Thinking small (and smart) to address big traffic headaches

Last  week, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute released their urban mobility report, a scorecard that ranks the most congested urban areas. And, probably to little surprise, traffic congestion is setting new records. According to the 2015 report, riders have wasted more than 3 billion gallons of fuel and 7 billion extra hours in their cars, amounting to $960 per commuter annually. What these numbers tell is us our current state of traffic infrastructure is unsustainable. This gridlock is creating headaches not only for commuters but for urban areas as well. Traffic is one of the largest problems facing growing cities today, choking growth in areas that are relying on a steady flow of visitors to boost economic development.

So, how do we solve the problem? Building entirely new roads and highway systems isn’t the answer. To have a significant impact on reducing gridlock, we have to improve on existing infrastructure. And it’s not as expensive as it may seem. On the contrary, intelligent traffic technologies are normally a small piece of a road’s infrastructure, but a part that can have a big impact both on quality of life and a city’s bottom line. For example, the residents of Tyler, Texas ranked the city’s congestion problem as the most significant quality of life issue in the community. Siemens worked with the city to install a new traffic management software system that analyzes traffic flow and changes signal phases in real-time. Since the traffic control software was installed, the city has reduced travel time by 22 percent and delays by 49 percent. These savings amount to over $1.6 million in savings for Tyler drivers.

Today, intelligent traffic systems are doing a lot of singular activities, like coordinating traffic lights. But, we know these technologies can have a bigger impact. By taking data and making it actionable, we can provider drivers with a better, more reliable and safer trip without heavily impacting infrastructure costs. Instead of looking at one intersection from a traffic control centre, operators can now look to the cloud to monitor and manage their traffic flow. New cloud-based traffic control technology allows a traffic operator in any size city to monitor, view and respond to changing traffic conditions in real-time, bringing traffic management to the street instantly.

And, maybe not so far in the future, our traffic systems will become fully adaptive and intelligent enough to operate on their own. As more and more vehicles become “connected” and even autonomous, they will be able to communicate with an intersection’s digital infrastructure and proceed through a busy intersection quickly and safely.

An autonomous intersection may be a few years away, but smart technologies to help reduce congestion are here now. Data is the next evolutionary step in making gridlock a thing of the past. And it won’t require building a new highway, it may be simply installing software in a traffic control room. Or it could mean putting more IT-based devices at an intersection that, with advanced algorithms, can adapt dynamically to traffic lights, changing toll fees, or simply offering alternative routes to accomplish what really matters, saving time and energy. Maybe then, we can put our foot on the gas.