Traffic Jams? It’s Time to Think Smarter

Traffic congestion is inescapable in large and growing metropolitan communities across the world, from New York City to Los Angeles, and from Mexico City to Tokyo.

In spite of attempted remedies, congestion keeps getting worse, and commuters are growing increasingly frustrated. And while congestion will never go away, some counties are working hard to help eliminate some of it. Santa Clara County, CA, home of Silicon Valley, is working on just that.

The county’s traffic signals on their major roadways are far from consistent, resulting in slower traffic. Times can vary due to many factors, from car volume to whether it took a pedestrian awhile to cross the road, it all impacts the flow of traffic.

Ananth Prasad, who is a civil engineer for Santa Clara County explained, “we cannot widen the roads anymore, we just have to be smart.” And that is exactly what they did. They installed cameras and sensors on hundreds of streets. This technology allows them to see real-time data. That data is then sent to its Traffic Management Center where it’s placed into cloud computing for analysis. Once the data is processed, tweaks to timing of the lights are then made for the 1.5 million cars their streets see daily.

Traditionally, the county had a traffic plan for the morning, afternoon, and evening but now the county has moved to a more traffic based-approach. “All of the video streams into a server in our TMC [Traffic Management Center] and we continuously upload the traffic volume,” said Prasad. “And now that we know how much traffic volume is on each of the roadways, we are able to put in different signal coordination plans, and those coordination plans vary depending on the level of traffic that is on the expressways.”

The new technology is also installed in the pavement, helping to report when bicycles have approached an intersection. The sensors tell the traffic lights that they need to provide enough time for that biker to make it through said intersection.

And Santa Clara didn’t forget about its pedestrians, who could be crossing up to ten lanes of traffic at a given intersection. Prasad noted, “In order to provide them sufficient time we use microwave sensors. That microwave sensor is actually tracking pedestrian movement in the crosswalk. And when the crossing time is about to end, if it still detects a pedestrian, it can provide them an extension.” This dynamic technology allows for safer crossing from young to old, fast to slow.

The real-time data is also stored to help the traffic management system see into the future, allowing them to forecast travel times based on both historical and existing traffic volumes.

 “It’s a way of educating them (commuters),” Prasad explained, “Is it better to leave early? Or is it better to leave late? If only five percent leave early, and another five percent leave late, then we have reduced the traffic (at present) by 10 percent, in concept.”

What would you do with an extra few minutes every day?

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About the Author: Taylor Genter

Taylor is the Marketing Specialist at Extract with experience in data analytics, graphic design, and both digital and social media marketing.  She earned her Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Marketing at the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater. Taylor enjoys analyzing people’s behaviors and attitudes to find out what motivates them, and then curating better ways to communicate with them.