2015 Best of ITS

2015 ITS Georgia Best of ITS Awards

 

Project of Significance Award – Perimeter Traffic Operations Program (PTOP)

A project, study, or program undertaken in the previous twelve (12) months with an impact that is quantifiable and directly related to a specific activity/action that reduces congestion, improves safety and security, and enhances mobility in Georgia.

The Perimeter Community Improvement Districts (PCIDs), led by President Yvonne Williams, has led the charge in improving traffic operations, reducing congestion, and enhancing mobility in the Perimeter area with the Perimeter Traffic Operations Program (PTOP). PTOP is a three-year, $3-million operations and

maintenance program for a complex multijurisdictional environment made up of a partnership between the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), two counties (Fulton and DeKalb), three cities (Brookhaven, Dunwoody, and Sandy Springs), and two improvement districts (Perimeter Community Improvement Districts, which include DeKalb and Fulton). PCIDs selected the Kimley-Horn team to actively manage the arterial traffic flow into, out of, and within its business districts for 100 signalized intersections along 9 major corridors in the Perimeter area.

The consultant’s active management of these arterials includes evaluating the use of advanced signal timing techniques (such as traffic responsive, traffic adaptive, and flashing yellow arrow applications); providing regular signal timing and hardware maintenance; managing the implementation of operational and ITS infrastructure improvements; establishing and expanding communication infrastructure and CCTV video capabilities; and monitoring the system remotely from a Traffic Management Center (TMC). These services have enabled PTOP to accomplish phenomenal results over the last couple of years, despite working in a complex environment experiencing severe oversaturation. PTOP has reduced average vehicle delay by more than 30%, saving motorists 520,000+ hours of travel time and more than 660,000 gallons of gas each year, all while increasing average throughput by nearly 10%. Additionally, PTOP has achieved total annual savings for area motorists of nearly $9.8 million dollars. Because of the tremendous impacts this project has had and continues to have, PTOP is most deserving of the 2015 Project of Significance Award.”

 

Innovation: Outside the Box Award – GDOT’s Winter Weather Response Plan

Creative and unique approach or solution by an individual or group to an ITS challenge, or to an issue using ITS as a solution during the previous twelve (12) months.

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s Winter Weather Response Plan has had huge impacts throughout the State of Georgia. The plan focuses on proactive and preventative efforts that address severe hazardous winter conditions. The project includes, but is in no way limited to, the installation of 27 RWIS locations throughout the state to help more confidently predict and monitor weather conditions

including ice, temperature, precipitation, and wind. Even more, countless CCTV cameras and Changeable Message Signs (CMS) have been added to the Navigator Intelligent Transportation System to assist in monitoring conditions, informing the public, and deploying resources during a severe weather event. Additionally, GDOT’s Highway Emergency Response Operators (HEROs) are staged and ready to assist motorists with vehicle trouble and to quickly clear incidents from the roadway, and countless trucks and other equipment have been added to their fleet in order to pre-treat and maintain a safe roadway environment. Because of their creative and unique response to the events of Snowmaggedon, the Georgia Department of Transportation is being presented with the 2015 Innovation: Outside the Box Award for their Winter Weather Response Plan.”

 

Outstanding Public Member Agency Award – Gwinnett County DOT

Leadership in promoting ITS and/or ITSGA goals during the previous twelve (12) months.

Gwinnett County DOT, led by Tom Sever (our current ITS Georgia President), has developed one of the most robust ITS systems in the metro-Atlanta area. The Gwinnett County Transportation Control Center (TCC), part of their Traffic Engineering and Planning Division, monitors traffic conditions in real-time and uses state-of-the-art ITS technology to get the most out of the county’s roadway infrastructure. Currently,

TCC staff have access to nearly 200 traffic cameras and can communicate directly with almost 70% of the county’s 700+ traffic signals to make real-time adjustments. If a traffic incident occurs, TCC staff work to determine the cause and then respond as necessary to ease traffic by adjusting signal timing, diagnosing technical issues, and making critical repairs. The Gwinnett County DOT is on the forefront of ITS deployments as they are continuously adding more CCTVs and traffic signal connections along major corridors, including along Suwanee Dam Road, Indian Trail Road, Gravel Springs Road, Dacula Road, and future installs along US 78, Pleasant Hill Road, and SR 316, just to name a few. Because of their leadership in promoting ITS deployments throughout the state of Georgia and their active participation in ITS Georgia, the Gwinnett County Department of Transportation is being awarded the 2015 Outstanding Public Member Agency Award.”

