic categories (e.g. economics, environment, infrastructure, intelligent transportation systems, etc.). Each topic in the main category topic matrix is linked to a subcategory matrix. Using the WWW paradigm, selection of a first level topic will "jump" the user to a lower level matrix. For example, selecting the "infrastructure" topic from the first level matrix will display the second level matrix that contains sub categories of bridges, culverts, cut and fill, pavement, curvature, etc. Some complex topics lead to third and fourth level matrices. TransNet currently indexes more than 150 specific topics, identified in the Library of Congress catalogue.

The first level matrix of TransNet is similar in format to the matrix adopted by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) on their home page (http://www.bts.gov). The main TransNet transportation topic categories include:

Congestion Data And Statistics Economics Education Energy
Environment Equity GIS Good Movement Human Factors
Infrastructure ITS IC Engines Legal Management Systems
Modes Organizations Planning Public Participation Research
Right of Way Safety Signalization Traffic Flow Travel and Tourism

When a button in the topic matrix is pushed, the user immediately jumps to a lower level subcategory matrix or to a final services page. For example, selecting "Environment" from the first level matrix leads to the following subcategory matrix:

Acid Rain Air Electromagnetic Fields Environmental Ethics
Environmental Assessment Global Warming Hazardout Waste Environmental Law
Natural Resources Noise Soils Stratospheric Ozone
Water Wetlands

The Air button on the Environment subcategory matrix leads to a third level matrix:

Atmosphere Air Quality Analytical Methods Attainment Planning
Control Strategies Control Equipment Emissions Modeling Emissions Sources
Local Regions Law and Legislation Odor Pollutants (Criteria)
Pollutants (Toxics) Pollution Impacts Regulation Sampling Methods

By pressing a button on a final subcategory matrix (in this case it is a third level matrix), the user jumps to the TransNet services home page for that subtopic. Each services home page is maintained and updated by a host university, government agency, or private company. The nested topic pages allow for flexibility and page evolution. As new topics and are identified or as topics become too large and need to be divided into subtopics, appropriate matrix cells and sub-matrices will simply be added to the list.

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TRANSNET SERVICES

As indicated above, users work their way through the nested topic matrices until they reach their specific topic of interest. The final cell containing the topic of interest is linked to a web page that is maintained by a TransNet cooperative member. Each topic-related web page organizes links to nine standard user service pages in matrix. Participating topic hosts are required to implement this standardized format for each of the topics they host. A draft of the standardized format has been developed by the faculty and graduate students in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech. The nine basic TransNet services offered for any transportation topic include:

Literature Research Modeling
Education Contacts Forum
Multimedia Internet
Links
News

Figure 1 presents an example of the topic-specific page for transportation emissions modeling and illustrates the standard icon-based matrix format that is to be implemented for all TransNet topics. Each of the nine service icons link to the pages that provide the specific services identified. The style and presentation of the services pages is standardized, ensuring that users will find consistency in the presentation format for all TransNet service pages regardless of the location of the host. The following sections describe the information services provided for each TransNet topic:

The Literature Service Page:

Linked to online abstracts, literature reviews and critical reviews

The Research Service Page:

The Modeling Service Page:

The Education Service Page:

The Contacts Service Page:

The Professional Forum Service Page:

The Multimedia Service Page:

The Internet Links Service Page:

The News Service Page

Each of the services pages is also presented in a standard TransNet icon-based matrix format so that consistency will keep the system user-friendly. For example, the icon-based matrix format for the Internet Links Service Page can be seen in Figure 2. Each of the icons in Figure 2 leads to a table of available services complete with Internet links where appropriate.

Each page would also provides a link to a local host background page describing the university/agency/institution and their role in TransNet. The link is made from the footer of the services page so as not to interfere with format consistency. In addition, a page containing the addresses of participating correspondents will also be recommended. Finally, a mandatory feedback service will be provided by the host so that comments and suggestions can be received and implemented.

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AUTOMATING WEB PAGE MAINTENANCE

Web page construction is fairly simple compared to updating the page contents. Because significant amounts of data will ultimately be displayed on these pages, the burden of updating the web pages can be significant. The common gateway interface (CGI) allows for easy collection and management of data and provides a means of automated Web page maintenance. CGI scripts can manage data and generate web pages and indexes on the fly, effectively augmenting resources with minimal work and time.

