What appears to be the front half of a small sedan sits in front of a small movie screen in an otherwise empty room on the campus of Texas Southern University. Turn the key in the ignition, and the car actually starts running.
"So I'm driving along and I'm seeing the road signs on the side telling me where things are and there's traffic that I'm actually having to weave around . . . it's a little crazy out on the Houston freeways it seems. But this even gives you the exit signs just that would be standard TXDOT signs that we're all used to seeing."
The car is actually a simulator. It's connected to a computer and software system. Dr. Fengxiang Qiao is assistant professor of transportation studies at TSU. He's using the simulator to guage how road signs and symbols help guide people to traffic generators. Traffic generators are those places where large numbers of people converge, such as stadiums and entertainment venues.
"Those attractions that will attract the people from not only this city, maybe from other cities, where we have a big event such as the Rodeo Houston or basketball or when there are some similar events in the Toyota Center or Reliant Energy. So under these cases people will get lost when they try to find their destination because they are not familiar with the road systems nearby."
Volunteers are asked to drive the simulator and then report whether the signs they saw on the screen were helpful in directing them to their destination. Cassie Lu is the research assistant on this project. She designed the software program that simulates various road signs and scenarios. She says the program tests the signs that are already in place on the roads, as well as other types of signs to see what works best.
"After the drivers drive the whole round, we will record the driver's behavior and whether they have successfully or correctly entered an exit, entered a lane that's according to the signs. And we will do surveying, some kind of survey or test to see how do they feel about a sign and whether there's something that we can implement."
Right now, there's no uniform set of signage for traffic generators. TXDOT awarded TSU a $200,000 grant and is asking the university to come up with recommendations for a standard signage system. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.