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Traffic Operations

The Evolution of Data-Driven Traffic Operations

This is part 1 of 4 in our blog series on Traffic Insights. Stay tuned for more!

How do you operate a modern traffic system? It requires more than the ability to manage the asphalt, concrete, steel, and electronics that make up road infrastructure. It’s also about understanding the data being produced by this infrastructure.

As a provider of intelligent traffic signal management solutions, Miovision knows first-hand how traffic teams can leverage the power of traffic data to improve congestion, safety, and operating efficiency.

In this blog series, we’ll describe the current state of city-deployed traffic operations. We’ll also forecast on a future state using traffic insights, made possible by Miovision’s Spectrum solution.

Traffic Operations

A transformational change is now happening in public sector traffic agencies. Cities are awakening to the power of traffic data as a foundational element of how they plan, build, and operate their road networks. Enabling technologies – remote connectivity, vehicle detection, and software tools – are at the heart of this change. But another key driver is public pressure—taxpayers demand accountability in how public dollars are spent.

Traffic teams are already realizing significant benefits from being more data-driven in their operations and decision-making. Teams are now empowered by data to respond more quickly to public safety issues, optimize existing infrastructure to reduce congestion, and more effectively deploy limited budget dollars. However, this transformation is by no means complete, as agencies continue to face challenges in making the shift.

What are the Obstacles to Data-Driven Traffic Operations?

Despite the recognized benefits of agencies moving to a more data-driven framework, three main obstacles are hindering the transition.

  1. Supporting Infrastructure: Historically, two pieces of supporting infrastructure are needed to generate signal performance measures: a controller capable of producing high-resolution data and remote connectivity. Traffic controllers yielding hi-res data are limited to only the latest generation of devices, and remote connectivity is lacking in 55% of North America’s traffic cabinets. The lack of this pre-requisite technology and connectivity has limited the rollout of data-driven practices in many agencies.
  2. Data Analysis Tools: Generating actionable insights from large volumes of traffic data requires analytical software tools. The ATMS or central software systems in place in most agencies today aren’t equipped to perform sophisticated analysis of traffic data. The software systems that do support advanced data analysis are typically limited to modeling signal performance data, without the ability to analyze network-level trends, arterial performance, or maintenance metrics.
  3. Technical Expertise: Leveraging data-driven tools for traffic operations has historically been complex, and required expertise in two areas: the technical IT skills to maintain sophisticated server systems for data processing, and the engineering skills to interpret and understand the resulting data metrics. Many small and medium sized traffic agencies have continued to struggle to deploy traffic data analysis systems due to a lack of expertise in these areas.

Traffic Operations

What Are the Benefits of Enhanced Traffic Operations?

Spectrum’s Traffic Insights tools are helping agencies solve these obstacles by utilizing performance measures and data analysis to enhance traffic operations. Agencies that can effectively collect, understand, and utilize data, have shown the ability to enhance traffic operations in four main ways.

  1. Network Monitoring: Agencies are able to leverage real-time data to understand when congestion is occurring, and if these events are normal or indicate an issue in the traffic network. This is helping operations teams develop traffic plans using accurate and timely traffic data, as opposed to approximate models based on sporadic and potentially out-dated engineering studies.
  2. Optimizing Intersection Performance: Agencies are able to leverage signal performance metrics that quantify and analyze intersection flow from a number of perspectives. These tools are helping engineers to not only identify coordination or configuration issues but also significantly reduce the time that it takes to diagnose and solve traffic issues.
  3. Measuring Impact and ROI: Assessing the impact of a change to road design, a timing plan or a traffic policy has historically been challenging, time-consuming, and expensive. Data-driven traffic agencies are able to leverage the power of “before/after” analysis immediately after making a change so that the true impact and return-on-investment of an initiative can be determined.
  4. Data-Driven Decision Making: Agencies are not only using data to optimize traffic flow; they are using data to optimize strategic decision-making. Capital and operating investment decisions are areas of traffic strategy becoming increasingly justified by data-driven objectives. Agencies can report on their fiduciary responsibility to a council and the public with assurance that tax dollars and resources are being optimally allocated.