 

Outstanding Volunteer Award – Xuewen Le

Open to all membership, including Board members and Committee Chairs, who have gone above and beyond to support ITS Georgia during the previous twelve (12) months.

Xuewen Le has worked tirelessly behind the scenes as the ITS Georgia Activities Committee Chair for

many years to build a sound technical program within ITS Georgia. In this capacity, he has contacted speakers for our monthly meetings and has assembled dynamic presentations on a wide-variety of topics relevant to ITS Georgia’s mission. Xuewen is diligent in following through with speaker arrangements and has tremendously eased the workload of the board. Previously, he served in a volunteer role for the 2012 Annual Meeting, working with Keith Strickland, as HNTB was the host firm for that meeting. In addition, Xuewen has promoted international ITS deployments by presenting to other technical audiences on ITS projects in China, information he gathered while vacationing there. Because of his proactive work ethic and service to ITS Georgia, Xuewen Le is being presented with the 2015 Outstanding Volunteer Award.”

 

Larry R. Dreihaup Award – Tom Sever

The ITS Georgia Larry R. Dreihaup Award is intended to recognize an individual or an organization who has provided leadership, professionalism, and dedication in promoting ITS in the State of Georgia during the previous twelve (12) months, if applicable.  The award is named in honor of Larry R. Dreihaup, Division Administrator for the Georgia Division of Federal Highway Administration for 6 years and ITS champion in Georgia.  Mr. Dreihaup was instrumental in establishing the world renowned Traffic Management Program in time for the 1996 Olympics.

“Tom Sever has been a leader in promoting ITS in the State of Georgia for over a decade as he has led

Gwinnett County in implementing one of the most robust ITS systems in the metro-Atlanta area. When the opportunity to run for ITS Georgia President arose two years ago, Tom did not hesitate to volunteer his leadership. Throughout the past couple of years, Tom has guided our organization through tremendous growth in membership, technical programs, and legislative support. Just some of Tom’s accomplishments as President include:

  • Representing ITS Georgia at the February 2014 Legislative Reception, co-hosted by Georgia Section ITE
  • Representing ITS Georgia at the inaugural ITS 3C Summit in Mobile, AL last year, where we joined over 400 participants from three chapters and five states, to promote ITS policies and deployments throughout the southeast
  • Welcoming attendees on behalf of ITS Georgia to the Complete Streets Symposium in November 2014
  • Receiving the 2014 Outstanding State Chapter Award on behalf of ITS Georgia from ITS America

Tom’s leadership has positioned ITS Georgia as one of the most active and accomplished ITS chapters in the country. We are fortunate to have benefited from his commitment, determination, and professionalism as we have grown our organization and positioned ourselves as leaders in the ITS community. For these reasons and for some many others, ITS Georgia is proud to present Tom Sever with the 2015 Larry R. Dreihaup Award.

 

Shackelford Scholarship Winners —

The ITS Georgia Chapter supports student involvement in the engineering profession and hopes to encourage future Georgia ITS Engineers through the Wayne Shackelford Engineering Scholarship Program. This year marked the 7th consecutive year of the awards. This year there are three winners.

The question answered by the candidates was: In transportation, new data collection and connectivity technologies are creating incredible opportunities to improve the safety and efficiency of our vehicles and highways. Discuss at least two of the benefits and two of the challenges that these new technologies will present.

