Traffic is a headache for all parties involved. Here are some methods cities are utilizing to try and address this decades-old problem.
Traffic continues to be a dizzying problem for urban metropolises, with major costs incurred by both the drivers and governments. From increasing fuel costs and building anxiety and stress (see road rage), to increased pollution, traffic is not a good time for anyone involved. In Los Angeles, the city with the worst traffic in the world, traffic costs commuters $2,400 yearly, according to INRIX. The city, on the other hand, is burdened with $9.6 billon annually.
Here are some tried (and not so tried) methods governments are implementing around the world in the never-ending war against traffic.
Road expansions and tolls
Just this week, the UAE’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) announced that it is opening a new highway project today which will cut transit times for motorists travelling between Dubai and Sharjah, cutting the transit time of the 12 km distance between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road and Emirates Road to just about 8 minutes.
But building new roads is one way of addressing traffic – and it doesn’t always work. In fact, expanding a highway known for its congestion can actually make things worse!
The introduction of tolls is another solution often considered, with Abu Dhabi set to introduce such tolls in the Emirate, according to UAE newspaper Al-Ittihad. Dubai introduced a toll system in 2007, called Salik, to counter congestion on Sheikh Zayed Road.
Historically, this has worked in cities like Stockholm in Sweden, where charging tolls for the entry into a famously congested district decreased traffic by 20% in 2006.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to traffic, and in fact, there might not even be a guaranteed solution to the problem.
The not so tried:
Utilizing big data to understand traffic trends
Many countries utilize sensors installed on their roads to collect data on traffic volume, congestion times and duration, and more to analyze trends and identify solutions.
“Data from anonymized GPS and vehicle sensors” also factors in, as per Business Insider France (BI).
BI explains how the Utah Department of Transportation is partnering with applied informatics company Iteris and location technology provider HERE Technologies “to collect real-time traffic data, including information about construction-related detours, delays, accidents, and weather impacts across every arterial road and freeway in the state's 84,899 square miles.”
This “up-to-the-minute traffic and road information allows officials to adjust the timing of traffic lights and reroute traffic for maximum efficiency.”
Smart traffic lights connected to a network
Traffic lights have long been set to operate on a specific schedule. With the availability of big data now, technicians are able to tweak signal cycles and timing, as explained above. However, this leaves room for error, and for employees to eventually be overwhelmed.
Enter intelligent signal lights, known as Adaptive Signal Control Technologies (ASCT). The same sensors that are collecting real-time data around the clock are able to guide a signal’s cycles and timing. Think back to being stuck in a long queue at a red light when the opposing lane is lit green when there isn’t a single car on that end. This is when technology backfires, and this is where intelligent traffic lights come in play.
Think of an installation of smart signal lights as a computer-powered traffic officer, one connected to thousands of other “robo-traffic officers” across a city communicating in real-time, and directing traffic with an omniscient view.
These systems utilize a variety of sensors to assess traffic, from pressure-sensing pneumatic tubes under roads, to piezoelectric sensors that count the number of cars that pass a certain light, these sensors combine to provide an intelligent system with a holistic understanding of the traffic conditions and trends of a certain intersection. This data is then collated with recordings from other sensors across the city to direct and redirect traffic flows efficiently, improving traffic rates and congestion significantly.
In the future, as cars become more smart, these traffic light systems will be able to mutually communicate with cars (known as Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology), sending relevant data that could help alleviate a gridlock. This and other Internet of Things (IoT) developments will allow for better traffic.
Traffic monitoring apps
From good-old Google Maps, to more specialized apps such as Waze, traffic monitoring apps utilize many forms of data. From user reports, to data collected from cameras, sensors and GPS’s, these apps provide you with an overview of traffic conditions to help plan your journey. While often coming in handy for shaving a few minutes off a trip, they aren’t necessarily able to address traffic at the large scale a smart signal system could, obviously.
Mechanical and other solutions
There are some ongoing projects that look to address the traffic problem from a mechanical approach.
One of these projects, the mechanized parking, seeks to reduce the amount of land required to host cars in stuffed metropolitan environments.
Some cities even opt for roads that tunnel underwater. In Osaka, Japan, there's a highway that literally goes through a building.
On the more sci-fi end of the spectrum are some completely out of the box concepts. China showcased in recent years a bus that elevates itself above cars, capable of holding around 300 people, called the Transit Elevated Bus (TEB). Originally showcased in 2010, a prototype was eventually built in 2016.
There are conflicting reports about the ultimate fate of this bus. However, the mere concept could be food for thought for upcoming developments such as this.