By Gordon Dickson
LEIPZIG, Germany - Laura Schewel's idea of "Shop 'Till We Drop" has little to do with her own personal desire to go out and buy shoes or groceries.
Instead, the 29-year-old University of California at Berkeley graduate student is poring over mountains of data showing how much of motorists' time is spent driving to retail stores - and how much of the space on highways and streets is used up by trucks getting goods to the shelves.
On Thursday, Schewel was named winner of the 2013 Young Researcher of the Year Award at the International Transport Summit in Leipzig, Germany.
"Going shopping is a different behavior than going to work, and I think it's important to understand them together," she said.
Schewel's paper is titled "Shop 'Till We Drop: A History and Policy Analysis of Retail Goods Movement."
Her work involved reorganizing two sets of data from separate sources, and determining how much traffic on a typical day in the United States is caused by retail activity.
Schewel got the idea a couple of years ago after stumbling across a federal report showing that motorists reported more than 20 percent of their trips were for shopping - and the figure was nearly 30 percent, including dining.
To her, it seemed that more data should be collected on the topic, and that federal decision-makers ought to be taking those trips into account when deciding where to allocate resources.
In addition to traffic caused by the shoppers themselves, shipments of retail freight are completely different than other types of bulk freight shipments, she said. Yet the focus of freight data collection in the U.S. has been the longer distance shipments, especially those in which the goods are switched from one mode to another (i.e. train to truck), rather than the shorter and simpler retail freight shipments.
Schewel, who is pursing a doctorate degree at the Energy and Resources Group at UC-Berkeley, ultimately hopes her research leads to a reduction in greenhouse gases.
While working on her Ph.d, she has started a business called Street Light Data., which aims to use her data to help retailers and shippers figure out the best places to locate their businesses. The idea is to locate retail stores in areas where people don't have to drive so far to get to them, and to help shippers figure out how to move their goods with less impact on air quality and congestion.
Gordon Dickson, 817 390 7796
Photo: Laura Schewel chats Thursday with Robert Letteney, U.S. Transportation Department deputy assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs, during the International Transport Forum.