Traffic Operations

Ask Yourself the Following Questions

Are you struggling to answer the questions below? If so, your traffic agency is likely a good candidate for increasing the use of data-driven operations.

  • Based on complaints we’ve re-timed and coordinated a major corridor – is it working?
  • I know my signals need to be re-timed, but how can I prove the need with hard data?
  • How can I make a stronger argument for support in my funding applications, backed up by real performance data?
  • Is my signal green-time being optimally allocated?
  • Our staff and budget are decreasing, so how can we maintain our service level with fewer resources?
  • I’m not sure that our maintenance contractor is meeting our agreed on service standards – how can I know for certain?

Part Two of this blog series appears in two weeks. It will cover Miovision Traffic Insights for Signal Performance Metrics. Parts three and four of this series will cover Arterial Performance Metrics and Maintenance and Infrastructure.

How Seattle Transformed a Dangerous Intersection Through Data

There’s an intersection in Seattle located in the Madison Park lakeside neighborhood where a ½ mile hill leads right into a populated business district. There sits Seattle’s busiest Starbucks location and a Wells Fargo Bank. This arterial connection is both the neighborhood’s busiest intersection for pedestrians and a city-designated school crossing location. Due to the rampant speeding and sight-line problems with this location, people walking often have difficulty crossing the street without trepidation.

Busy intersection at East Madison Street and McGilvra Boulevard East in Seattle

It took a serious collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian to force the city to try and fix the problems with the intersection. That’s where Bob Edmiston, his team from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, and volunteers from Tableau saw an opportunity to make difference.

Their success would all depend on the data.

The Long and Winding Road to Funding

The plan for Seattle Neighborhood Greenways was to conceptualize and implement a safer intersection strategy for pedestrians. First, the team secured a $90,000 grant through Madison Park Community Council to enable the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to redesign the intersection.

However, to secure the addition $390,000 necessary to implement the changes, they would need to prove that the redesigned intersection would actually solve a problem. On top of that, there is a competitive pitching process for allocating grants in Seattle divided by district. Edmiston and his team were competing for the top spot against 15 other grant projects from the area. After initially failing to convince the decision makers of the value of the project by using an emotional appeal, a more persuasive approach was desperately needed.

If the team didn’t win the grant right now, their project would be dead.

Answering the Call with Data

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways sensed that they needed quantifiable proof of the improved safety of their solution. To collect the evidence necessary for a persuasive argument, Edmiston built a traffic counter that could record gaps in traffic with millisecond precision and conducted a gap analysis of the intersection. Seattle Neighborhood Greenways volunteer Troy Heerwagen worked with Edmiston to visualize the data using Tableau Public for ease of understanding.

Edmiston made some key observations:

  • During the critical 15-minute period before the morning school bell, there were only two opportunities with gaps long enough to walk across the street.
  • Crossing distance reductions provided by the curb extensions would reduce the crossing time enough to triple the number of safe crossing opportunities for pedestrians during the critical 30 minutes before the morning school bell, without requiring any changes to driver behavior or roadway function.
Intersection Video Data

Bob’s Visualized Data

After presenting the new data and logic to the East District Neighborhood Council, the people responsible for funding decisions were convinced that the project would, in fact, produce the safety outcomes it promised. They reversed their earlier decision to not fund the project and chose to make it their top priority for 2017 funding.

Don’t Underestimate the Data

Edmiston reminds us to not underestimate the data, when he says,

“data matters, counts matter, gap analysis matters. We would have been dead in the water without it. But it’s about being able to show data in a way people can understand and relate to. That’s an equally important part of the problem.”

If it weren’t for the data collected, Seattle’s busiest intersection would still be dangerous for pedestrians. More so, it was the way team presented the data through visualization that made it digestible and accessible to everyone.

Miovision is passionate about enabling other change-minded individuals to use data to justify their road safety solutions.

