Posting in Cities
Integrating our disconnected traffic systems -- from traffic lights to personal on-board navigation -- could reduce urban congestion and even air pollution.
Integrating our disconnected traffic systems -- from traffic lights to personal on-board navigation -- could reduce urban congestion and even air pollution, according to Liviu Iftode, a computer science professor at Rutgers University. Iftode, in collaboration with Rutgers colleagues and Mario Gerla of UCLA and his colleagues, recently received a three-year, $1.94 million grant, to study how wireless technology could improve traffic control and air quality. Below are excerpts from my recent interview with Iftode.
Explain your technology and why it's needed.
Urban congestion and air pollution are two big problems for cities today. We're trying to use wireless technology to connect drivers to traffic centers where this information is available. [It would use] on-board navigation. At this point, there is technology like this to control or reduce traffic in urban settings. But most of these technologies are disconnected. The traffic center collects the information continuously. They can also control the traffic lights. But at the end of this chain are the drivers who have on-board navigators. They might have information about traffic, but they likely have no information about pollution. We're trying to explore whether wireless technologies can be used to upgrade the communication between the traffic center and the driver.
On one hand, the municipality's goal is to reduce air pollution, to improve the city walkability. From the driver's perspective, the important thing is to reach a destination as soon as possible. Part of this is to create incentives and see whether they're working. [Another] issue is how to make this as non-intrusive as possible for the driver. If the driver has to constantly inspect this information about air pollution and congestion and make a decision based on that, it's not going to work. We're looking at how to improve this interface between the driver's on-board navigation, so most of the time the on-board navigation can choose the best routes.
There's no connection between our current traffic systems?
They're disconnected. There's virtually no way for the traffic centers to suggest alternative routes to drivers based on their destinations. There's no way to incentivize drivers to take those suggestions. Today, as you know, there are on-board navigation systems that get traffic information. You might have information on certain roads, but not on every road. They are not frequently updated. Therefore, choosing alternative routes may often put the driver in even higher congestion.
Congestion and pollution are related, but not exclusively related. There are other environmental factors -- air flow, the layout of buildings on the street -- that make air quality difficult to model. The municipality might be interested in returning the city to its citizens. Therefore, it can decide to move the traffic from a certain street to make it more livable.
In what locales would this be implemented? Where would it be most useful?
New York, Los Angeles and other large metropolitan areas where traffic is a problem and pollution is high would be the best candidates. But that's a long shot. At this point, we're still in an exploratory phase. We're trying to understand the problem. It's a huge problem in terms of modeling pollution and simulating traffic. Our long-term goal is to have impact on the design of future traffic control systems in the big cities.
Are you targeting a certain type of driver? Is this best for the daily suburb-to-city commuter?
This is another complicated problem. It's about what we call incremental deployments. Who is the driver that would adopt this sooner and how can we incentivize drivers to adopt this technique? The traditional incentive model for controlling driver behavior with respect to congestion is the congestion fee. You impose a certain fee if drivers take a route through a congested area.
We're looking at creating a positive incentive, instead of a negative incentive. A driver could get a certain discount. The daily commuter might be interested in benefiting from this over time. It could be significant. Modeling the incentives to figure out which ones work is another part of our work.
What stage of the project are you in now?
The first step is to fully understand the problem and connect these pieces together. This is an interdisciplinary effort. At a later time, we'll start to build models and simulate those models. We'll start looking into building the technology components.
One piece that is critical for our project is the traffic light. Traffic lights have been around for 150 years and have not changed much. They provide simple visual information. Traffic lights are a good place to collect and send air quality data. They can be used to get information from the cars to pass onto the traffic centers or to broadcast information from traffic centers to cars in that proximity. We're looking at whether we can upgrade the traffic light. Cars have already incorporated a lot of computer technology. The traffic light was left behind.
It's a long-term project. It's impossible to complete it within a time frame of three years. This will take much longer.
Photo: Liviu Iftode
Oct 5, 2011
I am agree with you, with the development of science and technology, the number of people who have private cars is increasing quickly, the traffic is very heavy and the air pollution is very serious, I think we may take a solar traffic signal controller (http://www.nobleled.com/en/showroom/traffic_signal_controller/index.html) reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.
I agree with John McGrew, the alternatives to driving our cars are pathetic, and trying to "punish" us into using the alternatives is not going to get us to cooperate. I live in California and the situation here is very different from the east coast cities; we have horrible mass transit alternatives. In my case, I can get to work in 35-40 minutes (each way) driving by myself, 25-30 minutes if I carpool (which I do), or 90 minutes if I use mass transit (plus walk time of another 25 minutes). Plus, it costs me more to use mass transit than to drive alone, and by carpooling I have cut that cost in half. Who would choose mass transit? Would you choose to commute for 3 hours and 50 minutes instead of 50 minutes? I like the idea to upgrade the existing traffic lights to more intelligent software. They aren't communicating with each other, and they aren't reading the traffic flow. We could improve air quality and traffic flow by simply using more intelligence in the system. Bravo to these professors if they can make the lights work in a manner that improves traffic flow. We could improve traffic flow and improve air quality if we built more expressways and beltways. In our area we haven't built a new freeway in decades, but we've built thousands of new homes and businesses; we've doubled the population but barely improved the infrastructure (we made a carpool lane when we needed entire new freeways!). I'm sure this sounds like the opposite of what the "green" fans are after, but we aren't going to get everyone to park their cars and start walking when we live 20 miles from where we work (if we're lucky enough to even have a job in California), and when we don't have mass transit alternatives to even take us to major shopping centers, let alone to our places of employment. We're talking about building super high speed trains, but we're not even discussing making a real mass transit system that most of the population could use.
...that the best way to push people into their holy grail of mass transit is to make driving less efficient and more painful, instead of making mass transit more efficient and less painful. People still opt to sit in traffic than use the alternatives because the alternatives are no better. So it makes sense to make existing modes more efficient. Trying to force us to the preferred alternatives isn't going to work.
stop closong streets lef and right, stop defining Crazy trafic patterns that make no sence what so ever to a sain person. create more parkinf spaces through out the city. so I can actually park closer to where I need to go and not spend 40 min circling 5 blocks area looking for parking.
I agree that it will take much longer than 3 years, but in the meantime, the rising cost of oil will make other technologies more of a viable option (i.e. electric vehicles). Since most traffic is commuting traffic, do you think that this project will also do something to convince commuters to switch to electric vehicles, even though they are limited range in-betwen chargings? Would be curious as to your thoughts. Thanks for this article. Jonathan http://www.greenjoyment.com