How Atlanta is deploying smart tech to reduce traffic snarls

Sensored streetlights. High-definition cameras.  Alexa alerts for motorists to help avoid  jam-causing traffic incidents. These are some smart tech deployed by Atlanta to increase road efficiency and safety.

How Alexa Helps Avoid Traffic Jams

How it works: The Alexa skill that Johns Creek, Ga. created uses GIS software combined with data from Waze to analyze traffic accidents and road closures over the last hour within the city. “The skill (application) then gives the user the total number of current issues on the roads,” says Nick O’Day, the chief data officer for Johns Creek, a northeast suburb of Atlanta.

How drivers benefit: Via their Alexa speakers, motorists can get the current status of Johns Creek roads, avoiding traffic jams, accidents and road closures.

Benefits to city: The Alexa skill has saved Johns Creek 10 hours a month that used to be spent by staffers answering phone calls, say local officials. The skill provides answers to more than 200 questions covering traffic congestion, zoning, city financial and safety records, public works orders, meeting times, and more.

Cost to city: To build the Alexa skill, about $10,000 was spent on initial development costs of the Alexa skill, with much of it completed in-house.

Completion date: The Alexa skill was launched in Johns Creek Ga. April 2018.


As Atlanta celebrates the one-year anniversary of the completion of the North Avenue Smart Corridor (Sept. 14, 2017), the project has met several key targets. Throughout the corridor, the city has been able to maintain travel times and volume, while reducing crashes by 25%. The project relies on smart technology to increase safety and improve multimodal traffic operations along a 2.3-mile stretch of roadway.

The Renew Atlanta Infrastructure Bond has funded the initiative.

The $3 million project included the installation and use of hundreds of Internet of things (IoT) sensors at 26 signalized intersections. Existing roadway has been restriped to help ensure reduced crash frequency and enable acceptance and operation of autonomous vehicles. Adaptive signal timing, a vehicle-to-infrastructure communications setup and Bluetooth wireless travel time and origin destination system are all part of the project package.

Technology on the corridor project includes:

  • Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFBs) were installed at three locations along the corridor to improve pedestrian safety and mobility.
  • High Definition (HD) cameras that run analytics and provide counts of vehicles and bicycles along roadways. The cameras are employed to run the Surtrac Traffic Adaptive Signal System, which is a signal timing setup that adapts to traffic patterns in a second-by-second format.
  • The TravelSafely smartphone application, which connects vehicle technology, allows users to see which lights are green at intersections along the corridor. The TravelSafely application gives warnings such as excessive speed, running a red light, and proximity to other pedestrians and vehicles. The 4G application allows users to select their current mode of transportation (pedestrian, bicycle, or vehicle).
  • Streetlights that feature Current’s CityIQ sensors have been installed as part of the North Avenue Corridor project and elsewhere in Atlanta. The sensors will help Atlanta address issues such as traffic flow, parking optimization and gunshot detection, and create a platform for citizen engagement. The fixtures are also equipped with a controls system called LightGrid which allows city personnel to dim, brighten and check maintenance on the lights remotely. The installation is a collaboration between AT&T, Current by GE and Georgia Power.
Traffic in Atlanta remains congested

INRIX, a big data firm, puts Atlanta at No. 4 in its ranking of the most congested U.S. cities. For its 2017 Global Traffic Scorecard, INRIX studied the impact of traffic congestion in 1,360 cities across 38 countries. Analysts found that metro Atlantans spent an average of 70 hours in traffic jams during peak travel times. That costs each driver $2,212 and the city more than $7 billion.

INRIX provides data, analytics and technology to automakers, governments, consultants and businesses. It is a connected car services company with an extensive connected device traffic and parking network. Customers use the firm’s data to see new movement patterns that can inform their decision-making.

Atlanta’s average trip duration for mobile workers is lengthy and exceeds average duration for workers in Boston, Seattle, Houston and other major cities, reports Motus. The company produces mobile workforce management software as well as a vehicle management and reimbursement platform.

“Looking at the average trip duration in Atlanta compared to other major cities, we’ve seen that it’s approaching cities notorious for traffic, like New York,” says Ken Robinson, market research analyst at Motus. He adds that intense traffic congestion in Atlanta takes place in all dayparts, not just rush hours.

Robinson says it’s hard to imagine that Smart Cities programs won’t make a dent in Atlanta’s traffic issues. “Intelligent roads, smart traffic signals and more will not only help manage the existing flow of traffic; they will also provide Atlanta city officials with insights into where it can improve its infrastructure to be more competitive with other major cities.”

Smart tech: A difference-maker

Atlanta collaborated with the Together for Safer Roads (TSR) organization to better understand how to address the abnormally high crash rate on the North Avenue Corridor. TSR is a coalition that brings together global private sector companies, across industries, to collaborate on improving road safety.

TSR and Atlanta city officials combined private sector data with public data to analyze root causes of crashes within the Corridor and suggest the best interventions and future usage of the Corridor, says TSR president David Braunstein. He adds that the collaboration between TSR and the city ultimately resulted in an interactive dashboard that analyzes key risk factors within the North Avenue Corridor, so the city can predict crashes before they happen.

Since the launch of the North Avenue Smart Corridor, there has been a 26 percent reduction in the number of crashes along the route. “For example, crashes have dropped from 177 for the months of September 2016 to January 2017 to 131 in the same time frame in 2017/2018. Particularly, head on collisions and opposite-direction sideswipes have been reduced by 100 percent with rear-end and same-direction sideswipes reduced by 24 percent and 34 percent respectively,” Braunstein explains.

Braunstein offers these conclusions. “Will these smart technologies eliminate traffic jams? Absolutely. But what is more important is they have proven to eliminate safety challenges and save lives.”

 

Larry K Williams

“Technology can by all means help reduce congestion in the metro Atlanta region,” says Larry K. Williams, president and CEO of the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG). It is a membership organization that serves as an engine for economic development for the state of Georgia. He says smart traffic signals, better management of peak traffic times and alternate routes are a few tools that can help reduce traffic pressure points.

Williams believes new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, will provide ways to increase the capacity for cars on the existing system of metro Atlanta roads. “There are many smart and proven systems that can be deployed today while we continue to amplify our transit systems to meet the needs of tomorrow,” Williams says.

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