Viewpoint: The link between mobility, quality of life and economic growth
In business, a “market driver” is a trend or development that creates demand for a product or service. For the public sector, the market driver for managing transportation is the public, or more particularly the commuters who are demanding improved mobility.
The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that combining the best practices in traffic operational strategies, such as incident management and traffic signal control optimization, can reduce total urban travel delay by 500 million hours per year. At the same time, improved mobility is directly linked to economic growth. As congestion levels rise, they begin to stifle a community’s economic viability. Offices that might expand and create new jobs may not do so for lack of adequate capacity to deliver goods, provide services or get to and from the workplace. The overall impact of congestion costs Americans $78 billion each year, and that does not include the lost opportunity cost of economic stagnation.
Facing bleak budget situations, state and local governments across the country need to focus efforts on areas that provide the best return on investment. A good place to start might be to engage in proactive freeway traffic management practices that go beyond incident detection and clearing to also include active speed and lane management and smart ramp metering. Ideally, they should use the newest tools that include real-time predictive analytics based upon historic data, known events and real-time current data, allowing proactive management of the transportation network.
For example, the Florida Department of Transportation deployed an Advanced Traffic Management System in 2003 that controls and monitors advanced traffic signal controllers, dynamic message signs and closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) along a segment of U.S. Route 19 in Pinellas County. The system was originally installed at 16 intersections and was expanded in 2007 to include a network of 25 intersections with additional future expansions to be completed this year.
The system provides better incident detection and improved traffic flow through data collection, video cameras and distribution of system graphics and CCTV/TV images, which can be managed by traffic managers in Pinellas County, Clearwater and St. Petersburg. A key component is the traffic adaptive control algorithm running the traffic signals that allows drivers reduced travel times, resulting in lower fuel consumption.
A 10-mile section of US 19 in Pinellas County experienced several benefits from adaptive signal control. Travel times were reduced throughout the corridor by an average of 7.5 percent, but the most dramatic reduction in travel times were for those traveling in the peak direction, during peak hours, when travel times were reduced up to 25 percent. Reductions in travel time also result in lower fuel consumption in the area, allowing drivers on US 19 to save $600,000 per year in fuel costs. There are additional economic and safety benefits through the reduced amount of accidents that occur on US 19.
For local governments, the bottom line is that the public is demanding improvements in mobility. And, those improvements can be made simply by restructuring maintenance and resetting timing and operations of signals, or implementing a comprehensive transportation management and analytics system. Sound traffic management practices are opportunities for cities to make significant improvements to mobility, with real return on investment for the local economy.
Cary Vick is the SmartMobility Traffic product manager for Telvent. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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