Want to learn more how we can help you leverage meaningful data? Contact us today.

Top ITS Trends for 2017

Seven ITS Trends We’re Looking Out For in 2017

You can’t be a provider of advanced Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) solutions without being a forecaster. The world of transportation is experiencing major upheaval. From autonomous vehicles to ubiquitous traffic sensors, 2017 is shaping up to be a year of rapid change. Here’s an overview of the top seven ITS trends we expect to see in 2017.

1. States Will Invest in V2V and V2I Infrastructure

Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications is a network where automobiles send messages to each other with information about what they’re doing. Vehicle-To-Infrastructure (V2I) is the same concept, but between cars and infrastructure. States are beginning to invest in infrastructure to support the rise of autonomous vehicles. The Federal Highway Administration released its V2I Guidance in 2016. It included five basic steps for State DOTs and Owners/Operators considering V2I deployments. These steps included updating Regional ITS architecture to better integrate with connected vehicles.

V2I Application

Example of Vehicle-To-Infrastructure Application

Why invest in V2I? When combined with V2V, V2I deployment will help to improve safety and mobility, and reduce environmental impact. These are all important to transportation agencies.

Also, in 2015 Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced legislation that would make vehicle-to-vehicle a mandatory feature of new cars. The US Department of Transportation is planning on providing up to $100 million over the next 5 years, through its Connected Vehicle pilot program, for projects that will deploy V2I technologies in real-world settings.

Connected, autonomous vehicles are coming. States and provinces need to be ready for them.

2. “Standard Production” Autonomous Vehicles Will Hit the Streets

Up until now autonomous vehicles tested on roads were concept cars. Nevada has been licensing autonomous vehicles since 2011, and in 2012 Google received the first license for an autonomous vehicle. All of those cars have been prototypes. Next year, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class will become the first “standard-production” vehicle to receive a testing license in Nevada. Other models required extra sensors or other modifications. Not the E-Class. It’s ready to go. From prototype to standard production. Driverless cars are going mainstream in 2017.

MercedesEClass

The 2017 Mercedes E-Class. Coming to Nevada roads next year.

3. Sensors, Sensors Everywhere

Expect a new wave of technology to enter the market in late 2017 that significantly lowers the cost of deploying traffic sensors. It’s already happening in Chicago. They’ve just launched Array of Things, a groundbreaking urban sensing project. The plan is to install 500 nodes on city streets that can measure air quality, climate, traffic and other urban features. This technology will collect data that will help the municipality understand environmental, traffic or pedestrian trends so it can make better and safer municipal planning decisions.

We expect 2017 to be a big year for sensor deployment as lower-cost technology to track and manage traffic and other city services become available. Everything and anything can, and will be measured in cities.

4. Cities Will Get Smart About ITS Security

Many cities will tackle ITS security. As public works infrastructure begins to rely on sensor integration and data gathering as part of its operations, data security will emerge as a key concern for cities. This issue will move from a theoretical “what if” in 2016, to a practical “must have” for cities in the year ahead.

A thorough data security policy which covers how data is transmitted to and from infrastructure, where data is stored, and who has access to use it will become a critical management questions for traffic agencies. Many cities will rely on guidance from sources like Smart City IoT best-practices

5. The Rise of Smart City Testbeds & Municipal Innovation Zones

Expect a flurry of new initiatives in 2017 related to helping cities explore ITS innovation in a faster and more effective way. While standard procurement models will still exist, we expect more smart city testbeds and municipal innovation zones in the year ahead to spur the adoption of new technologies. 

Jakarta is leading the way in 2017, by allocating two pockets of its city to testbed sensors and apps to improve public services.  The testbed will be used to improve street lights, parking, electricity generation and water treatment.

Luxembourg is trying to position itself as a national testbed for smart city technologies. Luxinnovation, the national agency for innovation and research, recently released a video highlighting its Smart Day initiative.