The winners and their responses:

Carly Queen – Carly is a third-year, dual master’s degree student at Georgia Institute of Technology, pursuing a Master of Science in Civil Engineering and a Master of City and Regional Planning, with a focus on transportation systems. Her thesis research involves developing tools to guide planners, engineers, and decision-makers in selecting the most appropriate transit mode(s) for their transit expansion and enhancement projects. Carly is currently working as a Graduate Research Assistant for Dr. Kari Watkins and the Social Media Coordinator for NCTSPM in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and as a Civil Engineering Intern for AECOM. After she graduates in May 2016, Carly will pursue a career as a sustainable transportation consultant.

As our world, including our global transportation system, becomes more data-rich and connected, it seems that human civilization is going through a period of incredibly rapid change. Ideas that were only conceived a few short years ago are being put into practice all around us, whether we are conscious of these innovations or not.  Transportation data collection and connectivity technologies offer many outstanding potential benefits, but face complex and fairly unavoidable challenges as well, including difficulty in predicting human behavior, utilizing collected data effectively, and adapting policies to keep up with ever-evolving technologies.

Safety is a primary motivation behind the movement to make vehicles and transportation corridors more intelligent and connected, but there is an inherent risk related to safety and reliability when implementing any new technology. How safe and reliable does a technology have to be before it is deployed? Do potential benefits, such as anticipated crash rate reductions, justify implementation of a safety device that only works in three out of four cases? What happens when people start to rely on these safety features and the technology fails? Could such innovations do more harm than good? There are no easy answers to any of these questions.

Another key benefit of connected vehicles and infrastructure is the potential for improved efficiency of space, time, and energy in urban areas. Nearly instant communication between vehicles could allow cars to follow each other more closely, saving space within the right-of-way. Connected and automated vehicles could allow drivers to be more productive during trips, since they wouldn’t have to do so much of the actual driving. Also, with intelligent vehicle technologies taking over many aspects of vehicle control, one would expect less energy to be wasted on unnecessary braking and stop-and-go traffic flow breakdowns. But none of these potential benefits comes without a cost.

First of all, unless we could transition to 100 percent connected and automated vehicles overnight without any risk of failure, human behavior cannot be completely removed from the transportation system. Human actions, reactions, and errors will continue to cause crashes into the foreseeable future, even as connected and automated vehicle technologies are integrated into the network. We need time to adapt to new patterns that emerge in our transportation system as a result of connectivity and data-driven technologies; as they spread through the existing system they bring with them elements of uncertainty. During the transition period people may find themselves asking, “Is a person or a computer in charge of that vehicle?” Vehicle travel patterns may differ dramatically between human-driven and computer-driven cars, so not knowing who or what is in control could have serious implications for surrounding drivers.

The human element introduces other unknowns for our future transportation system. It is not yet clear what impact connected and automated vehicles would have on macro-level travel patterns, sprawl, traffic congestion, pollution, or other areas of concern for our overall health and wellness. Connected and especially automated vehicles would in theory make driving easier and safer, so people may be willing to drive more, commute farther, and pay less attention while driving. These changes would all be counter to the goals of reducing pollution, sprawl, and traffic congestion, which could have negative implications for energy security, international relations, urban quality of life, and the environment. Although it will likely be safer to drive connected and automated vehicles, risks to pedestrians and cyclists could foreseeably increase as these users may not be connected to the vehicle to vehicle communication network and may make unpredictable movements that cause conflicts. Even at the highest levels of connectivity and automation, human error and free will may perpetuate challenges for the transportation system of tomorrow.

A challenge that is particularly related to data collection is the need to process and react appropriately to gathered data. We can collect hundreds of hours of video footage, thousands of public comments, and millions of trips through travel surveys, but how do we know what any of it means without people to process and interpret the data? This could be a great job creation strategy, as it would take literally billions of person-hours to process all the data that we have already collected, but time is the constraining factor. We have come a long way, and continue to drive research and development, in the area of data processing. We are far more efficient at data processing than just a decade ago, allowing us to easily access relevant findings and results from data collection and analysis. Getting decision-makers to take the time to actually understand and act appropriately based on these findings is another matter.

