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What’s in Store for 2015

Kyle Leonard
As 2014 begins to fade into history the question on everyone’s mind is “What is in store for Transportation experts in 2015?” Technological advancements will continue to be the driving force of change but integration of modes of transportation and innovation in design and contracting are sure to be popular in 2015. What is certain is that a rapidly changing landscape seems to be the norm these days—here are some emerging trends for Transportation planners and experts.

Big Data

Traffic data and how it is collected has changed in ways few could have imagined just five years ago. Early data collection efforts were largely performed by transportation professionals themselves with the primary method of collection done manually. A couple retirees, sitting on lawn chairs with some hand held counters and a clipboard was not an uncommon sight in years past. With growing metropolitan areas the need for more data collection led to the use of tools to improve the efficiency of collection efforts, including roadway tubes, video feeds and intersection count boards. Because of growing demands and less time for engineers to collect data, private data collection companies have emerged to collect and deliver information to transportation professionals.

Technologies like GPS for travel time surveys, license plate readers for travel time and origin destination, and radar for volume, classification, and speed are being used successfully. More recently, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have been utilized to collect travel time and origin-destination surveys as well. This data can be used to gauge transportation/traffic system performance evaluation, modeling, and management. This kind of data can directly measure how the urban system performs and help pinpoint problem areas (such as bottlenecks). Integrated with other data from surveys, interviews and experiments, a transportation engineer can better understand how the system components behave and interact with each other. The data can also help planners make more informed decisions about how to allocate resources and investment to manage urban systems more effectively and efficiently.

Intelligent transportation systems give planners and responders a comprehensive look at the state of their city’s roadways at the ground level.
IBM’s Smarter Cities Initiative is looking to take the ever growing amount of real-time data—from traditional loop sensors and GPS on buses and trains to weather data, traffic cameras, and even feedback from smart phones—and combine it with computing analytics to predict what the near future of traffic will look like in different parts of the network and make proactive interventions to alleviate the problems.

IBM points out: “Intelligent transportation systems give planners and responders a comprehensive look at the state of their city’s roadways at the ground level.” In a pilot project IBM monitored in Germany, it was shown the city can anticipate, better manage and, in many cases, avoid traffic jams and trouble spots across the city by using analytics technology. The city’s traffic engineers were able to predict traffic volume and flow with more than 90 percent accuracy up to 30 minutes in advance. As a result, travelers would be able to better plan ahead and determine whether they should leave at a different time, plan an alternate route or use a different mode of transportation.

Smart transportation planners will leverage the big data concepts used to spot trends that might not be recognized by humans. Designers may look toward developing roadway management systems using real-time data to enable managers to change lane patterns or make other alterations to improve traffic flow.

Collector or User?

Of course with more data usage comes the problem of how best to collect all that data. Data collection is now also shifting from the infrastructure to the user. There is a possibility that transportation professionals will not have a place in raw traffic data collection, but simply become another consumer of processed traffic information. Third party, crowd-sourced traffic data will evolve to a point where it is completely reliable for real-time traffic management and operations.

Data to increase safety

How that data is used is even more important. While designers believe that meeting design criteria will create a “safe” facility that will perform as expected, the enormous amount of data now available will enable much more accurate assessments of how designs function in the real world and in real time. The Transportation Research Board is collecting large amounts of data to study roadway safety. Their studies are ongoing and should be followed closely by transportation planners.

Geospatial data

Another important technological advancement to watch is the shift from 2D to 3D workflows. According to a National Cooperative Highway Research Program study, transportation agencies are being forced to do more with less funding and as a result investment in advanced geospatial data tools and technologies are being considered. The report notes that the top three geospatial technology research needs identified by the DOTs were data management, data integration, and transition from 2D to 3D workflow. Becoming an early adopter in geospatial services will have benefits as DOTs increasingly begin to utilize these technologies.

Intelligent Transportation Systems

The United States Department of Transportation recently released a plan for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). Focusing on the connected vehicle (CV) and automation, the study is in response to the bulk new technology being developed for cars and transportation systems. Transportation planners need to be aware of rapidly emerging technologies in order to respond quickly to a rapidly changing environment. A great deal of research is being done now surrounding automated road-vehicle statements and related technologies that transfer some control from the driver to the vehicle. According to a USDOT report “As the scale of CV implementation grows and automation transportation systems increases, vehicle manufacturers, infrastructure providers, innovators and entrepreneurs will discover new opportunities to use technologies and data generated, while protecting consumer privacy.”

These systems should enable safer roadways in addition to safer vehicles. Infrastructure based and cooperative safety measures will be an emphasis of DOT studies moving forward. In addition improved traffic management, work zone and incident management are all areas where improvements can be made through the use of ITS.

HR Green helps clients in the public and private sectors develop and operate successful transportation facilities. Planning, environmental compliance, design, construction and operational services are provided for streets, highways and bridges, and other transportation facilities. Throughout the life of a project’s development and construction to program management, we are accountable to our clients’ objectives.

To learn more about HR Green’s transportation services, contact David Dougherty at ddougherty@hrgreen.com

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