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COVID-19 : Polytechnique professors in transportation and sustainable mobility prepare for deconfinement

May 1, 2020 - Source : NEWS

As the Government of Québec unveils its deconfinement plan, professors specializing in transportation and sustainable mobility in Polytechnique’s Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering, all of them associated with the Mobilité Chair, are taking the opportunity to start a series of projects. Some are also proposing transformations to promote active transport, all of which would respect the physical distancing rules.

(Photo : Depositphotos)

(Photo: Depositphotos)

Measuring impact on day-to-day travel

The team of Professor Catherine Morency, who holds the Mobilité Chair, launched a major investigation on April 28, in the form of a survey to measure the impact of the confinement experience on Quebecers’ lifestyle and travel habits.

“One of the things we want to know is how people think their habits will have changed once the confinement is over,” explains Professor Morency. Among other things, she expects that the increased use of e-commerce and teleworking will transform people’s lifestyles.

“We can also see that some people are now taking walks for enjoyment, and may have changed their perception of walking and active ways of getting around in general, but none of that has been measured yet,” she adds.

Professor Morency is also encouraging decision-makers to re-examine the planning of citizens’ modes of travel within major urban centres, particularly those involving public transit in these times of physical distancing.

“Passenger flows will need to be managed to reduce peak periods and distribute demand. There is no choice. And this will make it possible to better benefit from our collective infrastructures and to optimize their use.”


Catherine Morency, professeure titulaire et titulaire de la Chaire Mobilité au Département des génies civil, géologique et des mines. (Photo : Caroline Perron photographies)

Catherine Morency, full professor and holder of the Mobilité Chair in the Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering. (Photo: Caroline Perron photographie)


Considering psychology in travel

For his part, Associate Professor Owen Waygood is interested in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on social interactions and people’s well-being. He is working with his colleague Geneviève Boisjoly and other Montréal researchers to develop a survey on this subject.

“Humans are social animals who need direct interaction for their well-being, but with confinement, we’ve all changed the way we interact with our friends, colleagues and neighbours,” he says.

Among other things, the researcher wants to know if the use of virtual communications tools is here for the long term and if it is meeting people’s needs. He also wants to measure the impact of the lack of direct social interaction on individuals’ well-being.

Professor Waygood is also interested in the factors that influence people’s movement during this pandemic. “We’re being asked to stay home, but we also need to get out to be physically active,” he notes. “For some, being around people brings happiness, but for others it can be very stressful.”


Owen Waygood, professeur agrégé au Département des génies civil, géologique et des mines.

Owen Waygood, associate professor in the Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering.


Measuring the impact of land-use planning on well-being

Assistant Professor Geneviève Boisjoly intends to use the data from the survey conducted in collaboration with Owen Waygood to focus more specifically on the impact of land-use planning on the mental and physical health of inhabitants, taking into account socio-economic factors.

“A person who lives in a cramped apartment near the highway will likely experience the crisis differently than someone who lives in a neighbourhood with trees and green spaces and has a balcony or backyard, for example,” she says. “We also think that the presence of parks and quality pedestrian and cycling infrastructure close to home will have a positive influence on physical and mental health.”

The researcher’s goal is to help municipalities develop their territory with social equity in mind. Access to services within a 1.5-kilometre radius should therefore also be included in the long list of factors likely to contribute to the well-being of individuals.

“During the pandemic, it is extremely important to have local services when you don’t have a car to avoid having to use public transportation,” Professor Boisjoly adds.


Geneviève Boisjoly, professeure adjointe au Département des génies civil, géologique et des mines.

Geneviève Boisjoly, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering.


Creating networks for pedestrians and cyclists

For his part, full professor Nicolas Saunier hopes that the arrival of summer will provide an opportunity to test a series of transformations to encourage walking and cycling in the city. Together with Professor Waygood, he co-signed an open letter on April 15 to this effect.

“With the decrease in automobile traffic, there is a golden opportunity to promote active transportation,” Professor Saunier states. “Now it remains to be seen how we can modify and expand facilities to respect the two-metre distance and meet the demand.”

According to Professor Saunier, decision-makers will first and foremost have to create networks to prevent pedestrians or cyclists from congregating at particular points. Among other possibilities, the researcher proposes closing the roads in Mount Royal Park to cars in order to provide maximum space for walkers and cyclists. “A similar solution has been adopted in Stanley Park in Vancouver,” he says.


Nicolas Saunier, professeur titulaire au Département des génies civil, géologique et des mines. (Photo : Caroline Perron photographies)

Nicolas Saunier, full professor in the Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering. (Photo: Caroline Perron photographies)


Modelling the spread of SARS-CoV-2

Assistant Professor Francesco Ciari, meanwhile, is contemplating creating a tool to simulate how the virus will spread again in the coming months and years until a vaccine is developed.

The researcher normally studies mobility by tracking each individual to create a global picture of transits at a given location. By using the same approach to estimate the number of interactions between individuals, and then integrating data on the spread of the virus itself, he plans to develop a tool to assist decision-makers in their efforts to restore normalcy.

“A tool like this would enable us to measure the impact of different deconfinement scenarios on the spread of the virus,” says Professor Ciari. “Every decision counts, whether it’s the reopening of elementary schools or that of high schools, CÉGEPs or universities, for example.”

Colleagues of Professor Ciari in Berlin have already begun work of this kind, he notes.


Francesco Ciari, professeur adjoint au Département des génies civil, géologique et des mines.

Francesco Ciari, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering.


Find out more

Professor Catherine Morency’s expertise
Professor Owen Waygood’s expertise
Professor Geneviève Boisjoly’s expertise
Professor Nicolas Saunier’s expertise
Professor Francesco Ciari’s expertise
Website of the Mobilité Chair (In French)
Website of the Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering (In French)

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