A Look at Solutions for Smart City Traffic Infrastructure

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Smart technology is quickly becoming part of our daily lives, from the mobile phones in our pockets to the home automation equipment improving our households. This move toward adopting smart technology isn’t just appearing in homes and businesses, though. Smart cities are the wave of the future, but planners have to overcome the challenge of incorporating this tech into traffic infrastructure.

Let’s take a closer look at the future of smart city infrastructure, the challenges city planners and engineers are facing, and what solutions might help make this transition a little easier.

Commuting and Biking in the Smart City

Smart cities are often considered bike-friendly. However, city planners and engineers still have a long way to go before they can ensure it’s safe for cyclists who commute to work or run errands. In many major cities, more people are biking to work than ever before. In Seattle in 2016, 3.8% of workers commuted by bicycle. In 2009, only 2.6% did the same. In Portland, which is considered one of the biker-friendliest cities in the country, 6.5% of workers rode their bikes to work in 2016. In 2009, only 5% did.

City planners and engineers are relying on crowd-sourced data from apps like Strava and Ride Report to tell them where they need to start investing in biking and commuting infrastructure. Cyclists use these apps to track their rides, and cities can purchase data to learn where people like to bike and where they feel safe doing so.

Bikes may become the ultimate commuting tool for the smart cities of the future. However, it will be up to city planners and engineers to keep riders safe as they bike to and from work.

Adaptive Traffic Signals

Currently, traditional traffic signals use timers and inductive loop sensors to determine when the light should change. While this is moderately effective, it doesn’t allow cities to adjust the signal cycle when there are changes in traffic levels, leading to congestion. Instead of relying on this outdated technology, smart cities will use adaptive signals to allow for real-time management of traffic systems.

This technology has been proven to work, but is currently being deployed in less than 1% of existing traffic signals in the U.S. In South Korea, BlueSignal recently rolled out an AI program that works alongside adaptive signals, analyzing traffic conditions in real-time and creating predictions about safety and speed from this data. “We wanted to have smarter signal systems to solve traffic problems and reduce traffic jams,” said Seng Tae Baik, CEO of BlueSignal Corporation. “Our BlueSignal Solution is adaptable to the signal-light systems of both old and new cities.”

A trial run of this program found that on 500 roads, its projections were 94.8% accurate, helping to prevent accidents and reduce traffic congestion. “Unlike the existing sensor-based forecasting solutions, the most important advantage is that it uses [a combination] of machine learning and AI-based algorithm, big data analysis and transportation theories,” said Baik.

These technologies will allow cities to respond faster to traffic conditions, cutting down on congestion and reducing costs. Traffic congestion cost $305 billion in the U.S. alone in 2017 — a massive increase from the $10 billion it cost in 2016. According to Baik, “[BlueSignal] has world-class competitiveness in terms of reducing the cost and improving the accuracy [of] traffic management and information services.”

Smart Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrian numbers are climbing. In 2007, 85% of Americans drove to work. By 2017, that number had dropped to 77%. Of course, as the number of walkers grows, so does the amount of pedestrian-related accidents. California was rated the 16th most dangerous state for pedestrians as of 2019, in spite of cities like San Diego working to put pedestrians first. It still experiences more than 500 pedestrian-related accidents a year, with an average of 50 fatalities.

Smart cities will be able to use sensors on both vehicles and on the streets themselves to prevent collisions between pedestrians and cars. Portland, Oregon, is working with a startup out of Pittsburgh called Rapid Flow to avoid pedestrian accidents with an AI-powered system that automatically optimizes traffic conditions in real-time. This system will be able to communicate with neighboring intersections and any connected smart vehicles nearby.

This will likely be disruptive at first, as city planners are trying to teach old infrastructure new tricks, leading to several discussions about disruptive smart technology. In theory, this technology will save lives and prevent pedestrian-related accidents, but cities will have to take the first step. They must accept this disruption and get through it, instead of trying to avoid it and clinging to outdated technology.

V2I Smart Corridors

V2V (vehicle to vehicle) technology is already starting to make our roads safer, allowing smart and autonomous cars to communicate with one another as they travel down the road. These cars and trucks can alert one another to changes in traffic patterns, accidents, congestion and more, but it’s limited to communication between two or more vehicles. V2I (vehicle to infrastructure) technology will make it possible for these connected cars to communicate with the infrastructure of the smart cities they’re traveling through.

V2I smart corridors are sections of road featuring technology that can alert the driver of any upcoming traffic or weather conditions that might slow them down. Preparing drivers ahead of time can ease congestion by letting them change their route, before it’s too late and they end up stuck in a traffic jam.

The Future of Smart City Traffic Infrastructure

Smart cities are coming, whether we’re ready for them or not. It’s up to city planners and civil engineers to adopt these new technologies on top of existing infrastructure, so it doesn’t disrupt traffic patterns or make them worse instead of better.

*) Source header: Shutterstock.
**) This article was written by Kayla Matthews (kaylaematthews@gmail.com), tech journalist and writer.

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