Americans are spending more time than ever stalled in traffic. While the problem continues to get worse, many urban planners are pointing to traffic management technologies as the solution. In a report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, researchers determined that the average American car commuter wastes 54 hours a year stuck on congested roadways. These increased average commute times are more than an annoyance. They’re proven to be detrimental to worker’s health, company success, public safety, and the economy as a whole. As Americans’ time stuck in traffic continues to grow, it’s time that we invest in effective solutions. The following traffic management tools have been shown to decongest roads, increase safety, and reduce rates of costly litigations and life-threatening accidents. Let’s look at a few of these technologies and how they benefit commuters and communities.
Traffic management plays a crucial role in tackling many societal problems. It’s been effective in making driving safer, reducing pollution, increasing walkability, and helping governments update existing infrastructure. Many traffic management tools are things we see every day – like stoplights and right-turn lanes – while others are less conspicuous and more complex.
Since the passaging of the 1916 Federal Aid Road Act and the 1921 Federal Highway Act, American planners and politicians have worked to create safer, more efficient roadways. By the 1930s, America had already become a car-centric society, and growing urban roadway congestion played a key role in the development and approval of the Interstate Highway System. It soon became apparent that standard planning would not be enough to solve the problem, and officials began looking at technologies that would make roadways more efficient. While traffic management solutions are nearly as old as the automobile itself, the history of traffic management technologies as we know them today really kicked off in the 1960s. Highway departments started utilizing ramp meters to limit the number of cars merging onto the interstate at once. Ramp meters, like many subsequent traffic management tools, proved to be effective in some ways while limiting in others. However, this creation catalyzed ambitious and effective roadway technology developments for years to come. Through the 1970s, American drivers saw the addition of permanent ramp meters, electronic signs, traffic speed sensors, and other technologies that affect how we drive – and live – to this day.
Decades of research have shown the value, and the necessity, of traffic management solutions. In the Journal of Advanced Transportation’s report on Advances in Traffic Safety Methodologies and Technologies, researchers identified traffic management solutions as “of practical importance” to decrease the frequency of accidents, improve transportation systems, limit congestion, and reduce air pollution. Further development of these technologies will play a critical role in addressing problems of current and future transportation systems. Looking at current technologies shows us the potential for our future roadways. While car accidents are still fairly common, the overall state of road safety has improved significantly in the past decade. This is largely due to developments in roadway and vehicle safety that were made in response to data collected by traffic management technologies. In fact, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) research on the impact of road safety technologies shows that future developments could reduce fatalities and injuries by 40%.
Traffic management technology can benefit all commuters – from drivers to cyclists to public transit users – by creating roadways that are safer, smarter, and more efficient. These benefits extend beyond the road and have been proven to have positive impacts extending from the economy to the environment. Let’s take a look at some of the major benefits of intelligent traffic management technologies.
The average American commuter is projected by 2025 to spend 62 hours a year stuck in low-flow traffic. That’s more than two and a half days worth of time wasted. However, researchers found that U.S. cities implementing Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) technologies improved traffic flow and saved commuters 175 million hours a year in travel time. The expansion of ITS and other traffic safety technologies has the potential to drastically reduce traffic congestion and commute times nationwide.
Traffic management technologies create more efficient systems that reduce both the number of drivers on the road and the time each individual spends driving or struck in traffic. This is good for commuters and for the earth. The same ITS technologies – ranging from roadside cameras to 511 information systems to cell phone traffic apps – have also been shown to help drastically reduce pollution. Cities that used these technologies saw a 53 million gallon decrease in fossil fuel consumption and a 10 billion pound reduction of C02 emissions annually.
OECD research on infrastructure-based safety systems has tied the technologies to the drastic reductions in the number of fatal car accidents. Traffic technologies also collect data on street use and driving patterns that influence future infrastructure developments. This helps planners create street systems that are safer for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike. Expanding these technologies is crucial to helping reduce the number of bike accidents and pedestrian deaths and for developing street plans that foster diverse modes of transportation.
Utilizing and expanding traffic management technologies can also help cities and states create better economies. Researchers at the London School of Economics found that cities utilizing ITS save more than $4.7 billion a year in lost work and productivity. Longer commute times, currently made worse by congested traffic, are associated with health complications, lower employee satisfaction, and higher rates of worker absenteeism. Traffic management technologies have been shown to reduce roadway congestion and would help alleviate these issues. Traffic management technologies also play a key role in developing walkable cities that benefit from increased property values, higher rates of spending within the community, decreased car costs, lower health-related expenses, and a more talented workforce.
Planners and policymakers are embracing new, advanced traffic management systems to reduce congestion and create safer, more successful communities. These innovative solutions are used alongside traditional methods and give city officials new insights into how to make roadways more efficient and sustainable. Let’s take a look at a few of these technologies shaping our future.
Cities across the United States have started utilizing Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled sensors. These sensors are placed on roads and public transit routes and allow anyone to go online to view levels of traffic congestion, available parking spaces, and locations of busses and streetcars. The Kansas City streetcar system’s IoT sensors have helped revitalize the public transit system as citizens know exactly where the streetcars are and how long before they reach pickup locations.
Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) technology lets automobiles “communicate” with adaptive traffic control signals to help cities gain better insights into traffic patterns and problems. Cities are outfitting government vehicles with V2I devices that relay information about individual cars’ speeds, movements, time spent at lights, and other valuable data. This information is giving officials insight into how long vehicles sit at idle lights so they can improve signal timing to make drive times more sustainable and efficient.
While some states’ drivers deal with frequent roadway congestion, others have to worry about inclement weather. States like Wyoming have started using V2I to relay information about hazardous weather and other obstructions to drivers statewide. The Wyoming Department of Transit’s Connected Vehicle Pilot Program has 75 short-range communication units installed at critical points along their major highways, with sensors equipped in government snowplows, patrol cruisers, and trucks. These vehicles and sensors then relay information about road conditions to drivers using radio, cellular, and fiber connections to improve.
V2I technologies can also be used to improve safety for pedestrians. Some cities such as Las Vegas use V2I and vision-based data to detect vehicle and pedestrian behavior at intersections. By tracking how many cars and pedestrians pass through an intersection, city planners can determine how to shift traffic flows and when to time traffic light changes. This increases roadway efficiency and makes intersections safer to cross for pedestrians.
Traffic management technologies are changing how we drive and how we live. Not only can they help alleviate America’s roadway congestion crisis, but they’re also helping tackle social, economic, and environmental issues. These tools, in combination with driver safety features, are being used to address problems ranging from negligent driving to excess CO2 emissions. As America moves forward in creating a safer, more inclusive society — it’s clear that traffic management technologies will play a key role.
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Tommy Peterson Tommy Peterson is a freelance journalist who specializes in business and technology and is a frequent contributor to the CDW family of technology magazines. “Smart Technology Makes Managing Traffic a Breeze for Transportation Departments.” Technology Solutions That Drive Government, 6 Dec. 2019, statetechmagazine.com/article/2017/09/smart-technology-makes-managing-traffic-breeze-transportation-departments.
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