Speed Read

A multi-stakeholder partnership has sparked a pilot aimed at monitoring traffic flow in four Los Angeles County and San Gabriel Valley cities.

Participants include Caltrans, and a program at the UC Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies.

Their hope is to launch a system capable of improving congestion in those areas, during the first quarter of 2020.

A team comprising Caltrans, UC Berkeley and other stakeholders is tackling a pilot project that aims to reduce traffic in Southern California by targeting I-210.

The effort, among partners including the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and a program at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies, is the first phase of an Integrated Corridor Management (ICM) project: the I-210 Pilot.

Its first part includes monitoring traffic flow in four Southern California cities: Monrovia, Arcadia, Pasadena and Duarte. But the hope, said Joe Butler, program manager for California Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology — the research program at UC Berkeley focused on Intelligent Transportation Systems — is that the system will officially launch in the first quarter of 2020.

“The university's goal is to improve the way in which decision-making — real-time decision-making in transportation — occurs,” Butler told Techwire, “and to do that through really bringing better decision support techniques [and] AI machine learning into the mix.”

In addition to that, said Mort Fahrtash, office chief of District Traffic Management in the Caltrans Division of Traffic Operations, there's the goal of “putting a dent in non-recurring congestion,” which includes traffic buildup due to accidents, work zones and weather. (Recurring congestion includes the a.m. and p.m. traffic peaks.).

“Over 50 percent of congestion is due to non-recurring congestion,” Fahrtash said. “And we believe that we’re going to make the system work better — get the commuters from Point A to Point B faster and better — by optimizing the capacity of the system.”

I-210 Pilot Tech

The technology used in the pilot includes traffic, transit and system monitoring of freeway, arterial roadway and transit conditions, which is done using data from Caltrans' Performance Measurement System (PeMS) and data feeds from commercial data providers.

PeMS collects data in real time from “nearly 40,000 individual detectors spanning the freeway system across all major metropolitan areas of the state of California,” according to Caltrans, which serves as project lead. Signal status, ramp metering data and travel demand data also are used.

At the ICM system’s heart is a cloud-based Decision Support System (DSS) that takes the information gathered from monitoring systems and:

• Estimates current traffic conditions;

• Identifies highway events including accidents and bottlenecks;

• Develops strategies to respond to the problems it has identified;

• Forecasts near-future conditions under alternative scenarios using simulation and modeling and evaluates potential strategies; and

• Recommends the best strategy to implement.

The final key component is system interfaces, which are necessary for communicating not only with existing traffic monitoring systems and system operators, but also traveler information systems like the Changeable Message Sign that Caltrans uses to give motorists real-time traffic safety and guidance information.

System interfaces are used in two different contexts, Butler said. One is an actual visual interface, and the other is data interfaces that determine in what format that data is sent back and forth between different components, but does not involve anything visual.

“For example, if you have a system that’s controlling the signal lights in, say, the city of Pasadena, the information on the state of the signals needs to be sent back to the central data hub so the [DSS] understands, ‘Is this signal working or not?’” he said. “And then if it’s working, the command needs to be sent back to that signal to change its current signal timing pattern to facilitate the movement of traffic.”

The pilot itself is designed to fine-tune the overall ICM approach, Butler said, to make sure the rules the team has put together are accurate, that the memorandums of understanding with the various stakeholders include everything that’s necessary, and that the team understands the skills required by the system operators. “It’s really a broad-based pilot to understand everything it takes to really improve real-time decision-making in transportation management.”

I-210 Progress, Next Steps

Butler said the first part of the I-210 Pilot is about four-fifths complete.

“We’re starting to bring in data from the various cities and from Caltrans,” he said. “We have the initial decision support rules in testing and we have the MOU agreements signed. So, we’re well on our way, and we’re hoping by early next year to actually launch our system.”

Actually launching the system means that when an incident — such as an accident, lane closure or road work — occurs along I-210 in the cities of Monrovia, Arcadia, Pasadena and Duarte, the DSS will look at where the incident occurred and the severity of its impact on traffic and congestion, and it will suggest that traffic be routed down streets with more capacity, Butler said.

Then, he added, “The capacity on those streets will be further enhanced by changing the signal lights so that more traffic can flow through an intersection in the direction that we want.”

In addition, Fahrtash said the team will conduct performance evaluations and before and after studies to determine whether the system more quickly relieved the congestion.

“Because when there’s a major incident on the freeway, every 7 minutes there will be 1 mile of queue buildup,” he added. “So, if we don't deal with the issue in 14 minutes or 15 minutes, there's a 2-mile queue.”

Fahrtash also said there’s potential for incorporating additional components to the I-210 corridor project, such as transit, parking management, and structure management.

“We are working on a master plan for ICM,” he said, adding that this involves a great deal of educating project partners and gathering technology status information, among other things.

“What kind of criteria, what kind of guidelines or protocols or rules do we want to set in place for managing incidents or congestion from our perspective, from their perspective,” Fahrtash continued. “So, we need to work collaboratively and intelligently with each other and see which other routes we need to tackle and enhance, because there's opportunity to enhance the mobility and manage the congestion in a better fashion.”

Vendor Participation, Opportunities

The three primary vendor partners in this project are Kapsch, an international road telematics, IT and telecommunications company; systems integrator Parsons; and traffic management software systems integrator Telegra — all of which are providing product without pay, Butler said, because they understand the importance of this project to California.

While there are no vendor opportunities in the pilot phase, Butler said that going forward, “We absolutely plan to work with system integrators.”

Still, he made clear that to this point, this is and has been a university project with the goal of developing new ways of doing things and helping California advance.

“It's not our job to be a company that goes out and installs this in multiple locations across the state,” he said. “So our plan is get the pilot working and then start working with system integrators who will pick up this product and then work with Caltrans and other municipalities to install this and implement it.”