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The University of Alabama

UA Engineering Professor Receives Prestigious CUTC Award

Dr. Yingyan Lou, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering

Dr. Yingyan Lou

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Dr. Yingyan Lou, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at The University of Alabama, was awarded the Pikarsky Award for outstanding doctoral dissertation in science and technology by the Council of University Transportation Centers.

The Pikarsky Award is the highest award given by the CUTC. Lou was selected as one of the two recipients for the $2,000 award.

Lou’s dissertation, “A Hierarchical Framework for Congestion Pricing of Transportation Networks,” examines how road pricing methods can reduce traffic congestion.

“Congestion pricing tries to give drivers incentives to use roads that are not so congested by charging them some user fees if they want to take the most popular routes in the area,” said Lou. “My dissertation deals with where, how and what amount to charge.”

There are two methods of pricing that can be used to relieve crowded roads: an area toll or tolls for critical facilities. With each of these two methods, understanding how drivers respond is the key to the success of congestion pricing.

Concerning the area-wide toll, Lou has found that people only switch routes when there is a much faster or cheaper alternative. This is called bounded rational behavior, and Lou’s dissertation proactively addresses such behavior in determining where and how much to charge in a general area. She also found that it is important for area-wide tolls to be at a fairly fixed rate so that people can make informed decisions about their route.

One common form for tolls on critical facilities is high-occupancy toll lanes. These special freeway lanes benefit carpoolers by allowing them to drive in less crowded lanes without paying a toll. Those who drive alone and want to use the lane have to pay. The high-occupancy toll lanes allow drivers to decide on the spot if they want to use the lane without having to change course. Because a decision can be made so quickly, Lou believes the toll can change based on traffic and lane demand. If a lot of people want to use the lane, the toll will increase to prevent congestion.

“The second part of the dissertation proposes a way to find just the right price by learning how much travelers are willing to pay in a real-time manner,” said Lou.

Before coming to UA, Lou received her bachelor’s degrees in economics and mechanics and engineering science from Beijing University in China. She received her master’s and doctoral degrees in civil engineering from the University of Florida.

The Council of University Transportation Centers was established in 1979 by the major transportation research centers and institutes in the United States. CUTC provides a forum for the universities and centers to interact collectively with government and industry.

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s fully accredited College of Engineering has more than 2,700 students and more than 100 faculty. In the last eight years, students in the College have been named USA TodayAll-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater scholars, Hollings scholars and Portz scholars.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.