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Traffic Automotive Science of Maps Weekend Reads

A compelling case for smart traffic management

We all know the knee-jerk solution to reducing traffic congestion and the associated exhaust fumes that pollute urban areas: everyone just stop driving so much.

Since that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, we’d better hope Steffen Sorrell’s predictions about smart cities turn out to be true.

A Juniper Research senior analyst based in London, Sorrell is the author of Smart Cities: Strategies, Energy, Emissions & Cost Savings 2014-2019, a report which suggests the technology behind connected cars, next-generation parking meters and the Internet of Things could have greater benefits than many experts imagine. Over the next three years, for example, Sorrell says smart city traffic management will essentially reduce the equivalent of CO2 emissions produced by 35 million vehicles, or 164 million metric tonnes.

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As optimistic as that sounds, Sorrell told HERE 360 that each city will need to identify its own tipping point to galvanize these projects. Congestion is already a huge problem across several cities across the globe. With it, though, is an array of negative impacts including economic loss through delays, increased fuel consumption and vehicle emissions. For some municipalities, smart traffic management may be a way to reduce significant health risks. For others, the goal could be to ensure emergency vehicles reach their destinations on time.

The one common denominator? Cities all want to showcase themselves as a great place to be.

“As a common rule, cities must enable their citizens to enjoy a reasonable quality of life, or else large numbers of the population would look elsewhere to live,” Sorrell said. “Again, that would have economic impacts.”

The power of the people

Smart traffic management can take many forms. For example, the BBC recently profiled the way technology can detect possible congestion and dynamically change speed limits to clear up the roads, or allow public transit vehicles like buses to get priority lanes. To some extent, though, these strategies can’t just be foisted on the public but will require their active support, Sorrell said.

“The first stage is to engage with the citizens themselves as ultimately, they should have a voice in what services they would like,” he said.

Then, once pilot projects are underway for smart grids, smart street lighting or smart parking, project leaders should be actively asking the population in the test area to evaluate the impact. Sorrell said citizens need to be provided with an easy means of accessing service support, communicating with the right department and being able to easily view public data.

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Future perfect?

Those who read Sorrell’s report may wonder what kind of innovation will be required to pull all this off. Are cities really ready to be smart about traffic?

“From a purely technological perspective, yes,” he said, adding that embedded road sensors have been available from some time on the market, while image sensing has improved markedly owing to ever-increasing computing power. “There are some aspects that need addressing: magnetic sensors’ accuracy can be compromised through electromagnetic interference, for example.”

Citizens will no doubt have high expectations (and little patience for errors) as automatic ticketing is integrated into next-generation parking systems. This is where municipal leaders may want to spend their time as projects go live.
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“Another aspect to address is: how to you alert the driver where the best route is, or where the best place to park is?” Sorrell said. “Signage is great, but the best method is through the sat nav or smartphone. That still needs some work in terms of integration and encouraging app use.”

Driven to succeed

As smart traffic management becomes a global best practice for city governments, some of the potential measures of success may evolve in unexpected ways, according to Sorrell. He pointed to Amsterdam, which makes a dashboard available displaying real-time traffic information, public transport performance, air quality and so on. It also has a website detailing all of the smart city projects underway, how they affect the city and so on.

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“This is another means to drive engagement,” he said.

Beyond the tangible benefits to individual citizens, municipalities could gather information on how many jobs have been created through such initiatives, for instance, and what those roles look like. There’s also the amount of private investment that the smart city has encouraged.

“All of these metrics amount to an economic value,” said Sorrell.

If that’s the case, it may be time to put these smart traffic management projects into high gear.

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