In the heavily polarized political climate that exists in the U.S. today, many positions and decisions are based on rhetoric and party lines, rather than a deep understanding of issues and possible solutions. Decision-makers, as well as the general public, are inundated with information, much of which comes from biased or otherwise questionable sources. Strengthening communication between elected officials, researchers, and industry representatives could help to partially overcome the issue of decisions being based on misinformation or made without adequate information to appropriately identify or choose among alternatives. The biggest issue here is that technologies seem to be greatly outpacing policies, which can deter innovation. Investment in and adoption of new technologies can be a risky endeavor for organizations and individuals operating in such an uncertain policy environment.

Disruptive technologies in data collection and connectivity are already among us, and more are coming.  It is unclear whether the general public, established industries, and policy-makers are prepared for what lies ahead, but technology is progressing regardless. We will adapt to changes moving forward one way or another; to minimize negative consequences that emerge from the adoption of new technologies, we should look ahead and prepare ourselves to address these and other potential pitfalls. There are no automated drivers for social progress, so it’s up to us to observe, analyze, and act for a brighter transportation future!


Aaron Greenwood – Aaron is seeking his doctorate in Civil Engineering at Georgia Tech which he will complete in 2015. His research includes developing experiments and collecting and analyzing data for projects involving work zone traffic control and automated vehicle behavior on freeways. He received a B.S. and M.S. in Civil Engineering from the Georgia Tech in 2010 and 2012, respectively. He is active in student government and student chapters of professional transportation societies such as ITE, where he was student chapter president, ASHE and WTS. Aaron plans on pursuing a career as a professor and researcher.

It’s easy to think of the advances in mobile transportation technology as simple, sequential, and inevitable. Of course maps would move to a phone, of course cars would come with internet access, right? But it’s not so simple. Underlying all of the technologies we use to look up the quickest route to the ice cream parlor are an armada of satellites, cell towers, speed sensors, vehicle detectors, all networked using miles of copper and fiber. But that’s not what travelers see, nor should it be. What makes this massive network seem so simple are the straightforward front end implementations. That opens the door for new possibilities with data and intelligent transportation systems, especially with improving energy efficiency and reducing congestion, but it also offers challenges for providing meaningful information and coordinating new stakeholders.
Every day, sensors we observe and some we haven’t even noticed collect information on where we travel. Social media check ins, roadway detectors, WiFi routers, PeachPass scanners, and many others are all collecting where we’re going and when we get there. Using this data, we can not only do a better job of predicting when and where the public will travel, but also the most efficient way and time for them to travel. Most users simply don’t have the time into picking the most fuel efficient route, but if we as engineers know ahead of time that between two possible corridors, one of which has better signal coordination, that information can help drivers use less fuel to reach their destinations.
Reducing fuel consumption isn’t the only benefit of using data to plan routes. If you look at a volume diagram in urban areas, it’s clear that the road system has plenty of capacity, just not at the peaks and not on the trunk routes. By giving people data with which to change their travel times and routes to better spread traffic out across the road network both in time and in space, we can connect travelers with the data they need to keep the road network flowing. Again, most drivers would benefit greatly from this, but simply don’t have the time to commit to experimenting and analyzing data. We need to do a better
job of presenting this information.
The challenge of presenting information is one that ITS has struggled with. Drivers can quickly look up a map of congested routes, but then what? It’s up to the driver to make meaning out of that map. Most drivers today would blindly follow their navigation system (and many have), but the navigation system can only say the best route right now . These systems have the opportunity to make the data more meaningful by giving drivers feedback, such as “Your trip would have been 30 minutes shorter if you had left 15 minutes earlier” or saying, “Your trip to the grocery store will most likely be 10 minutes quicker if
you leave at 6:15 instead of 5:45.” These are the kind of responses that drivers can use to change habits, better, but often the developers aren’t motivated to include them.
That leads me to the last challenge: stakeholder involvement. System managers, like county and state DOTs, have a charge to move the most travelers through the transportation systems. App developers, however, only have a motivation to provide a good product to their consumer. These motivations are not in conflict, but they are often not coordinated to provide the greatest benefit to both the system and the consumers. Moving forward, a great challenge will be connecting these groups to give travelers the next level of useful information.
The ITS system is a massive piece of infrastructure that is helping get the public where it’s going day after day, and it offers great opportunities for reducing fuel consumption and congestion. However, we need to work in the future on overcoming the challenges of making information meaningful through better coordination with consumer facing developers to make the most of our transportation system.


