Traffic congestion may be the number one complaint of Californians, and for good reason. It steals productivity from businesses and time together from families. It robs motorists and truckers of hundreds of millions of dollars in additional fuel costs each day as they stop-and-go along the state’s major roadways. And it pumps far greater amounts of dangerous emissions into the atmosphere than vehicles produce when traffic is moving well.
Transportation faculty, staff and research engineers at UC Berkeley recently hosted an historic workshop that included representatives from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and the private sector technology industry.
The workshop’s goal was to bring together for the first time many of those who will contribute to a new approach to solving congestion on the state's most clogged urban corridors--freeways, highways, and arterial roadways--under Caltrans’ leadership.
UC Berkeley’s transportation research center, Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology, or PATH, is working closely with the state agency to develop a sophisticated system utilizing new communications and transportation technology to move traffic more efficiently, reliably, sustainably, and safely.
“Quite simply, we are about to embark on a huge transformation in our transportation management tools, strategies, operations and culture,” Kris Kuhl, Assistant Division Chief of Caltrans’ Division of Traffic Operations, told some 35 attendees at the day-long workshop held March 19 in Davis Hall on the Berkeley campus.
Kuhl described the move to Integrated Corridor Management, or ICM, as a “game-changer.”
ICM offers solutions that use existing highways, arterials and transit more efficiently in a highly integrated system that relies on a wide array of new technologies to better utilize the infrastructure that already exists. In addition, ICM can help make travel time more reliable.
In recent years, technological breakthroughs—from GPS, sensors and the Internet to “big data” computing and social networking—have provided transportation management with new tools to better predict and potentially manage congestion.
Connected Corridors is the Caltrans-led effort in ICM, and builds upon other efforts such as the federally-funded ICM project in San Diego. The project will link these new technologies to transportation operations, such as ramp metering, managed lanes, and arterial signal coordination.
Providing drivers and transportation managers with more information in real time will keep traffic moving more smoothly. For example, when a freeway incident results in congestion, traffic managers will be able to divert some motorists to arterials that parallel the freeway. To keep those local roadways flowing, they would also efficiently coordinate traffic signals for the influx of diverted vehicles.
Caltrans will be one of the first state transportation agencies to lead a multi-corridor, multi-year ICM project. The agency hopes that the lessons learned from this first pilot project in southern California will eventually lead to the launch of 50 more projects on clogged corridors throughout California over the next decade.
Roberto Horowitz, a professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and co-director of PATH, who is co-leading the Connected Corridor’s project, told the group that PATH’s long history of developing new traffic technologies, such as PeMs, bus platooning, and autonomous vehicles, as well as its close collaboration with Caltrans over several decades, made the Connected Corridors project an ideal partnership.
“This project also provides an exciting opportunity for our students and faculty to work with transportation practitioners on some very interesting challenges,” he said.
Alexandre Bayen, an associate professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences as well as the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will be leading the project as the principal investigator.
“We’re a public university with a tradition of public service,” Bayen told the group. “It is our job to look forward five years, ten years and more to determine our transportation needs. With this project, we hope to be able to see how transportation can be better managed not only in California but beyond our borders.”
To truly revolutionize traffic management, Bayen, who developed the Mobile Millennium program said it was vital to work with technology industries actively developing many of the tools required.
In coming months, PATH and its partners will also be working with local communities, agencies and transit operators to explain the potential for decreasing congestion within their communities. The Connected Corridors pilot project will debut on a selected section of freeway in southern California by the end of 2016. When completed, it will stretch for 20 miles with the ability to extend as needed.
Transportation engineers working with PATH, in preparation for designing the architecture for the pilot project, have moved into McLaughlin Hall on the Berkeley campus to be closer to faculty and students with the knowledge and technical abilities to help make the project a success.
After a lunch break, an impromptu birthday party was held for UC Berkeley's Professor Alex Skabardonis, an expert in traffic engineering, management, and traffic control systems.