The Case For An Emphasis On Traffic Management

Smart cities. Teletopia. Quantified communities. Whatever label you prefer, the concept of cities utilizing information and communication technologies (ICT) to create connected communities is an increasingly popular one, gaining more and more attention from city planners and urban developers.

The end goal of these smart cities is to embed a multitude of sensors capable of measuring and monitoring multiple factors — pedestrian flows, air quality, energy use, water usage, waste disposal and recycling rates, as well as the degree of health and activity among both workers and residents.

Interwoven systems designed and engineered to speak to one another, yielding actionable data that’s interconnected. This data, when analyzed in real time, offers insight on increased comfort, efficiency and governance, enabling a top-down view on how people interact with urban environments.

A number of cities have taken on this endeavor. Most notably in the U.S. are projects in New York City and Chicago — the Hudson Yards neighborhood and Array of Things project, respectively. They look to offer state of the art luxury and convenience for its constituents, both commercial and residential.

As these projects develop, and more come to fruition, it’s imperative that one facet is a part of the development cycle at the forefront — traffic safety and mobility.

Roadways are the arteries of any metropolis — they enable commerce, allowing cities to effectively conduct business, build and grow. A strong transportation infrastructure is the backbone of any city, and must be considered first and foremost as urban developers continue to combine massive construction projects with emerging ICT.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recognizes the importance of connected vehicles and traffic management, outlining their own strategic plan on implementation and priorities for the nation. Leadership is on board — all that’s left now is the actual practice.

We are on track to build a more interconnected society that benefits all, and an ever-growing focus on traffic management will prove to be the most constructive. It’s an important point urban developers must consider when bringing cities to the smart grid — the convenience and boost in efficiency is nice, but the core development of traffic management is critical.

Roadways are, unfortunately, the scene where preventable urban fatalities take place. Pedestrians unknowingly crossing busy streets; drivers distracted by their phones; poorly thought-out roadways and intersections.

A strong transportation infrastructure is the backbone of any city.

This past October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report stating that while motor vehicle traffic crashes were no longer a leading cause of death among all Americans in both 2010 and 2011, it prevails to be among the top 10 leading causes of death among younger age groups, primarily between the ages of 13 and 25.

When looking at traffic-related deaths between rural and urban environments, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that from 1977-2013, there was a steady increase in fatalities across urban areas since the early 2000s, and this trend is continuing upward.

Interestingly enough, while the total number of traffic-related deaths continues to drop, urban-related traffic fatalities are on the rise. Considering that a vehicle traveling at a speed of 30 miles per hour has a 45 percent kill rate when striking a pedestrian, it’s a startling figure — and definite problem area that requires immediate attention.

The kicker? These collisions are preventable, and the continued development of the smart city concept is primed to make the Vision Zero philosophy a reality. Via the hundreds of thousands of sensors required to make any given community “smart” in the vein of monitoring energy usage, network connectivity and waste disposal, the same technology can, and will, be employed across public transit vehicles and fleets to actively monitor the way humans interact with urban traffic.

Imagine, if in a major metropolis, all public transit vehicles, such as taxis and buses — and this could even be extended to the sharing economy, such as Uber or Lyft drivers — were equipped with sensors that reported, in real time, to a central database whenever there was a collision or near miss incident. Number crunchers could analyze and interpret the dataset and, pending analysis, preemptively identify problematic areas unforeseen by city planners, then implement amendments accordingly.

Or imagine a different scenario — steering away from traffic itself and something more tangential. Consider the role of digital signage when it comes to facilitating traffic. Surely we’re all familiar with typical road signs alerting drivers of upcoming road work and expected detours, the types that litter highways and are programmed by workers.

City planners and urban developers need to develop their smart city plans around traffic management.

However, when thought of within the context of the smart city, sensors to monitor traffic, installed across public transit vehicles, roadways, light poles and throughout, can alert pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike to congested areas, delays, detours and inclement weather conditions, ensuring better traffic management and, in turn, a reduction in the unexpected — traffic collisions.

These smart solutions to help streamline traffic and mitigate traffic collisions aren’t a far cry from reality — global examples exist in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Santander, Spain; and Singapore. Each city has taken it upon itself to turn smart, installing thousands of sensors to better monitor and manage traffic, among other information.

And it’s only gaining more traction — across the globe and in the U.S., smart city development is slated to grow to a $20 billion valuation by 2020 alone, according to Pike Research. Projecting even further to 2023, Navigant Research has forecasted the market at $27 billion, with IBM, Cisco and Schneider Electric to be among the top vendors in supplying these specific sensors for the smart city tech market.

We’re at a precipice where technology can be employed to better manage and mitigate the necessary dangers of a mobilized nation. Projects like New York City’s Hudson Yards and Chicago’s Array of Things will serve as microcosms of larger cities, a sampling of what a smart city can accomplish and how technology embedded into surrounding structures can make life better.

The federal and state governments acknowledge the incredible benefits of interconnectivity among vehicles — a right step in setting the U.S. on a path to smart city infrastructure. Moving forward, city planners and urban developers need to develop their smart city plans around traffic management, a core component of the overall objective to achieve a smarter, safer life for all.