In TransNet, Web pages that display information are linked to data entry forms that can be used by a reader to enter new information. For example, a page containing a list of references also provides an HTML form that users can "fill-in" with appropriate information to add a new reference to the existing list. When the user completes a form and the data are transferred back to the host computer, a CGI script takes over and processes the data. The script program (typically written in PERL or Visual BASIC) carries out a set of instructions. In the case of TransNet, the CGI script associated with updating the reference list is programmed to: 1) automatically send a notification from the server to the user that their form-entered input has been received, 2) add the specific data provided by the user to a text database, 3) sort the database, and 4) automatically create a new Web page using the updated data set. This automated process relieves the Webmaster from having to manually add new references to an existing list (which in HTML format is not difficult but is time consuming). If desired, an approval process can be integrated, such that the Webmaster approves changes before the new pages are posted.

Forms and CGI programming are the web's most effective way of collecting and managing massive amounts of user input. Automated data collection and management are an integral part of the TransNet effort, as CGI scripts create a self-maintaining resource. By easing the responsibilities of page updating and expediting the acquisition of new information, universities and other agencies are more likely to participate in the TransNet effort .

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RESEARCH NETWORK ADMINISTRATION

TransNet is operated on a Sun Sparc 5 Workstation by the authors and a team of volunteer graduate students in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech. Currently, TransNet is operated solely by the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The topic matrices are presently in place and the Georgia Tech TransNet team is working with peer reviewers to add additional topics to the nested matrices. Thus, all of the matrices are currently accessible (even though the service pages are not currently populated). The demonstration services site on emissions modeling is now online in draft form (http://transnet.ce.gatech.edu/transnet/demo) and the interactive scripts are being tested and finalized.

The goal of the organizers is to fully develop the Transportation Research Internet Consortium, with members consisting of interested research universities and other organizations. The large number of potential topics that arise from the nested matrices provide significant opportunity for the participation of private enterprise and government agencies, as well as the academic community as a whole. A guidance committee is currently being formed with participants from various universities that are helping to complete the third and fourth level topic matrices that will complete the comprehensive TransNet topic list. This guidance committee will also help to organize the TransNet effort across universities and to develop criteria for selecting the institutions that will provide service pages for particular topics of interest.

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CONCLUSIONS

The World Wide Web has increased public accessibility to a wide variety of transportation resources (e.g. real-time traffic reports, case studies, federal transportation projects, etc.) and the resource base continues to grow rapidly. TransNet provides a model for the organization and electronic dissemination of transportation knowledge. TransNet can provide a means of interconnecting organizations and institutions involved in transportation research as references, research abstracts, and data are all made available electronically. The nested matrix format across the subcategories provides the opportunity for hundreds of universities and other organizations to participate in the TransNet system by providing a services page for the topic of their choice. Thus, the responsibility for collecting and maintaining topic-specific knowledge is shared and dispersed among hundreds of participating organizations. Plus, the addition of CGI scripts to the TransNet efforts yields self-maintaining web pages that significantly reduce the burden of operating a Web page.

As TransNet evolves, and as more participant begin to host topic-specific service pages, a wealth of transportation research data and information will become readily accessible electronically to all interested parties. The success or failure of the TransNet effort depends upon the level of voluntary participation by interested institutions. Universities and individuals interested in participating in the TransNet project should contact the authors for more information on the project.

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REFERENCES

Guensler, Randall and David Bernstein; Transportation Resources on the Internet; ITE Journal; Institute of Transportation Engineers; April 1996.

Levine, John R. and Carol Baroudi; Internet for Dummies; IDG Books, WorldWide Inc.; Foster City, CA; 1994

Lemay, Laura; Teach Yourself Web Publishing HTML 3.0 in a Week; Sams.net Publishing; Indianapolis IN; 1996

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Author Contact

Randall Guensler
School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA 30332-0355
404/894-0405
404/894-1742 (Fax)
E-mail: randy.guensler@ce.gatech.edu

John D. Leonard II
School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA 30332-0355
404/894-2360
404/894-1742 (Fax)
E-mail: john.leonard@ce.gatech.edu

Johnny Dunning, Jr.
c/o Randy Guensler
School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA 30332-0355


Author Biographies

Randall Guensler, biography not available at time of publication.

John Leonard is an Associate Professor with the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech. He received his Ph.D. in Engineering from the University of California, Irvine in 1991. His research interests include traffic operations, traffic flow theory, and intelligent transportation systems. He manages WWW sites for several organizations including the Georgia Transportation Institute and ITS Georgia.

Johnny Dunning, Jr., biography not available at time of publication.

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