Research Helps VDOT Keep Traffic Flowing In Hampton Roads And Washington
August 18, 1999 -- If
Brian Smith has his way, traffic forecasts will someday be as common
as weather forecasts.
under way at Virginias Smart Travel Laboratory at the University
of Virginia will help drivers in metropolitan areas better predict
traffic patterns and adjust their travel plans accordingly, whether
to ease a daily commute or avoid holiday traffic, such as that expected
during the coming Labor Day weekend, said Smith, co-director of
lab also expects to help the Virginia Department of Transportation
analyze massive amounts of traffic data piped in from the congested
Washington and Hampton Roads metro areas. More effective interpretation
of the data will help VDOT respond faster to changing traffic conditions
and improve the flow of traffic.
working with problems of congestion, trying to move traffic more
efficiently and safely without building bigger, wider roads," Smith
said. "We want to get the most we can out of existing roads."
in 1998, the lab conducts cutting-edge research that combines historical
data with traffic-simulation models to create forecasts of traffic
volume and travel times. U.Va. researchers also have helped VDOT
design and upgrade its sensing systems, and identify and fix faulty
lab is directed by Smith and Cathy McGhee, a civil engineer with
the Virginia Transportation Research Council, the research arm of
VDOT. Other U.Va. professors of civil and systems engineering who
specialize in transportation issues and a contingent of undergraduate
and graduate students round out the centers staffing. Funding
is provided primarily by U.Va., VDOT, the Virginia Transportation
Research Council and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
lab is currently working with VDOTs Smart Traffic Center in
Virginia Beach (motto: "Keeping Hampton Roads Moving"). The Virginia
Beach center currently receives traffic data from 600 vehicle sensors
and features a wall of 38 video monitors linked to cameras set up
along 19 miles of the areas most congested roads I-64
and I-264. Smart Traffic Center controllers monitor the camera images
24 hours a day, and can respond to traffic slowdowns or accidents
by quickly contacting a Freeway Incident Response Team and notifying
the traveling public of the adverse conditions via variable message
signs and highway advisory radio announcements.
all is said and done, there will be over 280 cameras, 240 variable
message signs, and nearly 2,700 vehicle detection devices along
113 miles of Hampton Roads interstates," said Erika Ricks, Smart
Traffic Center spokeswoman. "At that point, it will be nearly impossible
to monitor traffic flow without the help of the information reaped
from the efforts and technology of the Smart Travel Lab."
U.Va. center receives all of the Hampton Roads vehicle sensor data
and can pick up the signals from any of the highway video cameras,
displaying them on video monitors in Charlottesville. By the end
of September, the center also expects to be connected to the Northern
Virginia Signal System, which will bring in real-time data from
800 vehicle detectors embedded in pavement in northern Virginia.
A video link with Northern Virginia is planned.
the purpose and potential impact of research conducted at the lab
is straightforward, the underlying mathematics is sophisticated,
Smith said. The math involves optimization models, search techniques,
data mining, data analysis, and simulations.
other traffic research projects, such as an effort in Los Alamos,
N.M., that stress the use of theoretical physics in predicting traffic
flows, the Charlottesville center focuses on the analysis of actual,
mathematical models used by physicists to describe the flow of fluids
are governed by immutable laws of physics," Smith said. "But individual
drivers are not governed by physical laws and may make decisions
that could not be predicted by physics. Thats why we believe
its more useful to base our mathematical models on historical
data. Were looking at what people have actually chosen to
do in particular situations."
of the research projects currently under way at the lab is called
Automated Condition Monitoring. Rob Turochy, a Ph.D. candidate in
civil engineering, is looking for ways to quickly determine when
the data stream from vehicle detectors shows something abnormal
and important in the flow of traffic. Developing algorithms to catch
significant changes in the data will help VDOT traffic controllers
know when to check out a particular screen.
Traffic Condition Forecasting is another research project sponsored
by the lab. Truck dispatchers often have computer systems that help
them determine the shortest route from one point to another, based
on distance. However, these systems dont consider travel time,
the likely traffic patterns at a particular place at a particular
time. Kevin Smith, a masters degree candidate in civil engineering,
is working on forecasting algorithms that will consider travel time
-- to answer such questions as whether a driver would be likely
to be caught in rush-hour traffic two hours from now if he leaves
in half an hour.
addition to current research efforts, VDOT plans to use the lab
in the near future to help train Smart Traffic Center personnel,
especially through the use of simulations, Smith said.
goal of Virginias Smart Travel Laboratory is to work toward
a better quality of life for everyone using the Commonwealths
highways, especially in the most congested metropolitan areas. It
will also help VDOT and other government agencies with short-term
planning when to patch potholes, where to station traffic
police, when to speed up traffic signals in one place to offset
a slowdown in another.
in other parts of the country have shown that traffic management
systems reduce air pollution, fuel consumption and travel times
by up to 25 percent. These systems also cost taxpayers far less
than building new roads.
beach traffic this Labor Day weekend may be as slow and heavy as
ever, someday in the not-so-distant future, Virginia drivers may
be able to log onto their home computers, get a traffic forecast
good for whatever time they want to leave and hop
into their cars knowing theyll be taking the road less traveled.
more information about Virginias Smart Travel Laboratory,
call Brian Smith at (804) 243-8406, or visit the labs web
site at: http://SmartTravelLab.virginia.edu
more information about VDOTs Smart Traffic Center, call Erika
Ricks at (757) 424-9903, or visit the web site at: http://www.vdot.state.va.us
Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858