PwC rolls out traffic planning tool

Transportation Analysis Simulation System

PwC Consulting unveiled a transportation modeling tool Aug. 13 that could

help state and local officials simulate traffic congestion and pollution

in 3-D as well as develop emergency planning scenarios from manmade or natural

disasters.

Mike Bridges, a director with the PricewaterhouseCoopers division, said

many modeling technologies used by planners are outdated or unable to incorporate

a number of variables, such as new air-quality legislation.

But PwC's software, called the Transportation Analysis Simulation System,

or TRANSIMS, is a "different paradigm entirely," Bridges said. "I think

it's the next-generation technology and I don't just say that lightly. It's

extremely different and more sophisticated than the current models in the

marketplace today."

Such an advanced tool is important for managing transportation infrastructure,

especially when multimillion-dollar projects are being discussed and implemented.

Planners can compare several different alternatives to a major construction

project being considered, he said.

"These type of models allow planners to look at the cost/benefit analysis

of these kinds of issues essentially on paper or models as opposed to what

would happen if you just went ahead with a construction project to see how

it would turn out at the end," he said.

TRANSIMS commercializes technology developed by Los Alamos National

Laboratory and incorporates U.S. Census population and socioeconomic data.

Planners can simulate models "from the bottom up" by inputting attributes

of individual motorists. Although planners deal with aggregate travelers,

attributing daily activities, such as dropping children off at a school,

picking up dry cleaning and going to work, to individual motorists creates

a more realistic model, Bridges said.

"Activity-based surveys identify real people and what they do during

daily activities," he said. "These real-people activities are matched to

the synthetic households such that every synthetic traveler has an activity

pattern that TRANSIMS then simulates. Now, other models don't do this."

A 3-D component allows analysts to view congestion and pollution emissions

data, but it's also to the benefit of high-level decision makers. "They

like presentations of visual traffic congestion and how it might be improved,"

he said. "Here's the congestion before this major improvement and here's

what it'll look at 8 in the morning after this major improvement."

And in light of Sept. 11, the tool can also be used for emergency evacuation

planning. "What if" scenarios can be created if a certain road or bridge

is shut down. "This is a strategic planning tool so the idea would be to

have various emergency plans ready for the most incidences that you can

think of," he said, adding that planners can also develop models five, 10

or 15 years ahead as land use and population changes.

Bridges said the software is being aimed at state and local planners,

but there is also a global market. Federal government agencies, such as

the National Park Service, which is dealing with increasing traffic, may

also find a use, he said. Currently, Portland, Ore., is testing out TRANSIMS.

He said the product will be priced competitively with current models

in the marketplace, but the price will also be scaled depending on the size

of the metropolitan area considering using it. However, the software, although

user-friendly in its look, would take some time to integrate it into a city's

system. PwC offers a two-week training course, he said.

Los Alamos developed the technology over the past eight years, and PwC

has been developing a commercial model for the past year and a half, Bridges

said.

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