Using technology to provide real-time traffic data, improve safety

While the field of traffic monitoring has advanced rapidly over the past several years thanks to decreasing costs for sensing, communication, and computation, a few significant gaps remain. In a September 24 presentation, Daniel Work, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, discussed new approaches for providing real-time traffic data to roadway users.

Work’s presentation, given as part of the Roadway Safety Institute’s Seminar Series, focused on uniting navigation technologies with physical traffic processes to improve the safety and efficiency of roadways. Specifically, Work discussed a series of projects focused on finding ways to integrate traffic data with technology to provide drivers with data on traffic disruptions caused by disruptions at rail grade crossings, large planned events, environmental incidents, and work zones.

“We’re likely to see huge performance increases [in transportation systems] by linking our physical infrastructure with our computational infrastructure,” he said.

For example, Work and his team are currently gathering historic data from Amtrak and other class 1 railroads to develop algorithms and data analysis tools to predict when and where traffic disruptions or collisions may occur at unsignalized rail grade crossings. This information could be used to alert roadway users to potential disruptions and provide them with alternate routes—which could be especially beneficial for emergency responders.

“Any information that we can provide about when those trains are going to be at those crossings might allow us to provide a variety of safety and operational improvements on our road network,” Work said.

Work also presented some of his research on estimating traffic in congestion-heavy conditions caused by large planned events such as sporting events or concerts. Although patrons of these events cannot necessarily avoid congestion, Work noted that technologies could warn other travelers to avoid certain areas. As part of this project, Work and his team developed an app called Traffic Turk, which provides disruption data for events gathered directly from drivers.

Work is also conducting a project with the Illinois Department of Transportation using sensors in work zones to help motorists reroute trips to avoid construction zones. Currently, his team is collecting and analyzing traffic simulation data to fine-tune the sensors and algorithms so they can be integrated into mobile apps in the future.

Finally, Work outlined a possible solution for quantifying the resilience of the city-scale traffic network to extreme events such as natural disasters. Using GPS data from taxis, the method computes the historical pace distribution between various regions of a city and measures the pace deviations during an unusual event. These technologies could help motorists find the safest and quickest routes for evacuation and help emergency responders avoid congestion when attempting to provide assistance to those who need it. The technology could also help with the post-emergency processes of re-entering a city—something that is often overlooked.

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Posted in Events, Infrastructure, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), Safety, Technology, Traffic data, Transportation research, Urban transportation

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