LAWRENCE — A team from the University of Kansas School of Engineering has earned a spot among the top minds in traffic engineering who will compete next month for the Collegiate Traffic Bowl Grand Championship. Nine teams will gather from Aug. 10-13 in Seattle for the event, sponsored by Institute of Traffic Engineers.
Civil engineering graduate students, Shivraj Patil, Vishal Sarikonda Reddy and Mazharali Udaipurwala, all of India, and undergraduate student Allison Bruner, Topeka, qualified for nationals by winning the Midwestern district traffic bowl earlier this summer.
“Our win at regionals was a true team effort,” said Patil, who serves team captain. “Each person knew the material and made substantial contributions. We’ll be well-prepared for nationals, and we expect big things are still ahead for us.”
Teams in the Traffic Bowl compete in a "Jeopardy"-style quiz in which they are given a traffic or transportation-related fact and must answer in the form of a question. See sample questions here.
The Federal Highway Administration Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices is the source material for the competition as well as one category focused on the ITE. Traffic signals serve as the buzzers, which teams can activate at the conclusion of the question. The first team to buzz in gets 5 seconds to discuss their response before answering.
“The competition is designed to cover the basics, but it’s a big manual. They aren’t extremely difficult, but it can still be tricky,” Patil said. “For example, we had one question about how many faces a traffic signal can have. The answer is five, but you still have to think about it for a second, and in the heat of the competition, it’s easy to get tripped up if you’re not careful.”
A team from Toronto is among the finalists slated to compete at nationals, so in addition to combing through the U.S. version of the MUTCD again to ensure they’re properly prepared, the KU team also must study Canadian traffic guidelines.
“The team has divided up all the manuals to review, and we get together once a week to go over everything,” Patil said. “We stand a good chance of doing well. We know the answers, so buzzing in at the right time is a big part of the equation, and we did well with that at regionals.”
KU previously won the regional competition in 2009 and 2011, advancing to nationals three years ago. The Traffic Bowl grand champion claims a $2,000 prize.
The Western and Midwestern regional competitions were combined this year, with each group sending a winner to nationals. Through a chance encounter at a conference mixer the night before the Traffic Bowl, KU wound up with a strong showing in a separate event, known as the Kell Competition, a tradition in the Western district.
According to the ITE website, the Kell Competition is intended to give student members at the annual meeting an opportunity to apply transportation and traffic engineering classroom knowledge to a specific “real-world” problem.
This year’s event focused on constructing the seating layout of a bus, based on ADA compliance, aisle space and other requirements. Teams had five minutes to physically lay out their design with chairs inside a taped outline that served as the bus. The teams were a mixture of students from all schools attending, and KU had a student on each of the top three finishers.
“We had no idea (this competition) was happening,” Patil said. “We just went to a mixer for all the teams and we were invited to enter. It was a great way to get to know some of the other teams, and each of us wound up with a little prize money, too.”