Rethinking Transportation: From Hardware to Data-Driven Solutions

March 7, 2024

Image Text: Rethinking Transportation From Hardware To Data-Driven Solutions

In the Data – Fueling the Future of Transportation webinar, Scott Belcher was joined by April Wire from the Maricopa County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), one of the nation’s most innovative agencies, Jatish Patel, Founder and CEO of Flow Labs, a transportation technology provider that simplifies the complexity of managing traffic network, and Doug Gilmour from TomTom, a global leader in traffic data acquisition, to discuss new strategies to access, manage and leverage existing data, all without the need for new, expensive hardware. 

Have you ever stopped to question the long-standing practices of our industry? In transportation management, the deployment of new hardware as a bandaid for recurring challenges is an accepted norm. Yet, as costs accelerate and maintenance becomes burdensome, it's time to challenge this unsustainable cycle. 

Former ITS America CEO and current President of SFB Consulting Scott Belcher believes the evolution from hardware to data-driven traffic management is reaching a nexus.

“We’re in a critical moment. Every agency has their hardware systems and networks, but with the new cloud-based platforms, the good ones can sit on top of existing hardware systems,” he said. “We at a precipice as transportation operators. If we don't figure out how to use the data that we have, and how to use it effectively we’re going to get left behind.

Belcher’s “left behind” observation is particularly poignant given the incredible speed and scalability of data-driven solutions, both in terms of deployment and data acquisition. 

At Flow Labs, we believe data is the future of transportation. With data, there’s no need to spend three years developing technology plans. As connected vehicles offer a vast number of data points through telematics, GPS devices and even cell phone connectivity, results are virtually immediate at a fraction of the cost of hardware-based solutions. 

Speed maters, and data delivers. 

Belcher’s comments during a recent ITS America webinar, Data – Fueling the Future of Transportation, that also featured Flow Labs partners, April Wire from the Maricopa County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), one of the nation’s most innovative agencies, and Doug Gilmour from TomTom, a global leader in traffic data acquisition. 

Unfortunately, the allure of shiny new solutions blinds our industry to more effective alternatives - specifically the plethora of data flowing across our roadways. Let’s explore why data is routinely left on the table, but it holds the key to providing traffic managers with real-time road conditions, and a comprehensive view of operations, mobility, safety and asset health. 

Data is only as good as what you can do with it. 

Our industry has pivoted in the last decade toward data-driven solutions, but cash-strapped and technology-limited agencies have had to learn that data is only as good as what you can do with it. The clamor for petabytes of data left agencies with massive pools of information and no way to interpret it. 

Initially, the issue was a lack of data, but the abundance of data has led to new challenges. Agencies struggled to determine the necessary data, extract it from various sources, and translate it into actionable insights and decisions. The concept of big data hasn't solved these issues, as more data doesn't necessarily mean better outcomes. 

That’s where partnerships, like the one between Flow Labs, TomTom and the Maricopa County Department of Transportation, are making big strides. Maricopa County DOT has deployed Flow Labs technology utilizing TomTom data to optimize traffic signals. Maricopa County, Arizona, has a population of 4.2 million people across 27 cities and towns and 9,200 square miles. 

MCDOTs April Wire described how seeing around the corner and across jurisdictional lines is crucial. “We live in pockets that are embedded within the Phoenix metropolitan area,  so we need to see if there’s major closures on the freeway and traffic diverting onto our local streets to anticipate what's coming our way,” she said. “

Maricopa County is utilizing our Optimus technology to optimize traffic signals, enabling their agency to retime signals on demand for entire networks or individual intersections. This approach taps into real-time data from the region’s roadways, allowing signals to stay updated with changing traffic needs. The end result eliminates the need for fieldwork and hardware updates, delivering the ability to adjust traffic patterns as often as needed to ensure streets work better for everyone.

As Wire noted, visibility across the Phoenix metropolitan area is vital for Maricopa County to anticipate what's coming their way, and why transforming data into information is so critical for effectively managing seasonal fluctuations and traffic flows. She shared how agencies can collect data, but in order to achieve meaningful results, they must process it correctly.

Integrated Data Is Better Data

With 4,100 traffic signals and 14 Traffic Management Centers, MCDOT was working to aggregate data into one place. Individual cities typically operate their own traffic signal infrastructure and roadways, but need to understand real-time conditions in the neighboring jurisdictions. 

