Better buses

Architecture students design
better, safer school buses

The big yellow buses that annually carry an estimated 23.6 million students to and from school are way overdue for a makeover, according to a group of Texas A&M students who undertook a project in February 2004 aimed at developing a ďsafer, sustainable and user-friendlyĒ alternative to the ubiquitous gas-guzzling behemoths.

The students, from A&Mís architecture and mechanical engineering departments unveiled their designs for the next generation of school at a Feb. 18, 2004 public presentation at the Langford Architecture Center on the Texas A&M University campus.

The student project, co-directed by George J. Mann, the Ronald L. Skaggs Endowed Professor of Health Facilities Design, and mechanical engineering professors Thomas R. Lalk and William C. Schneider, received valuable assistance from a host of transportation services professionals from the Bryan/College Station area, as well as from educators and scientists from Texas A&Mís Texas Transportation Institute, The Texas Engineering Experiment Station, the Texas Engineering Extension Service and the College of Education and Human Development.

In researching the project, the students reviewed available literature on school bus design and rode on buses currently used by the Bryan Independent School District, as well as those that shuttle Aggies around campus for Texas A&M Transportation Services. At the Feb. 9 project launch, the students had an opportunity to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of traditional yellow school buses from school bus drivers and the public transportation officials responsible for the daily operation of local bus fleets.

In the first phase of the project, which culminated at the February unveiling, 28 architecture students, aided by a team of 55 student advisors from the Mechanical Engineering Department, translated their school bus research into design prototypes for the next generation school bus.

Among their ideas, Mann said, was making the vehicles more environmentally friendly through the use of alternative or hybrid fuel sources, improving vehicle visibility with color, graphics and lights; enhancing the busí educational appeal by providing study space; providing accommodations for an additional supervisor so the driver could concentrate on driving; and increasing the use of padding to diminish impact-related injuries.

In the second phase of the project, the mechanical engineering students refined the architecture studentsí visions in more technical detail and developed ideas for a safer passenger environment.

Other prominent project advisors include Joseph J. McGraw and Wes Harper, professors emeritus from the College of Architecture; G. Sadler Bridges, special assistant to the director of the Texas Transportation Institute; Scott Hurst, project manager with Texas Engineering Extension Service's Engineering Utilities and Public Works Training Institute; and Mike Parish, with the Transportation Department of the Bryan Independent School District.

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