Tuesday, July 12, 2005

GPS to the Rescue

Virginia has moved one step closer to a market-driven, Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) that will equip a motorist to look at a screen on his dashboard, spot congested traffic conditions ahead and plan a route around the gridlock. According to the NewsLeader.com, you can do just that in 20 different cities. For the price of about $2,100 up front and less than $30 per month, you can arm yourself with a state-of-the-art GPS-navigation system.

Pioneer's AVIC-D1 navigation system provides on-screen directions while the XM NavTraffic service displays traffic delays on the Pioneer's on-screen map. It also recommends alternate routes in 20 major metropolitan areas.

The key to making the system work is the ability to stream real-time data on traffic conditions to the motorist. That requires the installation of sensors along major traffic corridors. In Virginia, radar- and video-based sensors are limited mainly to Interstates, although they are begining to be deployed in other locations as well. Sensors embedded at stop lights can track the speed of traffic to synchronize the movement of cars along major corridors. The same data can be repackaged and transmitted to motorists equipped with GPS navigation.

The cost of installing the sensors is modest compared to the expense of adding new lanes in urban areas. What's stopping us?


At 8:40 AM, Blogger Will Vehrs said...

Jim, the system sounds great, but isn't "a route around gridlock" pretty difficult to find these days?

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Jeremy Hinton said...

A little off topic, but you know, it would be interesting to see the results of this in a concentrated deployment. Some very odd parallels to computer networks begin to evolve with systems like this. I see the development of routing protocls, assigning traffic based "metrics" to major roadways, and the end-user systems (ie cars) computing the "lowest congested" route. Of course, then you open the system to oscillation, which plagues most network routing protocls based on actual system load.

Sorry to wax a bit off topic there, but it starts to get very interesting to see systems like this.

At 7:27 PM, Anonymous SDH4VBT said...

Yeah, $2,100 up front and $360 a year is a FAR BETTER DEAL than a ten cent gas tax increase that would cost me $100 a year and would pump half-a-billion into added lanes, congestion management, or even mass transit alternatives. Tell me guys, just how many thousands of dollars are you willing to spend to save yourself a couple hundred bucks in user fees? This is what happens when ideology trumps simple common sense and Econ 101.

At 8:20 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

You get what you pay for. If we don't pay for roads after we consult our GPS we will be like Tonto saying "Me not lost. Me Here. Trail lost."

At 8:31 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

Agreed. There is no route around gridlock.

It would be great to force people to purchase an enormously expensive GPS system, just so some ideologues could be satisfied that the gas tax didn't increase.

At 9:37 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

You skeptics are missing the point. Very few people can afford $2,100 for a navigation system (although as the number of purchasers increases, economies of scale will kick in and the price will fall). Only a few people will avail themselves of this alternative to coping with congestion and gridlock. But, as I repeat over and over because it doesn't seem to penetrate, there is no silver-bullet solution to congestion. But there are hundreds of ideas that address a sliver of the problem. (See my note about commuter buses today on the Road to Ruin blog.)

The problem with you skeptics is that you think that simply adding more road and rail capacity, in and of itself, will ameliorate traffic congestion. I'm not some smart-growth zealot or isolated crank in contradicting you. I advise you to read the 2005 Urban Mobility Study, which concludes that the build-your-way-out-of-congestion strategy is prohibitively expensive, and recommends a multi-pronged approach entailing many of the strategies that I've outlined in this blog and on Bacon's Rebellion.

At 1:51 PM, Anonymous SDH4VBT said...

Agreed, Jim, there is no silver bullet solution to congestion. But there can be substantial IMPROVEMENTS with smart investments, and doing nothing is a recipe for absolute disaster. And as Barnie Day always says, congestion isn't the problem along Route 58. Solutions might include in-vehicle GPS systems, but the math was just too good not to skewer you on that one. If I see a high fast one I tend to swing for the fence.

At 7:47 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

$2100 is way overpriced for a gps. GPS technology is included in cell phones now.

What this price includes is the information and the service, but most of us know how to get to work and back, and know the alternatives, if any.

The, "if any", is the problem. People want cul-de-sacs in their neighborhhood, and they want intersecting streets and cut throughs NIMBY.

We read the urban traffic study differently. As I see it, it says building your way out is enormously expensive and only a few areas have come marginallly close to getting ahead of the power curve. We need alot more money right now; but higher fuel prices might eliminate some of the problem.

While multipronged approaches are necessary, we should have realistic expectations as to what we can achieve. Some people claim we might get a twenty per cent reduction of the increase that will occur with no action taken. I suspect that a seven to ten percent reduction of the increas is all we can expect, and resources should be allocated accordingly. In other words 93% for new construction and seven percent for every thing else.

Instead, it appears we will spend 50% of our budget on modes that will carry a fraction of the traffic, so far as we can tell.

Kim Hosen is executive director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance,and the the Occoquan District planning commissioner. In this weeks editorial in the Gainesville Times on regional planning she points out that the region is creating more jobs than homes.

One result is that people will live farther away and vehicle miles traveled will increase by 37%. How is this a crisis in road use when jobs increased by 87% and are expected to increase by another 48%? Not to mention a 50% increase in population with another 36% projected.

With that kind of growth we can't plan and pay for a 37% increase in road use? Whatever happened to the argument that infrastructure had to pay its own way?

After opening with those facts she comes to the conclusion that building more homes in PW merely moves the starting point for traffic that now goes through PW to traffic that originates in PW.

And the solution she proposes? More jobs in far out PW.

I'll say it again, congestion is measured not by vehicle miles traveled but by miles traveled per square mile. You cannot put more people and more jobs in one place without increasing congestion. We will have more growth, and to prevent choking on our own congestion, like a cell bloom in a confined petri dish, we need more square miles.

If all the alternatives work we might need seven to ten percent fewer square miles than otherwise, but we need more square miles and more jobs in the outlying areas. And a lot more roads. Even the executive director of the conservation alliance recognizes this.

Yet in spite of basing her argument on the above facts and coming to a correct interim conclusion she proceeds to blow the logic by stating we cannot build our way out of congestion, and we have to manage growth better.

But since managing growth in PW means the growth that we know we WILL HAVE, will have to go elsewhere, the answer again comes down to using more square miles, elsewhwere, and if they are to be less congested square miles they won't be in Fairfax.

We need to use more land, build more roads,more homes, and spend more money, or else we will be living on top of each other in expensive housing and hating life.


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