KU engineering team advances to national Traffic Bowl Competition

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LAWRENCE — There’s no question about it. The University of Kansas School of Engineering is home to the most knowledgeable team of traffic trivia buffs in the Midwest.

The Jayhawk team recently dominated the competition at the 2011 Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Midwestern District Collegiate Traffic Bowl. That performance earned them a $1,000 prize, plus another $2,000 in travel expenses to the ITE national conference in St. Louis, where an Aug. 16 showdown looms with the winners of the other eight district Traffic Bowl competitions.

Questions for the jeopardy-style trivia competition are based on the contents of three professional traffic manuals, which cover everything from street signs and pavement markings to road construction standards and highway capacity considerations. A committee selects the questions of broad interest (which don’t require calculations) from the suggestions of ITE members.

Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering Assistant Professor Steven Schrock, who serves as the faculty adviser for KU’s Traffic Bowl team, said students cover much of the material in the manuals in graduate courses, but plenty of additional studying is required, and the questions typically offer one or two curveballs.

“There were a few tricky ones,” Schrock said. “In a category dealing with coloring, they asked us about purple, a color you don’t normally see. It has a specific meaning, and it only applies to toll facilities. You can have purple and white pavement markings on the approach to a toll plaza. But around here, you don’t see that, so you wouldn’t know what purple means unless you’ve lived someplace where it is or you’ve studied the manuals.”

Five civil, environmental and architectural engineering students are on the KU Traffic Bowl team, with three players and two alternates. The group took first place in convincing fashion in June at the ITE Midwest District Conference in Dubuque, Iowa.

“There was no final question,” said Cheryl Bornheimer, Traffic Bowl team captain and graduate student in civil engineering with an emphasis on transportation. “We had something like 3,500 points. One team was in the negative, and the other had zero because they’d just had a double jeopardy question and bet everything and lost. They didn’t ask a final question because there was no way we could’ve been beaten.”

In addition to the $3,000 earned at regionals, the Jayhawk team brought home a piece of valuable hardware to help them prepare for nationals. They were allowed to bring the buzzer system back to campus to practice on until the trip to St. Louis. It consists of a button similar to what is used for a pedestrian crossing – and it’s attached to a traffic signal – which lights up when pressed to signify a team is buzzing in to answer. With the equipment on hand, the team is now busy brushing up on the traffic manuals and practicing potential questions.

“It’s fun to learn about this and some of it’s helpful,” Bornheimer said. “In the real world, you can just pick up the book and just look up the answer, but it’s good to be familiar with book so you know where to go and don’t waste time searching.”

According to its website, the Institute of Traffic Engineers is an international educational and scientific association of transportation professionals responsible for meeting mobility and safety needs. Students are also welcome to join. The Traffic Bowl was created in 2009 to encourage more students to attend ITE regional conferences. KU won its district that year, but there was no national competition that first year.

Team members are:

Cheryl Bornheimer (Lenexa)
Benjamin Alexander Mugg (Shawnee)
Sara Rae Mallory Thompson (Salina)
Huanghui Zeng (Zijin, China)
Xiaoxiao Zhang (Beijing, China)

Thu, 08/11/2011


Cody Howard

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Cody Howard

School of Engineering