Chieh “Ross” Wang — Ross’ research revolves around utilizing advanced sensing technology for informed infrastructure management decisions, with a focus on pavement rutting measurements and progression analysis.  His research interests include infrastructure management, transportation data analysis and visualization, information technology applications in transportation, work zone safety, and intelligent vehicles.  Ross is expecting to complete his PhD degree at Georgia Tech in 2016 and is actively seeking job opportunities in which he can contribute his knowledge/experience and continue his research on emerging technology.

But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.
— Martin Luther King Jr.

While the change called by Dr. King may be for a different cause, his words stand true to the opportunities and challenges we face with the change – the advance of technology. New data and new means of communication have created tremendous opportunities for the transportation industry to improve the safety and efficiency of the transportation system. However, these new technologies are like double-edged swords – they bring benefits, they also induce challenges. In this article, we discuss some of the benefits and challenges we face in transportation.
Benefits
New technologies, such as dedicated short range communications (DSRC), Bluetooth, GPS, and social media, enable the collection of enormous amount of data every second. These data bring information that has never been available before, information that can lead to better informed and timely decisions, and further improve the performance of the system.
One of the important benefits is the real-time information. For example, with DSRC, vehicles traveling on the road can communicate with each other in real-time, which can significantly improve the safety of travel even in severe weather conditions, so that accidents like the I-16 pileup1 happened 2 years ago would never happen again. Real-time information collected using Bluetooth, DSRC, or probe vehicles can also be used to generate real-time travel information that can provide quick and accurate input for transportation management and operations applications, such as emergency vehicle patching.
Second, new data collection methodologies can also revolutionize the way transportation data have been collected.

Technologies such as DSRC, infrared cameras, and other wireless sensors can be used to collected important transportation data such as volume, speed, and vehicle classification with ease. Significant savings in the installation and maintenance of traditional traffic data collection devices, such as pneumatic tubes and vehicle detection loops, are expected.

Last but not least, with more information available, transportation models such as traffic flow models and infrastructure performance models can be modified to better represent real world situation. Many transportation models were developed decades ago under assumptions that may have oversimplified the actual behavior of the system. With new information being available, these models can be further refined to better predict the real-world situation, and therefore, lead to better and more informed decisions.

One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men.
No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.
— Elbert Hubbard

Challenges
Opportunities, nevertheless, comes with challenges. One of the biggest challenges is how one can utilize, integrate, mine, and manage “big data” to yield truly useful information and, consequently, better decisions instead of garbage in, garbage out. Oftentimes the question transportation agencies ask nowadays is not what data they can get, but what information they can use. This question echoes to what Elbert Hubbard meant with his words – it is important that we stay on top of the technology. Data analytics is a very popular research area that helps give insight to address this issue. However, most transportation agencies are not familiar with this and therefore most of them operates in the traditional way and the majority data newly available to them are not as useful.
Another major concern and challenge is the potential gaps between engineering education and the state-of-art practice – can the education we receive at college prepare us to take advantage of the opportunities and better address real-world transportation issues? Current transportation engineering curriculums do not provide any data analytical trainings, instead, most of the courses and content have not been updated for decades. This post a serious concern that a typical transportation graduate will unlike take the full advantage of what the technology can provide.
With the great potentials new technologies provide, and the challenges that remain, we know the best is yet to come and we can do a much better job to help us to get closer. As transportation engineers, it is our job to identify, understand, educate, and address the benefits and potential challenges technologies bring so that we can stay awake, adjust to new ideas, remain vigilant, and shape a better future of transportation.

1 On February 6, 2013, series of crashes that involved 27 cars were caused by dense fog on I-16 that led to 4 fatalities. http://www.13wmaz.com/news/article/215907/175/Death-Toll-of-Fiery-Tanker-Wreck-on-I-16-Rises-to-Four

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