We’re developing a smart city testbed in our own backyard. Our future headquarters will be located at Catalyst137. Catalyst137 represents a Canadian testbed where local makers can gather to innovate in the Internet-of-Things (IoT) space. It will include testing facilities, commercialization services, and a hackable streetscape.  

6. City Infrastructure as a Service

In the same way that many technology companies have moved to hosted “software-as-a-service” (SaaS) platforms to run their businesses, cities will start embracing “infrastructure-as-a-service” (IaaS) to help run traffic operations. For many cities, this will be driven by the desire to move away from the mindset of needing to own, host, and operate all ITS technology, which can place excessive burden on IT and transportation departments, especially for smaller traffic agencies.

Leveraging IaaS introduces agencies to fully managed and hosted services for everything from traffic signal communications to video storage and data analysis. IaaS has the potential to not only save traffic agencies money, but also empowers their traffic engineers to focus on using data to fix traffic challenges instead of coping with IT challenges of simply acquiring the data.

7. ITS, Coming to a Rural Area Near You

Historically most ITS deployments were focused on large cities with high congestion and complex traffic problems. But if the interest in the 2016 National Rural ITS Conference is any indicator, we’ll see more sophisticated ITS deployments in rural and small towns. 

ITS Trends Rural

Smaller agencies recognize the benefit of data-driven traffic management, and want to generate better efficiencies in their maintenance and traffic operations. A new generation of ITS solutions that are both affordable and accessible to various levels of technical expertise will bring value to cities of any size in 2017.

Other ITS Trends?

Do any other intelligent transportation trends come to mind? Leave a comment below and we’ll expand our list!

EU Megacities – Growth and Road Safety

Last week, we looked at US megacities and their growth and road safety research. This week, we’ll review two European megacities, London and Paris.

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US Megacities – Growth and Road Safety

The world population is growing rapidly, especially in urban areas. According to the United Nations, about 29% of the population lived in urban areas in 1950.

In 2011, that number nearly doubled to 52% and is expected to grow to almost 70% by 2050.

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World’s Worst Traffic Jams

Next time you’re sitting in traffic, think about the 60-mile-long traffic jam in China that lasted for an incredible 10 days last August. Motorists on the Beijing-Zhangjiakou highway slept in their vehicles, while vendors from nearby towns set up impromptu markets and performances to relieve the volcanic levels of road rage.

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The Most Dangerous Roads in the World

Ever wonder where the world’s most terrifying roads are located? Well, thanks to Mark Atkinson for MSN Autos, we now have a better picture of which roads to avoid when travelling the world!

 

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A Road Sign-less Place with Shared Space

Ditch the road signs, road lines, curbs, elevation changes and traffic signals and what remains? A singular space with little to no visual delineation between sidewalk, road and bike lane. At first look, it’s not quite clear which mode of transportation should have the right of way, where the sidewalk ends, or where the road begins. It’s full on anarchy! It’s chaos! It’s brilliant.

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A Brief History of Roundabouts: Once Bitten, Twice Shy

The modern roundabout is a beautiful thing. Traffic flow is improved, they look nice and they are safer than traditional intersections. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Status Report about Roundabouts, they cite research from the University of Maine that found a 39% reduction in crashes, a 76% decrease in injury-producing crashes, and a 90% decrease in collisions involving fatal or incapacitating injuries when studying a sample of 25 intersections turned into roundabouts. Other research finds that while roundabouts are safer than traditional intersections, they also have the potential to reduce traffic delay by up to 75%.

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Cycling in Cologne, Germany

Tony Brijpaul is a guest blogger on the Street Sense blog. He will be sharing some of his experiences while in Cologne, Germany helping to set-up our European headquarters.

The great thing about being in Europe is that their public transit system is awesome, especially in the larger cities.  What is even better is that many cities in Europe have great bike lanes and infrastructure, including lanes where drivers and pedestrians work with cyclists (for the most part) instead of fighting against them for the right of way.  Lanes are clearly marked and people have no hesitation to tell you that you shouldn’t be walking in the bike lane or vice versa.

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