GIS for Transportation: Principles, Data and Applications

6.5 Next Week's Webinar



Next week we will have a webinar with Doug Tomlinson, Chief of Traffic Operations at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Doug's career has focused on various aspects of traffic engineering including work zone traffic control, traffic signals, traffic calming, incident management, ITS, and Traffic Operations. He is currently a Chief of Traffic Operations for PennDOT's Bureau of Maintenance and Operations with a focus on Planning and Operations.

Doug has worked for PennDOT since 1994. He was named ITS PA person of the year by the Pennsylvania chapter in 2013. Doug was a graduate of PennDOT's first Executive Development Academy, as well as a 2008 Graduate of the Operations Academy. Doug graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown in 1993 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering Technology.

Intelligent Transportation Systems

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) is an exciting subfield of transportation which encompasses a broad array of technologies. The unifying goals of ITS technologies and systems are to help us use our transportation network more effectively and to allow us to make more informed decisions. One of the most active areas within ITS is in the area of Connected Vehicles and Autonomous Vehicles (CV/AV). Check out this TED talk (4:06) from 2011 on Google's driverless car:

Then watch this brief USDOT video (7:29) on connected vehicles:

Click for the transcript of Connected Vehicle: The Future of Transportation.

Imagine a future where vehicles talk to one another and to critical infrastructure. This connected vehicle technology can change our transportation system as we know it by enabling safe interoperable network wireless communications among vehicles, infrastructure, and personal communications devices. Connected vehicles provide drivers with 360-degree awareness of similarly equipped vehicles within a range of approximately 300 meters. This secure system keeps personal information private and does not track your vehicle. Drivers will receive warnings that inform them of potential hazards through a visual display, seat vibration, or tone. These are only warnings the driver remains in control of the vehicle at all times. However, the technology can also support limited automated functions in which the driver only cedes partial control of the vehicle. Warnings can help drivers respond quickly to avoid potential crashes. For example, the intersection movement assist application warns drivers when it is unsafe to enter an intersection. The do not pass application warns drivers when it is not safe to pass a slower moving vehicle. The emergency electronic brake light application notifies the driver when an out-of-sight vehicle several cars ahead is braking , and imagine the value of this blind spot warning application which lets this commercial driver virtually see what's happening in his or her blind spot. Connected vehicles can communicate with smart roadside infrastructure like rail grade crossings to alert drivers when a train is coming even if the driver cannot see or hear the approaching train.

Connected vehicles can help with weather-related traffic and safety issues too. This this is especially true with conditions such as black ice where the weather may not appear to be dangerous, but the roads are slippery. Information collected from multiple connected vehicles can help determine when a potential hazard exist such as icy roads and warn drivers before they experienced them. Road weather data from the vehicles can be sent to traffic management centers or TMCs providing detailed, real-time information to help monitor and manage transportation system performance. The centers can then take actions like adjusting traffic signals and speed limits, notifying maintenance crews, dispatching maintenance vehicles to the road, and broadcasting warnings for motorists. Motorists can get real-time road weather information from in-car displays by dialing 511 or by listening to highway radio stations. Motorists will be able to get road weather information on their personal devices before leaving home.

Connected vehicles can even help us to reduce our carbon footprint and facilitate green transportation choices. Eco lanes are similar to today's HOV lanes but with a big difference. Motorists in these lanes agree to drive eco-friendly vehicles and drive at a speed that conserves fuel. Drivers will be alerted about the proper speed with dynamic message signs.

Connected vehicle applications can help vehicles to reduce idling and unnecessary stops by communicating with smart traffic signals. Traffic signals broadcast data about their current signal phase and timing and systems inside the vehicles use the data to determine speed advice for drivers. Drivers could then adjust their vehicles speed to pass the next traffic signal on green or slow down to a stop in the most eco-friendly manner thereby saving fuel, reducing emissions, and saving drivers money. Connected vehicles can enhance awareness of unexpected roadside incidents like disabled vehicles, car crashes, police activity, and first responders caring for crash victims. Incident zone warnings will alert drivers about incidents ahead and warn them to slow down and change lanes. Communications could also be sent to first responders at the scene via shoulder radios to warn them of the danger of approaching vehicles. Connected vehicle technology can help control traffic flow and reduce the resulting congestion at accident sites before it gets out of hand.

With millions of connected vehicles, our ability to share robust data with each other and with smart infrastructure will continue to improve traffic flow, enhance coordination with transit, and make our communities even more safe and livable. The connection protection application gives public transportation providers and travelers the ability to communicate two ways. The connected network gives passengers real-time transit information so they can more accurately predict whether they will make their next connection. If multiple people on a delayed bus will miss their next connection transportation providers can adjust bus departures to enable the passengers to make their next connection. Dynamic ridesharing applications make the logistics of ride-sharing, scheduling, reliability, and communication easier by connecting vehicles and handheld devices. Applications do the matching for us authenticating users and connecting riders with drivers. The co-operative adaptive cruise control app helps drivers avoid stops and starts which can also help conserve fuel and improve traffic flow. And the queue warning app monitors traffic data to detect stretches of slow-moving traffic and warn motorists to reduce speeds to avoid potential rear-end collisions.

Connected vehicle technology can help pedestrians, too. For example, the mobile accessible pedestrian signal system app sends an automated pedestrian call from the smartphone of a pedestrian with disabilities to the traffic controller holding the walk signal until the pedestrian has cleared the crosswalk. This application also alerts drivers of the presence of a pedestrian with disabilities at the crosswalk.

The potential benefits of a connected transportation system, one that is able to enhance safety and mobility and address environmental impacts are wide-ranging. They will be felt by every one of us, enhancing the livability of our communities and ultimately making our transportation safer and smarter. Imagine the possibilities.

Please Note

The USDOT has put together an interesting historical summary of ITS technologies.

Traveler Information Systems

An area of ITS which has become very popular in recent years is traveler information systems. These systems disseminate real-time information to travelers in order to allow them to make more informed choices. These systems commonly contain the following types of information:

  • Traffic and road conditions
  • Construction projects
  • Planned events
  • Camera video and images
  • Incidents
  • Weather information

Traveler information can be disseminated by a number of methods including via Highway Advisory Radio stations (HAR), Variable Message Signs (DMS) and 511 websites, mobile applications, and IVR systems. On July 21, 2000, the Federal Communications Commission designated a single 3 digit number (511) which could be used anywhere in the nation to obtain traveler information. Implementation of the services themselves was left to states and local agencies.

The Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) hosts a 511 Travel Information Telephone Services website which shows the locations in the U.S. which provide 511 telephone services. As you can see from this site, most states in the U.S. operate a 511 information service. If you click on any location with 511 telephone services, you'll be given more information about the 511 services of that state/location. You'll notice that there is a “backdoor” number you can use to call 511 in a state even if you are not in that state. The information provided also gives the link to the corresponding 511 website if there is one.

Assignment 6-6 (10 points)

Explore the Pennsylvania 511 website (Doug Tomlinson's group is responsible for this site) and the 511 telephone service for Pennsylvania (dial 511 if you're in Pennsylvania or 1-877-511-PENN if you're not) and investigate the information which is available to you through IVR. Submit an M.S. Word document (no more than 500 words in length) to Assignment 1-5 in Canvas which addresses the following questions.

  1. Have you used traveler information systems in the past? If not, why not? (2 points)
  2. Compare and contrast Pennsylvania's 511 phone service and 511 website. What are the pros and cons of each? (3 points)
  3. How is GIS used to help states disseminate traveler information and what benefits does it offer travelers? (3 points)
  4. Include 2 - 4 questions for our speaker, Doug Tomlinson. (2 points)