Improve Highway Traffic with New Technology
Wednesday, March 25, 2009 | Comments


Photo courtesy University of California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways

By Lindsay A. Gross, Managing Editor

The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) recently announced a $6.4 million partnership with the U.S. Interstate (I-95) Corridor Coalition — an alliance of transportation agencies, toll authorities and related organizations, including public safety. The partnership also includes the University of Maryland and vendors Inrix, PBS&J, Televent and iCone and will help travelers get information about traffic backups, construction information and other delays along the I-95 Corridor from New Jersey to North Carolina. The contract is part of the DOT’s new Safe and Efficient Travel through Innovation and Partnerships for the 21st Century (SafeTrip-21) initiative, a two-year field test initiative that will conclude in January 2010.

In 2006, nearly 2.6 million people were injured on U.S. roadways, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The SafeTrip-21 initiative deploys vehicle infrastructure integration (VII) concepts — such as smart cell phones, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the Internet — to reduce motor vehicle crashes, deaths, injuries and traffic congestion, according to Paul R. Brubaker, administrator of RITA.

The program will help the I-95 Corridor Coalition continue testing vehicle probes to provide travel time information along the East Coast. “The goals are to help participating drivers to make more informed travel decisions and for transportation agencies to better monitor travel and advise motorists to achieve safer and more efficient operations,” Brubaker said. Real-time travel time and alternative route planning will be made available to travelers in several ways:

• Via a Web site used by long-distance travelers such as commercial freight carriers and intercity bus companies as well as vehicle drivers;

• At natural gathering points such as Virginia DOT welcome centers and the Tyson’s Corner shopping mall in northern Virginia; and

• At Baltimore Washington International (BWI) airport, where existing airport traveler information on the Web site will be enhanced to include real-time travel times derived from vehicle probe data and the capability to share information over mobile devices.

“After this information has been verified, commuters in selected areas of the I-95 Corridor will have the potential through a variety of information resources to make more informed travel decisions,” said George Schoener, executive director of the I-95 Corridor Coalition. “For example, the North Carolina DOT will be able to better monitor travel through work zone areas so it can advise approaching motorists of queues and speed limits to achieve safer and more efficient operation. We look forward to working with the department to test and evaluate the public benefit of innovative travel information services.”

The I-95 Corridor Coalition completed a comprehensive validation of vehicle probe data, finding that the quality of Inrix traffic information “provides an accurate overall picture of traffic conditions for limited-access roadways within the corridor.” The study, conducted by the University of Maryland, analyzed traffic on 111 miles of highways across Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia. Using Bluetooth reader technology, the study compared 19,000 ground-truth vehicle speeds for more than 1,500 hours on 54 road segments against real-time speed information. “This validation work is an important first step in the analysis of the Inrix data, and we are pleased that the results indicate the speed and travel time data meet our requirements for accuracy,” Schoener said. “Our member agencies are already making excellent use of these data in the operations and management of their traffic systems.”

Researchers found that the Inrix travel time and speed data across the system and by individual states generally satisfied the accuracy specifications of the I-95 Coalition vehicle probe project contract. Further review established that in more than 85 percent of the ground-truth comparisons, Inrix traffic data was within 5 mph of the ground truth speeds. “This result confirms that the Inrix GPS data provides an accurate overall picture of traffic conditions for limited-access roadways within the Corridor,” the study stated.

The California Project

DOT launched the first SafeTrip-21 partnership, the SafeTrip-21 Connected Traveler test bed, in the San Francisco Bay area in June 2008. The $12.4 million public/private collaboration includes the Metropolitan Transportation Commission; University of California – Berkeley’s Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH) and the California Center for Innovative Transportation (CCIT); Nokia; Navteq; Parking Carma; Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority; San Diego Association of Governments; San Mateo County Transit (SAMTRANS)/Caltrain; and Nissan. According to Brubaker, the test bed currently comprises the following three test elements and others, including eco-driving and high-occupancy/toll (HOT) lanes, are being explored.

Mobile Millennium: A test involving up to 10,000 anonymous GPS cell phones as traffic probes by which traffic congestion and incidents can be monitored in areas lacking roadway traffic detection instrumentation. Personalized traffic information will be available to travelers who allow their phones to share data on travel speeds, providing them with up-to-the-minute information on traffic conditions — a ten-fold improvement over most traffic information currently available to travelers, Brubaker said. Information on regional traffic will also be made available to all travelers via 5-1-1 and Internet traffic information services in the Bay Area, as well as traffic management and public-safety agencies that want to have it.

Networked Traveler: A multidimensional test involving up to 1,000 users of mobile devices to receive travel-related information that can improve safety, efficiency and convenience of trips by car or public transit. Concepts include location-based information to increase driver situational awareness of traffic conditions and roadway hazards and a transit trip advisor application to provide detailed information about a rider’s time to destination, time to transfer point and rider transfer alerts.

Smart Parking: A test that will provide travelers with information on highway and transit travel times between San Francisco and San Jose, along with up-to-the-minute information on parking availability and cost to help determine whether it makes sense to drive or take transit. Information will be available to travelers via the Internet at either stationary kiosks or mobile devices.

Future field test sites under consideration include San Diego and South Carolina along the I-95 Corridor, Brubaker said.

I-95 Corridor Facts

1,917 miles of I-95

40,000 national highway system miles

110 million people in region

More than 72,000 average daily traffic; maximum daily traffic more than 300,000


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