Improving Mobility through Technology and Connectivity

It is hard to believe that less than a decade ago, the iPhone and the Android did not exist. Automotive navigation was available, even standard in some vehicles, but not fully mainstream. If you were like many people and wanted turn-by-turn directions, you most likely visited MapQuest on your home computer and printed them to bring with you on your trip. Those days seem but a distant memory with the advent of the smartphone and an abundance of mobile apps offering voice-guided navigation.

In 2008, California Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology (PATH) at the University of California, Berkeley, in partnership with several private sector companies, launched Mobile Millennium, a pilot traffic-monitoring system that used GPS from cell phones to gather, process and redistribute traffic information in real time. Mobile Millennium’s traffic app was the first app ever rolled out in the US to collect traffic information and run on a cell phone’s operating system. Using cellular technology to gather traffic data was revolutionary at the time, but now, just six years later, has become commonplace.

Another technological advancement for PATH has been the development of TOPL, or Tools for Operational Planning. Created specifically for integration with California Department of Transportation’s (Caltrans) systems, TOPL is a suite of analysis and simulation tools that enable traffic engineers to analyze major corridor operational improvements such as ramp metering, incident management, arterial traffic signal control, demand management, and to quickly estimate the benefits of such actions. Researchers are currently refining and utilizing these tools as part of a larger transportation planning effort focused on Interstate 680.

In 2012, PATH embarked on a new journey into the next frontier of transportation technology: Integrated Corridor Management, or ICM. Called Connected Corridors, the program is a collaborative effort to analyze, develop, and test a framework for corridor traffic operations in California. The Connected Corridors team is expanding on the achievements of Mobile Millennium and TOPL to combine incident management, traffic management technologies, and personalized route guidance in one cohesive program.

Connected Corridors

Traditionally, transportation assets have been managed in silos: the state manages the freeway, cities manage the local roads, first responders manage incidents, transit agencies manage buses, and so forth. Connected Corridors changes that. It’s a holistic approach focusing on moving people, not just cars. Expanding the focus to cover the broader travel experience requires agencies to think beyond the automobile and beyond their individual boundaries or assets. Success can no longer be defined by measuring just one component of the travel experience. Connected Corridors sets new, corridor-wide measures of success that take into account multiple modes of travel.

Led by Caltrans, Connected Corridors looks at an entire transportation system and all opportunities to move people and goods in the most efficient manner possible—including freeways, arterials, transit, parking, travel demand strategies, agency collaboration, and more—to ensure the greatest potential gains in operational performance will be achieved. The first Connected Corridors Pilot will be deployed (date tbc) on Interstate 210 in Los Angeles County with stakeholder meetings already taking place earlier this year. Additionally, PATH researchers are gathering data and developing numerous models and simulations to engineer what will be the backbone of the pilot: the decision support system (DSS).

Integrated Corridor Management

Urban sprawl and dwindling transportation funds continue to put more pressure on transportation agencies to find alternative solutions to expensive capital construction projects. Integrated Corridor Management is a solution to that. ICM leverages technologies and partnerships to maximize existing assets and resources for the betterment of the entire region. Benefits of ICM include:

  • A balanced approach that encompasses all modes of transportation in a corridor including automobiles, bus and rail, and bicycles-/pedestrians
  • Reduced congestion and smoother, safer traffic flow on city arterials and freeway
  • Improved travel time reliability for travelers and freight transport
  • Faster re-routing of traffic following an incident on the freeway or an arterial
  • Reduced incidents caused by bottlenecks and improved incident response
  • Better transit information and faster travel time for buses through transit signal priority systems
  • Reduced emissions due to less idling in traffic and greater use of transit and multi-modal travel

In California and many other places around the country, urban centers span across multiple cities. This makes transportation management more difficult, as multiple jurisdictions—all with varying budgets, priorities, and resources—strive to make the best decisions for their constituents. For example, in the 20 mile stretch of Interstate 210 where the first Connected Corridors Pilot will take place, seven cities, the county, the state, two transit operators, and the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) all have jurisdiction. Connecting these agencies, integrating their systems, and managing transportation in a collaborative manner allows for system-wide improvements, the sharing of resources, and the efficient operation of existing assets.

Newer ICM programs such as Connected Corridors are going one step further to incorporate groundbreaking vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications. This is the ultimate goal for true connectivity: vehicles (including transit and freight), infrastructure, and people all sending and receiving information to streamline the movement of people and goods. PATH researchers are making significant contributions in the area of connected and automated vehicles, and ultimately, much of this research will be applicable to Connected Corridors and other ICM programs. For example, creating adaptive traffic signals that communicate back to a vehicle the best speed to minimize travel time. As driverless cars are due to be introduced into the consumer market, probably within the next decade, the benefits of V2V and V2I, as well as ICM, will only grow.

A number of ICM projects and tools are currently deployed throughout the United States and Europe. For example, the I-95 Corridor Coalition extends from Maine to Florida, partnering numerous transportation agencies, toll authorities, and other stakeholders with the goal of improving transportation system performance and safety. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation entered the ICM world, launching its own ICM Initiative with two demonstration sites: Dallas, Texas, and San Diego, California. California has a few other ICM projects currently in development, including a project along Interstate 80 and another along neighboring Interstate 880.

Connected Corridors will work to build upon those successes and make ICM an accessible solution for California transportation agencies. With the completion of each step of the Interstate 210 Pilot, staff and researchers plan to review and refine the development process ensuring the project’s continued evolution and ability to meet the changing needs of stakeholders and the traveling public. Further, the processes and procedures developed during the project will be documented and made available for general use.

In recent months, Caltrans leadership has publicly stated their plan to deploy Connected Corridors on 50 corridors throughout the state in the next decade. Caltrans’ commitment to Connected Corridors as the future for California is made clear by the real changes already taking place in District 7 (the District where the first Pilot is located). Earlier this year, Caltrans D7 initiated a reorganization to better align staffing with the unique needs of corridor management. The structure of how projects are funded, assigned resources, and managed is quite different from traditional capital improvement projects, which have a definitive start and end time. Deployment of an ICM project does not mean ‘project completion’ in the same way it does with the construction of a new road or bridge. Assets must be managed, playbooks reviewed, and relationships maintained.

Challenges

One challenge for any ICM project is user acceptance. Can reliable, real-time corridor information ensure the best use of the various transportation modes? Will queue warnings help prevent accidents? Will drivers trust the detour route as the fastest option? Good systems will certainly help user acceptance but not guarantee it. However, as with advancements of the past, user acceptance will increase with time.

A paradigm shift must occur. Transportation managers must look to technology to maximize system performance. Connected Corridors, and ICM as a whole, leverages new technologies and agency collaboration to create a cohesive system that improves the transportation experience for an entire region. Transit passengers, freight operators, drivers, and taxpayers all benefit from agencies working together and combating congestion as a unified team. The end result is fewer accidents, faster travel times, more accessible transit options, and improved mobility.