Chicago, Dallas roads going digital

Chicago and Dallas are the latest cities enlisted in a public/private effort

to give their motorists better traffic data.

Mobility Technologies will deploy a network of digital sensors along

the cities' roads to monitor vehicular speed, travel time and traffic density,

said Jim Smith, the company's marketing director. The Digital Traffic Pulse

system also can provide vehicle classification information, meaning that

it can distinguish between an 18-wheeler, a car and a motorcycle. Smith

said it's unclear when the project will be completed.

As with the digital systems already in place in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh,

traffic information collected in Dallas and Chicago will be fed into a data

center and, using a variety of algorithms, be converted into text-based

information accessible via a Web site for commuters and media outlets reporting

traffic news, he said.

The data will be archived so that public agencies, such as state transportation

departments, can use it for analysis, research and planning.

Under its Intelligent Transportation Infrastructure Program, the U.S.

Transportation Department selected Dallas and Chicago following successful

deployments of the sensor networks in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Under

the program, DOT will provide $2 million and the state would chip in up

to $500,000. Smith said that Wayne, Pa.-based Mobility Technologies would

make up any balance.

Smith said reaction has been positive, citing that use of the Web site

({http://www.traffic.com} www.traffic.com) has increased and the number

of radio and television stations signing up in the Pennsylvania markets

has also grown.

The company is considering several enhancements to its intelligent transportation

systems. One is adding vehicles on the roads to get further traffic intelligence.

For instance, data from the sensors can show a slowdown in vehicle speed

on a roadway, but it would be unclear whether congestion or an accident

is the cause, Smith said. A person driving a company vehicle could provide

that data.

In another pilot project, weather sensors are being tested in Philadelphia

to check wind velocity and temperature, and Smith said that such data could

be used to provide anticipated traffic and weather conditions for roadway

segments in real time.

By February, traffic information will be available via wireless devices

— most likely cell phones — that can be accessed by voice, he said, adding

that the company might charge a monthly fee for this service.

Depending on the success of these pilot programs, Smith said they would

eventually be replicated in Chicago and Dallas and elsewhere as the program

is expanded.

In exchange for traffic information, radio and TV outlets provide the

company with commercial on-air time, which Mobility Technologies then sells

to advertisers.

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