Addressing traffic gridlock will be among the early wins of the Smart Cities initiatives now popping up
“Where traffic is a frustration and loss of valuable time to many of us, it’s a lost job, loss of child care, critical medical care missed, etc. to others.” — Susan Anderson
Smart Cities, Transport, Portland Style
By Martin Rosenberg
Portlandia is nothing if not experimental on the lifestyle front.
To get the inside story of its smart cities transport efforts we reached out to Susan Anderson, director of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Her response:
Much of our smart city work related to traffic and congestion is focused on disadvantaged and underserved communities.
We have projects related to:
- Traffic safety sensors
- Air quality sensors
- Use of real-time data to improve transit arrival time info
- Integrating of multiple, start-to-finish trip planning and mobility options into a single application
- Smart Autonomous Vehicle Initiative
Smart cities technology – the raft of new-fangled ways of using the internet to improve our 21st century lives – will be pivotal to improving traffic flows in our increasingly clogged cities, city and industry leaders tell Icons of Infrastructure.
Portland, Oregon aims to be one of a handful of cities testing out how it will work.
The city’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, said, “We need infrastructure that can be scaled efficiently and cost-effectively, and works to serve the needs of all residents, particularly those who have historically been left behind.”
Portland several decades went all in on mass transit, deploying light rail from its airport on the banks of the Columbia River all the way to its distant burbs.
But it has not spent much on highways infrastructure for at least four decades – so major arterials are jammed most daylight hours.
Larger cities know ever bigger traffic woes.
The average cost of traffic congestion amounts to $1,000 per year for most major city denizens, or a combined $33.7 billion for New York, $19.2 billion for Los Angeles and $10.6 billion for San Francisco, according to data compiled by The Economist.
Portland will be focusing on improving safety around three densely trafficked, dangerous corridors, said Sophia June, the mayor’s communications staffer. Deployments of 200 sensors in June along those routes kicked off the project, she said.
The $1 million effort, half carried by the city, the rest carried by partners including AT&T, GE, Intel and Portland General Electric.
The city website spelled out the questions the sensors will help answer:
“How fast are people actually driving? Where are pedestrians typically crossing busy streets? This information is typically collected in snapshot surveys only which are labor-intensive and time-consuming processes. The infrequent data collected by those methods also does not give our engineers and safety experts the complete story about how our roads are being used.
The Traffic Safety Sensor Initiative will pilot new sensor technology deployed to street lights to gather the data needed for full insights into how people are traveling and where potential danger spots may be.”
“You cannot be smart – with energy efficiency, traffic management – if you haven’t connected those who need to collaborate.” — Anil Menon
Portland will give a special emphasis for serving the needs of underserved citizens needing more transportation options, according to Susan Anderson, director of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.
“Much of our smart city work related to traffic and congestion is focused on disadvantaged and underserved communities,” she said. “Building community is important in many ways.”
The first step in making cities smarter to tackle a host of urban problems in dramatic new fashion is forging unique partnerships and alliances.
That is the view of Anil Menon, president of Smart Connected Communities at Cisco.
“You cannot be smart – with energy efficiency, traffic management – if you haven’t connected those who need to collaborate,” Menon told the in an exclusive interview.
It can be as simple as gathering traffic and weather data – and then alerting police of an imminent onset of car accidents when bad weather approaches, he said.
“The network connects what is needed,” Menon said.
Mid-sized cities in America are uniquely positioned to be able to embrace and scale new smart cities technologies for the most impact, in part because the urban problems – while difficult – remain on management scope.
“The future growth of the American economy is going to be driven by mid-sized cities,” Menon said.
“The Kansas Cities, the Portlands, the Fort Collins’s of the world will thrive.”
It will be vital for the future of the United States, and much of the world, to make small and mid-sized cities more vibrant – since major megalopolises are too crowded already, and the urbanization of the world is accelerating.
“We will need a new London every month for the next 36 years to keep up with urbanization,” Menon said. “Can we use digital resources to there is less reasons to move into urban areas?” Menon said.