Seven Ways to Reduce Traffic Congestion with Smart City Tech

1.Adaptive Traffic Signals
Traffic signals are getting smarter through V2I technology. The city of Columbus, Ohio, for example, is using data its gathering from government fleet vehicles as part of other smart city pilot programs to also improve the timing of traffic signals. By getting a better idea of traffic flow and how long a vehicle idles at stop lights, the city can better modify traffic signal timing with the changes in traffic throughout the day.
2. V2I Smart Corridors
Adaptive traffic signals are one piece to some smart corridors. Smart corridors can address traffic congested roads as well as hazardous areas, such as one major highway in Wyoming used heavily for freight transportation in addition to regular passenger cars.
Using V2I technology, the state is implementing a pilot project that would send safety-related weather and accident alerts to drivers volunteering for the program. To do this, 75 short-range communications units are being installed along the highway that can communicate with the other units and the vehicles that have devices installed. Officials expect a significant effect on safety and even the economy since the state will likely spend less energy  on accident clean-up and highway closures to deal with tractor-trailer blow-overs.
In Atlanta, a 2.3-mile smart corridor that just opened in September is expected to reduce travel times on the route by 25%. With adaptive traffic signal technology, connected video cameras and more, the city hopes it can serve as a real-world testing grounds for smart corridor technology.
3. Autonomous Vehicle Technology
While autonomous vehicles for the passenger car won’t necessarily decrease the number of cars on the road, with fewer accidents and driver-caused traffic, autonomous vehicles are likely to reduce congestion.
Platooning is one example of an autonomous vehicle technology. If all roads on the vehicle had autonomous technology, vehicles would be able to speed up and slow down, and merge onto and off freeways without human direction, creating a much smoother driving pattern. Platooning is a first-step toward self-driving cars since it requires vehicles on a freeway to communicate with each other about speed and conditions, allowing the vehicles to travel consistently. It would eliminate human error that causes issues like “phantom traffic,” which is caused by the ripple effect of a driver braking in the middle of a freeway.
What will also help with traffic congestion by actually reducing the number of passenger vehicles on the road is further bolstering public transit with more first- and last-mile solutions. For example, companies like Lyft and Uber are looking at how autonomous vehicles could make their services a more viable service in conjunction with public transit.
4. Real-Time Traffic Feedback
This affects use of public transit, such as a new project in Kansas that has a free streetcar carrying up to 6,200 passengers a day in a major business district. The success of the program is largely contributed to all the real-time traffic feedback — not just for where exactly the streetcar is at all times but also the traffic around the downtown area, kiosks that show available parking spaces, etc. (It also helps with ridership that the streetcar has free Wi-Fi.) This 2.2-mile “smart district” corridor even has street lights that dim when there are no pedestrians walking beneath.
Real-time traffic feedback also makes concepts like “congestion pricing” a little easier to sell to consumers who’re used to using roads for free. Instead of the typical toll for express lanes, this would change the pricing structure based on peak traffic times and for high-occupancy or exempt vehicles, with the goal of discouraging single-passenger drivers to be on the road at peak travel times.
5. Tracking Pedestrian Traffic
Addressing traffic congestion is also about understanding pedestrian traffic. In Las Vegas, for example, the city is using V2I technology to not only track how many vehicles go through a given intersection at different times but how many pedestrians are crossing streets — and even jaywalking — so the city can reroute vehicle traffic at times of high pedestrian traffic, and so on. The city can also get alerts when a pedestrian is in a roadway when the light is about to change so they can delay the light if needed, increasing the safety of the streets as well.
In Los Angeles, they’re stepping even further back on how they’re looking at pedestrian traffic. They’re taking vehicle and pedestrian traffic data and making it open to the public, which means housing authorities and residential developers can better pinpoint commutes, and where housing should be developed to help reduce traffic coming into already congested neighborhoods.
6. Car Sharing and Multi-modal Solutions
Reports are not yet consistent on whether or not car sharing and ride hailing apps actually alleviate congestion (the most recent says they’re pulling from transit ridership). But either way, they provide alternative options. City planners and those in the public transit industry see it as an issue of connectivity — making it easy to grab a car through a private company’s app to head to a public transit station.
Though not-yet implemented, winner of the Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, Columbus, Ohio, plans to invest into a trip planning app that would integrate its multiple modes of transportation and would also establish a single, streamlined payment system. Better connecting the modes of alternative transportation would encourage more urbanites to forego a car altogether. Read Jean Pilon-Bignell’s post on the Canadian Smart Cities Challenge.
7. Replacing Vehicles with Drones
There are some tasks done by city governments like checking water meters and utility lines that don’t necessarily need to be done by vehicle. With the emergence of drone technology, more and more utilities and public energy authorities are using drones to do these regular tasks instead of sending out field workers in a bucket truck. Los Angeles is even looking into drone technology to do things like firefighting.
And of course companies are looking at drone technology to do inner-city tasks too, such as Amazon’s drone pilot program for short-distance deliveries. President Donald Trump actually just signed an executive memorandum to make it a little easier for these types of companies to test drones in cities.

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