Ambitious Atlanta: It has an abundance of smart apps & initiatives

Road corridors, streetcars and event traffic management all get intelligent upgrades

Project Name: North Avenue Smart Corridor

Project Start: 05-2016

Construction Start: 06-2017

Project completion: 09-2017

Project Budget: $3,000,000

Funding: Renew Atlanta Infrastructure Bond

Details: The project scope includes upgrades along North Avenue from Freedom Parkway to Northside Drive to optimize signal operations and communications network to the Atlanta Traffic Control Center (ATCC). The route covers the most connected corridor in the state of Georgia, serving as a living lab for active, multi-modal traffic management through technology deployment and data analytics. Smart technology solutions along the North Avenue corridor will improve roadway and public safety, mobility, and the environment.

Kirk Talbott

With about 90 smart city projects percolating in Atlanta, “the list of partners and connected technologies in place is probably too long for a short conversation,” quips Kirk Talbott, executive director of Smart City ATL, the city’s umbrella initiative for all things smart. Talbert formerly served as CIO for two transit agencies before signing on with the city.

Atlanta’s North Ave. Smart Corridor travels about five miles along North Avenue in downtown Atlanta. On the route the city, Georgia Tech, vendors and other organizations test Internet of Things (IoT) components, autonomous cars, connectivity products, smart traffic signals, intelligent streetlights, wireless vehicle-to-infrastructure solutions and more. The route runs along North Avenue from Freedom Parkway to Northside Drive

North Ave. Smart Corridor

Talbott tells Icons of Infrastructure that 12 vendors have been involved in the corridor project. “We’ve made improvements in different aspects of traffic signal technology, traffic management and traffic observation. We’ve made upgrades to technology to or for better detection of vehicles, pedestrians and people on bikes. The upgrades in technology allow us to synchronize the traffic signals remotely so that they can keep their schedules better. We’ve implemented machinery and artificial intelligence on a handful of corridor intersections that are allowing the traffic signals to make better timing decisions based on actual traffic flow demand.”

Talbott says it’s very easy for cities to fall into the trap of implementing technology for the sake of technology. “What we’ve found is that by keeping your focus on the desired outcomes, you can more rapidly determine if a technology is beneficial or not. This ends up saving money and time for cities—where they are achieving the impacts that they really seek.” Talbott adds, “It’s also about trying to figure out which technology actually moves the needle the most in the things that matter to our city: public safety, mobility and operational efficiency.”

Construction on the corridor was completed in Sept. 2017. For its multiple smart city projects, the city has obtained more than $50 million in funding. Other construction funding sources include a Renew Atlanta Bond initiative which is a $250 million program and a transportation special local option sales tax (TSPLOST) which provides more than $250 million and is collected over five years. “The city has leveraged additional state and federal funds bringing the total to around ¾ of a billion dollars’ worth of infrastructure improvements overall,” Talbott estimates.

The city has issued a request for proposal (RFP) for an autonomous shuttle test along the corridor. The current deadline for vendors to submit a response to the RFP is June 27. “The city hosted an on-site shuttle demonstration in Sept. 2017 on private property and is now in the procurement process to deploy an autonomous shuttle from Ponce City Market/Beltline to the North Avenue Marta Station on West Peachtree Street,” says Keary Lord. He is the Deputy Program Manager for Atlanta’s Renew Atlanta Bond and TSPLOST programs. He also serves as project director for Atkins North America, which is doing program management for two of the city’s infrastructure programs. Atkins is the prime consultant.

The autonomous vehicle will be connected to the technology on North Avenue and Ponce De Leon Avenue so the vehicle will know the signal phase and timing data of the signals, Lord says. “The vehicle will know when to stop and go and also transit signal priority technology so that the shuttle receives a green signal indications along the route.”

Smart Streetcar Technology—in the Cloud

Atlanta’s streetcar features advanced technology from Siemens. The 2.7 mile loop has 12 stops that connect Centennial Olympic Park with the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site and nearby neighborhoods east of downtown.

atlanta streetcarSiemens has installed its Mindsphere data platform to boost efficiency of streetcar operations. It stores, manages and uses operations information, says Denise Quarles, Chief City Executive, Siemens. “The platform generates real-time insights into the streetcar performance. Managers get real-time visualization of the vehicle and its operation. What that does: it gives managers a better understanding of safety and operator performance. It also helps Siemens improve vehicle performance as well as operations and maintenance,” Quarles says. Most recently, Quarles served as the director of the Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, where she was responsible for developing Atlanta’s first comprehensive sustainability plan.

Denise Quarles

In April 2017 Siemens launched its Mobility Digital Services business in the U.S. and Mindsphere Digital Analytics and Applications Center. The center is located at Georgia Tech’s Innovation Center in Atlanta, and serves as Siemens’ North American hub for mobility-related vehicle and infrastructure data visualization and analysis. Staff at the facility analyze the gathered data in order to develop advanced software platforms for rail systems across the country. Mindsphere is a cloud-based IoT system that provides streetcar operations data.

Event Traffic Management

Atlanta has installed Mobility Insight’s (“Mobi”) machine learning cloud analytics system and its IoT sensor network for mobility management. The system will provide real time traffic analytics, network performance indexes, and event scorecards as part of the firm’s Intelligent Mobility Management System.

The setup will help manage event traffic in downtown Atlanta. The event zone within Atlanta is home to the Philips Arena, the recently built Mercedes Benz Stadium, and the Georgia World Congress Center. Between the Atlanta Falcons, Hawks, United FC, and conventions, events in the area add up to 20,000 cars a day to the already strained Atlanta road network. In 2017, Mobi’s technology analyzed 30+ events in downtown Atlanta. The system has been selected to support preparations for the 2019 Super Bowl that will be staged in Atlanta.

The firm’s solution is integrated into Renew Atlanta’s Digital Mobility Center as part of the Renew Atlanta Bond Smart ATL Initiative. In the Digital Mobility Center, Mobi is transforming traffic data into predictive and actionable insights in real time. The system provides mobility situational awareness and helps the city make changes to traffic signal timing and traffic police deployment. The city uses Mobi’s cloud analytics platform and event scorecards to debrief and make decisions about traffic inflow and outflow at events.

“Mobi’s technology, mobility analytics, and situational awareness are going to expand our collection of tools that will enable us to monitor and manage downtown Atlanta event traffic more proactively and effectively,” says Keary Lord.

Cynthia CurryTeamwork is everywhere in Atlanta’s smart tech projects. “Atlanta’s launch of the Smart Corridor on North Avenue last September leverages public, private partnerships (PPPs) to help solve some of the city’s biggest challenges, and this collaboration is the key to the project’s success,” says Cynthia Curry. She is ​Director of IoT, Ecosystem Expansion at the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

When a city embraces smart tech, does it help ensure or speed economic development in a community? Absolutely, says Curry. “Having a Smart City, or connected community, ensures strong economic growth for the future and is vital for resiliency and business attraction. Having a connected community provides great value to the citizens, ensures and enhances sustainability, and provides a wealth of revenue resources to the city and businesses within it.”

Photos by Michael Keating

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