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When you’re in the middle of your daily commute, do you ever think about how the city synchronizes its movements, orchestrating a seamless flow of traffic lights to get you where you want to go? Probably not very often! 

In the background of cities around the world, technology is changing the way we move. In this article, we look at the tech side of traffic management systems; why we need them, how they work, and where the future is going.

Why we need to manage traffic

Traffic Management Systems (TMS) are a number of tools and applications that improve the overall traffic efficiency and safety of the transportation systems. In the real world, this translates into a connected network that measures and monitors traffic flow, adjusting it based on the needs of road users. In short, getting you from point A to B in the best way possible.

An effective TMS will minimize congestion (and emissions from idling vehicles), keep frustrations low, and move people through the city efficiently. With the current growth projections for urban centres, managing the flow of traffic is essential for city infrastructure to handle expansion, while keeping commuters happy. 

Without an effective TMS, the costs add up. Congestion cost U.S. commuters approximately $305 billion in 2017, due“to wasted fuel, lost time and the increased cost of transporting goods through congested areas.” Even more expensive is the impact on human health; TMS ensures rapid emergency response deployment, where a few seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

Tech & traffic management

The idea of traffic management is not new – it’s been an essential component of municipal transportation services for decades. However, TMS has traditionally lived within stationary data centres, located in a municipal office or building. With advances in technology, as well as new opportunities, cities are moving the central “brain” of a TMS to cloud-based technology. Shifting to the cloud means a more resilient and flexible system, with increased security from physical and cyber threats. 

A TMS is only as good as the data it collects, using information from across the transportation ecosystem: connected vehicles as well as infrastructure, in-road/roadside sensors, traffic lights, and publicly available information (such as navigation app Waze). Moving to a cloud opens up opportunities to connect to new data sources, refining operations through available information.

A typical system has three main steps to manage traffic flow: information gathering, information processing, and service delivery. Once the data has been collected, the system analyzes it for potential traffic hazards, which are then managed by a variety of service delivery options (think light sequences, highway information message boards, or road closures). This is a constant process, allowing cities to be responsive 24-hours a day.

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Moving to the future

Technology is changing how cities move, and the results are promising. A pilot project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania enhanced TMS through the deployment of video technology and radar at 50 intersections. The result? Travel times dropped by 26%, wait times at intersections were down by 41%, and environment-impacting emissions decreased by 26%. 

Technology companies are joining forces with municipalities in new partnerships that work to understand traffic flow at deeper levels, paving the way for more intelligent solutions and sophisticated technology. Waycare, an artificial intelligence mobility company, predicts that “over the next few years almost 90% of vehicles will have some form of connectivity, enabling new capabilities for transportation agencies.” 

Working with the Regional Transportation Commission of Nevada, Waycare is bringing data from connected vehicles online, enhancing the region’s TMS exponentially. Large data sets continue to improve artificial intelligence, advancing the new mobility landscape for self-driving vehicles and connected infrastructure. This ensures we are prepared for the next iterations of transportation, and building them with the best available knowledge.

Next time you move through a city, know there’s a detailed system supporting your trip through a carefully designed flow to maximize efficiency. Traffic Management Systems are in the background, quietly bringing us into the future through advances in tech and innovation.

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