(Originally published in Mashable Tech, November 16, 2011)
To view original article, click here.
by Lauren Drell
There are one billion cars on the road, and that number could reach 2.5 billion by 2020. That auto congestion not only wreaks havoc on the environment, but also frustrates the commuters sitting in traffic on their way to work.
The IBM Commuter Pain Index compiled traffic angst data by city and found that 87% of people had been stuck in traffic in the past three years, and 31% said the traffic was so bad that they turned around and went home. Clearly, traffic is a major issue when it comes to metropolitan living and urban mobility, but help is on the way.
We've already shown you how apps and tools can make parking easier, but what about the actual act of driving? Perhaps unbeknownst to you, there's a lot of tech in your city's streets and traffic lights that make things run more smoothly. And so despite a growing population and a growing number of cars on the road, gas-guzzling congestion and dirty emissions just might cede, thanks to technology that's improving traffic flow management. Read on for four examples of tech innovation all over the world, from the U.S. to Australia to Brazil.
1. New York, New York
On the crowded streets of Manhattan, you can count on two things: honking and gridlock. A new $1.6 million program, Midtown in Motion, is seeking to change that with field sensors, RFID readers (to scan E-Zpasses) and cameras at 23 intersections that will transmit real-time traffic data to a control center in Queens, where it will be analyzed.
Improving Manhattan traffic isn't new - back in 2001, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority funded KLD Associates to develop software algorithms for adaptive traffic signals in the city. KLD ended up developing the Adaptive Control Decision Support System (ACDSS) - a system that optimizes traffic signal patterns in response to changing traffic volumes, thus improving traffic flow - which is being deployed as part of Midtown in Motion. The program is a joint project between KLD, traffic management company Transcore and the New York Department of Transportation; data is being collected for six months to monitor the effectiveness of the new system. Traffic congestion in New York City currently costs the city about $13 billion in revenue, and Midtown in Motion is expected to alleviate some of that burden.
2. Sydney, Australia
Australia is a veritable gold mine of traffic innovation. It's the birthplace of SCATS - the Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System - which was developed by computer programmers and traffic engineers in the 1970s. SCATS uses camera or induction loops in the pavement to assess the number of vehicles at the intersection, adapting the timing of traffic lights through a central data center. SCATS is in use in Sydney, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tehran, Kuala Lumpur, Mexico City, Dublin and more, totaling 34,500 traffic signals around the world. A newer SCATS feature, PTIPS, has been implemented in Sydney to give signal priority to late buses in order to keep traffic moving and commuters on time.
A rep from New South Wales' Roads and Maritime Services division says a major study showed the advantage of using SCATS over a non-adaptive system, including:
And SCATS is evolving. "Continued development of SCATS is necessary to ensure it continues to provide for the increasing demands on traffic management, and also to utilize advances in traffic technologies to achieve maximum traffic management efficiency," says Craig Moran, general manager of traffic management at SCATS, in a statement.
Some of the developments Moran refers to include:
3. Curitiba, Brazil
An urban planning adage is that when the population hits one million, it's time to install a subway system. But when the city of Curitiba, Brazil, hit that point in the 1970s, it couldn't afford a subway system's $300 million price tag. Instead, it developed a bus system - Rapid Bus Transit (RBT) - that has become a paragon of smart, urban rapid transit. Curitiba's bus system resembles a subway, with exclusive transit lanes, pre-paid ticket counters and sensors that communicate with smart traffic lights, allowing buses to transport commuters quickly and efficiently.
Today, 2.3 million residents use the bus to commute to work, and the system has recently been overhauled with a new fleet of 544 92-foot-long buses that are powered by biofuels from soybeans and able to transport 250 passengers at a time. The system has helped Curitiba maintain the lowest levels of air pollution in all of Brazil.
The BRT system has been adopted in 83 cities worldwide, including Guangzhou, one of China's fastest-growing cities, and it will soon be implemented in parts of Chicago.
4. Farmington Hills, Michigan
Intellistreets - a wireless network of dimmable, programmable and "smart" LED streetlighting that offers energy conservation, safety and traffic direction - has recently been installed in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
The system is the brainchild of Ron Harwood, a lighting expert who worked on Disney's IllumiNations light show. Each pole has its own microprocessor so that they can operate independently and can route around a damaged unit. The poles also have cameras and sensors to monitor traffic flow, which tells the lights if they should dim or brighten. Street names are displayed in LED lights, and banners on the side (where the "stop" sign is in the above photo) can be programmed to show anything, such as an Amber Alert, traffic warnings, directions for an event or even an advertisement. It can all be programmed in real-time or done ahead of time, and for events, this signage saves the cost of producing and distributing physical signage. Intellistreets's digital signage can display any language and can play audio from a concealed speaker, so it can help to inform and direct large crowds.
While Intellistreets can help with traffic flow, it's primary focus is energy conservation: "pulse width modulation" technology makes the lighting more energy efficient. Dimming the lights results in a direct energy savings - dim 25%, see 25% in energy savings and 25% less heat. (Dimming can be programmed based on time of day, foot traffic and vehicular traffic.) Payoff with these LED lights isn't immediate, but their longer life means they could be a better investment than a typical streetlight. Installing Intellistreets along one mile of streets with four lights on each side (so eight per block) would cost somewhere around $600,000 or $700,000, with all the bells and whistles included. "With Intellistreets, if you extrapolated the cost of street lighting over 25 years, our payback is 50% better than any other system on market," says Harwood. "We've taken the long view."
Intellistreets is installed in Michigan, has a presence in Chicago and Philadelphia and is looking to install in New Orleans' French Quarter.