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Bottleneck, gridlock, traffic jam—we all know what that means: rush hour. Driving within urban areas during rush hour means chasing the green light to get past the intersection. Rush-hour traffic means the agonizing wait behind the steering wheel for the next change of traffic light. Rush hour also means overcrowded sidewalks with pedestrians dancing with swerving cars. For some motorists, that means aggressive driving to claim every inch of movement on the road. In short, rush hour turns cities into a madhouse of cars and people all trying to reach their destination. A smart traffic management system is urgently needed!

Eighty percent of the U.S. lives and works in urban areas. With traffic congestion concerns, the majority of the population is under undue stress. For a person going through such stress every day of the week, the pressure can compound over time. Yet, despite the traffic and road congestion, the lure of big cities is not going to wane anytime soon. In fact, more people flock to the cities for jobs and opportunities. By the year 2050, the United Nations forecasts that two-thirds of the world population will live in cities. With this influx of people toward cities and urban areas, implementing a smart traffic management system can help control, if not avert, issues caused by traffic and road congestion.

a photo quote of Anthony Downs in relation to the topic of a smart traffic management system
Road congestion all over the world emphasizes the need for a smart management system.

Beyond Mobility: The Impact of Traffic Congestion

Mobility—the freedom to travel from place to place—is a fundamental human right. Inclusive societies work on providing efficient, affordable, and sustainable modes of transportation to their citizens. Without access to a reliable and affordable transport system, individuals from low-income communities are at a disadvantage. With limited mobility, access to jobs, education, and health care are likewise limited. In truth, cities reeling from traffic congestion are impinging on their citizens’ right to mobility. Without a smart traffic management system, people’s quality of life suffers. The time meant to be spent on other activities is spent on the road. Thus, implementing a smart traffic management system is a step toward the fulfillment of a city’s mobility goal.

Road congestion has an impact on businesses, too. Employee productivity and efficiency drops, deliveries are delayed, and stores may not get enough foot traffic. Public safety is also at stake without a smart traffic management system. Emergency vehicles, such as ambulance and firetrucks, get stuck in traffic. In life and death situations, a few minutes of delay can mean a lot. When vehicles stay longer on the road, CO2 emissions increase. Due to wear and tear, cars need regular repairs, and car parts replacement becomes more frequent. With these, the environmental cost of traffic congestion is also worth mentioning. Without a doubt, the effect of traffic congestion extends beyond the four wheels of our vehicles. It encompasses economic, societal and environmental impact.

Bold Companies Offering Smart Traffic Management System

Like any technology, traffic lights also need to evolve. While most cities are still using fixed-length traffic control systems, innovative cities are beginning to use smart traffic lights and innovative traffic management systems. In this light, research facilities and companies providing traffic solutions are stepping up to the challenge.

  • Econolite is a provider of Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) services and solutions. Econolite’s SAVARI V2X (Vehicle to Everything) Solution connects cars to signal lights, pedestrians, and smart traffic management systems, and it is currently being tested in six states.
  • StreetLight Data is a pioneer in using big data for mobility. Using machine learning, StreetLight Data provides data-on-demand to decision-makers and urban planners in charge of transportation decisions. Data points gathered from pedestrians, bikes, and vehicles have been used in transportation planning, traffic, and engineering operations, and smart cities and new mobility.
  • Surtrac is the adaptive traffic signal control system of Rapid Flow. The innovation works by adjusting to what is actually happening on the road. Upon assessment of the traffic condition, Surtrac creates an optimized plan and sends it to the controller. The controller then coordinates the information to traffic signals across the network.
  • RHODES With Intellidrive is a project launched by the Federal Highway Administration in cooperation with the Arizona State University in Phoenix. The project was dubbed the Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program for next-generation transportation solutions. With the use of self-adaptive control systems, the project is looking at improving mobility and safety by communicating with moving vehicles and intelligent infrastructure.
  • MARLIN (“Multi-Agent Reinforcement Learning For Integrated Network”) is a smart traffic management system currently being tested in Toronto—one of Canada’s busiest cities. This traffic solution utilizes smart traffic lights that is self-learning and recognizes patterns. Once implemented, MARLIN will be able to shorten travel time by as much as 25 percent and decrease CO2 emissions by 13 percent.
a photo quote of Baher Abdulhai in relation to the topic of a smart traffic management system
Baher Abdulhai shares the questions that led to the idea behind MARLIN.

The Best Route in the Long Run

Traffic congestion is a modern man’s riddle. The knot jamming the road systems of urban spaces and cities cannot be untangled by traditional solutions anymore. Adding more roads will not ease up the traffic congestion. Suppressing the demand by encouraging people to travel less will not work either. The best route is to be smart about it—to use technology. With next-generation traffic management system— smart traffic lights, big data for mobility, vehicle to everything solution, among others—the modern man truly can go where they want to go.

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