Technology’s Role In Moving People & Goods Quicker, Safer, Cleaner

Posted by Larry Ehl on Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Transportation Issues Daily

When you traveled today – whether by car, bus, rail, plane or bike – technology made your trip safer, faster, and cleaner than in the past.  That technology may have been obvious to you (hybrid vehicles, GPS) or not (traffic light synchronization, interstate weigh-in-motion for trucks).

Yet our transportation network can be much, much safer, efficient and cleaner.  Every year nearly 40,000 people are killed on our highways. Congestion cost about $101 billion and 4.8 billion wasted hours in 2010. And transportation accounts for nearly 30% of our greenhouse gases.

Making transportation safer, efficient and cleaner was the focus of a recent conference attended by about 8,000 public and private sector transportation experts from more than 65 countries: the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) World Congress.

More than 300 sessions and hundreds of exhibits, many on cutting‐edge transportation solutions in areas such as Traffic Congestion and Management, Highway and Vehicle Safety, Next Generation Traveler Information, and Mobility and Operations were offered.

And reflecting the public’s (and the public sector’s) desire for accountability and efficiency, over 50 sessions focused on Performance Measures and standards.  Inrix CEO Brian Mistele has noted that:

“Our efforts with transportation agencies worldwide are driving better intelligence from the vast data stores in ways that help tem plan, build, manage and measure the performance of our road networks for a fraction of the cost.”

And there were a number of Sustainability sessions detailing the potential for improving air and water quality through current and possible future technologies, particularly in freight transportation.

Some of the conference sessions were very practical.  Traffic signal synchronization, for example, not only helps people travel more quickly, it can reduce emissions by reducing vehicle starts/stops – a significant cause of emissions particularly for trucks.

Another practical focus was Smart Parking.  An example is Streetline, which offers a smartphone/tablet application that helps drivers easily find and pay for available parking and access information such as parking space time limits, pricing, whether meters take credit cards or coins, in cities across the country.  I tested the application and it was pretty amazing.  Streetline recently won the Wall Street Journal 2011 Technology Innovation Award.

Another vendor, ParkingCarma, is working on smart parking applications for the freight trucking industry, particularly in California.

“Eye-popping” is the only way to describe sessions and demonstrations of connected vehicle technology.  Using GPS, Wi‐Fi sensors and a special short‐range radio frequency, vehicles can relay information to each other about hazardous road conditions or a looming risk of a crash.  Drivers receive real-time safety warnings and information.  According to U.S. DOT estimates, connected vehicle technology has the potential to address an impressive 81% of all unimpaired driver‐related crash scenarios.  Many of the fender-benders caused by inattentive drivers in stop-and-go traffic – which quickly backs up traffic – could be eliminated.

Nady Baoules of General Motors’ Global Research and Development division observes that:

“Intelligent vehicle technologies will ultimately enable autonomous driving and cars that don’t crash. Not only will these vehicles revolutionize personal mobility, they also promise to dramatically decrease fuel consumption an emissions, greatly enhance traffic safety and provide significantly more value for consumers.”

Learn more at the Connected Vehicle Research webpage of USDOT’s Research and Innovative Techmology Administration.  Wired Magazine has a collection of articles about “autonomous vehicles” including one about a “self-steering robotic tractor using GPS and a raft of smart sensors to drive over farmland, till the fields and orientate itself to different terrain following a pre-programmed route with no one at the wheel.”

In my home base region of the Pacific Northwest, the Cascadia Center for Regional Development (Cascadia), West Coast Corridor Coalition (WCCC) and the International Mobility and Trade Corridor Project (IMTC) are just three of the many organizations working on intelligent transportation projects and solutions to enable people and goods to move quicker, safer, and cleaner.

For over a decade Cascadia has convened public and private sector interests in order to learn about and develop “Clean, Green and Smart” transportation, particularly in key high traffic corridors like the west coast interstates.  As part of its TransTech Forum Series, Cascadia has partnered with Microsoft to offer several conferences including “Future Trends in Energy, Technology and Transportation”.  It included sessions on integrating ITS among west coast states and traffic light synchronization. View presentations and videos.

Cascadia also has sponsored several “Beyond Oil” conferences; you can view presentations from the last conference.  Cascadia was also instrumental in developing the Clean, Green, and Smart Best Practices Manual in 2009.

The WCCC “advocates collaborative solutions to transportation system challenges on the West Coast Corridor” and includes representatives from Washington, Oregon, California and Alaska. The WCCC’s ITS and Environment Committee is pretty self-explanatory.  Its purpose is to regularly convene public and private sector interests in part to learn about how ITS can improve operations and security in ways that also improve the environmental and travel time.  In April 2009, the Committee developed the Clean, Green, and Smart Best Practices Manual.

The IMTC is a U.S. – Canadian coalition of business and government entities that “identifies and promotes improvements to mobility and security” for four U.S.-British Columbia border crossings which have a combined heavy public and commercial traffic volume. One of their projects focused on expanding the Advanced Traveler Information Systems to provide travelers with better border-crossing traffic conditions.  This enables public and commercial travelers to make more informed travel choices, saving time and money.

And not to be forgotten are the west coast State DOTs, and regional organizations like SANDAG which are among the nation’s leaders in developing and applying ITS to move people and goods quicker, safer, and cleaner.  And advocacy organizations like Mobility 21 who help to build support for ITS and other approaches to improving the transportation network.

Quotes and data from ITS World Conference news releases, personal notes from sessions, and “Transportation and economic development,” IBM Institute for Business Value.

Note: The Cascadia Center and West Coast Corridor Coalition partially sponsored my attendance at the World Congress.

Read the full article ( Technology’s Role In Moving People & Goods Quicker, Safer, Cleaner

Larry Ehl is the founder and publisher of Transportation Issues Daily. In the public sector, Larry was Federal Relations Manager for Washington State DOT; Chief of Staff to US Senator Slade Gorton; and was twice elected to the Edmonds School Board.

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