MCDOT’s Wire addressed the value of integrated data in delivering actionable information. “We have limited resources for people to look into bits and pieces of data, so we're looking for insights that drive our operational choices on the day-to-day procedure,” she said. “I got interested in Flow Labs because they are  grabbing  data sources that we traditionally don't grab,  overlaid some of our own data on top of theirdata and we can see what those outcomes are.”

Fundamentally, integrated data is better data. By accessing integrating data on the Flow Labs platform, engineers can view what’s happening at every network, road, intersection, phase and detector, for a true understanding of what is happening across their network. 

Our platform leverages the vast infrastructure already deployed and currently under-utilized, from traffic management systems, sensors monitoring our roadways, and the millions of connected vehicles and devices, yet offers a level of insight that has until recently been unreachable. 

By tapping into the power of multiple data sources, agencies can combine the strengths of individual data sources while eliminating their weaknesses. For example, detector data gives full visibility on counts for a specific location but lacks insight beyond that location. Probe data can provide excellent visibility on travel times and delays but only provides information on a subset of vehicles (typically 3-10%).

Flow Labs takes data from multiple sources and uses advanced algorithms to identify data errors, clean them and turn it into an accurate metric. Engineering teams gain total visibility without ever having to leave their desks, with data accessible from their desktops, and in formats that can be shared with other applications. We’ve never had this kind of opportunity to turn data into insights and insights into decisions like agencies are able to achieve with comprehensive, integrated data. 

Gilmour supported the importance of integrated data uniting previously siloed traffic management groups. "We used to be concerned about collecting data on travel demand and how the road network is used, but less about the supply of road network space and the efficiency of existing signals. Flow Labs has found an important niche because theydetermine how well you can optimize road networks, improve road network efficiency and incident response. 

Greater Coverage Ensures Data-Based Decision Making 

The group also discussed the importance of making critical decisions with comprehensive, accurate data. 

Wire noted, “We're looking for tools to target where we need to be focusing our attention and resources to make a larger improvement. Sometimes it's not about the real data, but the trends that you're able to see with only a five or 10% penetration.”

In the last year, in an industry first, TomTom and Flow Labs increased penetration rates to 25-35% of vehicles during peak travel times, dramatically shifting the depth and accuracy of the insights we’re putting in traffic managers’ hands. 

-Managing a major region like Maricopa is difficult, requiring traffic managers to have eyes everywhere. With higher coverage, engineers now have higher sampling rates on every single roadway, ensuring maximum coverage.

Data Opens Multiple Avenues for Agencies  

At Flow Labs, we also recognize that agencies must be good stewards of tax dollars and build and maintain the safest roads possible. We leverage connected vehicle data to help agencies proactively identify high speed zones on their roadways and conduct instant speed studies. We also use behavioral insights from Michelin to enable road users to identify risky vehicle behaviors, providing insights faster than with crash and fatality data alone. 

For agencies, this opens the avenue for crash prediction and prevention, not just response and reaction. All that to say, accountability matters, whether it’s the Federal Highway Administration’s push to tie federal dollars to project outcomes, the Environmental Protection Agency developing the EPA Model to generate accurate real-time estimates of vehicle emissions, or helping agencies understand the benefit-cost ratio of each project. We are committed to each. 

Data-Fueling The Future of Transportation 

It's clear that data is going to be the fuel that drives transportation systems. It’s equally clear that leveraging connected vehicles at scale to capture important insights and performance measures is the right tool for the job. At the end of the webinar, MCDOT’s April Wire was asked if she had any final thoughts for attendees.

“Don't be scared of technology,” she said. “It helps our space grow, so don't be scared to dip your toe in the water and see what it's like.”

|

Related Articles

A Comprehensive and Data-driven Approach to Pedestrian Safety

At Flow Labs, we recognize the challenges traffic engineers face when addressing pedestrian safety. We provide them with the necessary tools to understand and mitigate safety risks.

Show all
June 28, 2023

A Data-Driven Approach to Vision Zero

Hear directly from Flow Labs CEO Jatish Patel on how we can reduce crash deaths using infrastructure and data that already exist by embracing the power of connected vehicle data.

Show all

Relateed Articles

January 8, 2024

A Comprehensive and Data-driven Approach to Pedestrian Safety

At Flow Labs, we recognize the challenges traffic engineers face when addressing pedestrian safety. We provide them with the necessary tools to understand and mitigate safety risks.

Show all
January 29, 2024

A Data-Driven Approach to Vision Zero

Hear directly from Flow Labs CEO Jatish Patel on how we can reduce crash deaths using infrastructure and data that already exist by embracing the power of connected vehicle data.

Show all
Blogs
Blogs
Blogs
Case Studies
News
Event
White Papers