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Traffic Management for a Smarter Planet

Analytics helps ease congestion, improve commuting and predict traffic conditions

In emerging markets, 90 percent of urban air pollution is because of vehicle emissions.

Source: "Traffic Impacts on PM2.5 air quality in Nairobi, Kenya," Environmental Science & Policy, June 2011.

The number of vehicles on the world’s roads is expected to double to around 2.5 billion by 20501. But rather than increase congestion, pollution, collisions and commuter angst as you’d expect, just the opposite may come to pass.

How could there be more vehicles but less traffic in the future? Governments certainly aren’t pouring money--and concrete--into building more roads. Today, technology is revolutionizing just about everything imaginable about how we get from point A to point B.

Armed with data from sensors in roads and vehicles, cities are already using predictive analytics to anticipate and reduce traffic congestion. Drivers use social media to detect and avoid gridlock. City planners analyze data to pinpoint where new bus routes are most needed. Even the way we park is being reinvented.

Cities worldwide face rapid growth and mounting transportation challenges. But that growth also provides opportunities to build intelligent transportation systems that will fundamentally improve how cities manage and citizens use their transportation networks.

The promise of the ‘connected car’

Data is the fuel that drives intelligent transportation systems--and today traffic-related data pours in from everywhere: GPS trackers, social media posts, mobile phones and cameras located in cars and on the street. Cities capture and analyze data from all these sources as well as thousands of sensors embedded in roads and vehicles to monitor and manage traffic in real time.

The Dutch city of Eindhoven, for instance, worked with IBM to pilot a traffic management solution that collects and merges braking, acceleration and location data from in-vehicle sensors with traffic data gathered from the road.

Eindhoven, Netherlands pilots a connected car solution

Using cloud technology and analytics, the disparate data from thousands of sensors enabled officials to respond to dangerous road conditions, accidents or growing traffic density in near real-time. The solution also alerts drivers of traffic incidents through smartphones and built-in navigation devices, allowing them to find alternate routes.

As automakers continue to embed advanced sensors in vehicles, “connected cars” may in fact become essential to solving the world’s traffic problems. IBM is helping Volkswagen advance this concept in Wolfsburg, Germany, where geospatial data generated by vehicles helps the town see traffic density and patterns in real time and make immediate, informed decisions. VW’s connected car also offers personalized guidance to drivers, such as ideal departure time and the best route to avoid traffic jams.

And following right behind the connected car? The Internet of Cars, of course--and the self-driving car, which will feature ever-more advanced technologies that will enhance traffic management and the driving experience.

Tweets and apps steer transportation decisions

What if a status update on a social media site could be used to help authorities determine whether to reroute a city bus and avoid a traffic snarl for riders? People connected to Twitter, Facebook and other social networks often tweet or post about accidents, congestion, detours and just about any other traffic matter--providing invaluable real-time data for traffic management.

The city of Toulouse, France deployed a solution that collects and analyzes its citizens’ social media comments about city planning and traffic issues so authorities can be more responsive to pressing needs. As a result, Toulouse has accelerated its average response time to road-maintenance issues by 93 percent, from 15 days to just one day.

Mobile technology also gives cities a powerful tool to discover and quickly resolve traffic issues and to enhance route planning and traffic navigation for citizens and visitors.

IBM’s Access My City solution helps people find accessible transportation and plan a public transit or walking route. The solution brings together real-time transit data, geo-location and mapping technologies and publicly available accessibility information and delivers it to mobile devices.

Piloted in New York City, Access My City removes barriers to urban transit for senior citizens, families with small children, people with disabilities and anyone else who needs to locate ramps, elevators and escalators.

Access My City is a prime example of how technology helps aggregate real-time data to enhance everything from an intermodal commute to a stroll around town.

The economic costs of congestion

Making the daily commute more bearable is a big deal. But intelligent transportation technologies provide cities an opportunity to address long-range policy goals as well. By monitoring traffic performance and patterns over time, cities can make significant progress in cutting congestion, emissions and noise; determine where to place buses and build mass transit stations to ensure they operate at full capacity; and improve emergency vehicle response times.

Congestion is costly on so many fronts. Commuters waste precious time and burn away money in fuel costs, traffic accidents are more likely, and cities become less desirable to businesses and new residents.

Cities that invest in smarter transportation systems can see a clear return on their investment not only in reduced transport network and infrastructure costs, but enhanced business and economic growth. For instance, reducing congestion by 25 percent equals $185 billion in savings in the United States and can increase retail sales by six percent2.

Of course, the ultimate ROI for intelligent transportation solutions is a more livable city and better quality of life for all its citizens. Less gridlock, cleaner air, reliable mass transit: that’s the kind of place where people want to live, work and shop—and it’s attainable for any city with today’s technologies.

1. OECD. 2012. “Transport Outlook 2012: Seamless Transport for Greener Growth.” Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
2. IBM; IMF; World Bank; Centre for Retail Research; International Transport Forum; World Health Organization.

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Eric-Mark Huitema

Eric-Mark Huitema
Global solution sales manager: Smarter Transportation

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