Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Minneapolis

How the Information Age Can Make Streets and Transit More Efficient

In Pittsburgh, elderly para-transit riders get automated phone calls with the precise arrival time of their vehicle. Bus priority lanes and preferential traffic signals in the Twin Cities are improving on-time service. Here in Washington, DC, stored value on SmartTrip cards pays for Metro parking, train and bus, and it can sync with pre-tax employee transit benefits. In San Francisco, dynamic pricing varies parking rates based on supply and demand, reducing traffic and helping people find available parking spaces.

I
In the future, we'll all zip around in our little hovercraft bubbles (as imagined by Disney in 1958). For now we'll have to satisfy ourselves with ITS. ##http://paleo-future.blogspot.com/2007/05/disneys-magic-highway-usa-1958.html##Paleo-Future##

All of these transportation improvements are happening already – they’re examples of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) that are being heralded in a new report as a way to set the bar higher for transportation efficiency. Transportation for America, ITS America and other groups have teamed up to urge Congress to include technological enhancements in its transportation policies. They're hoping these changes can help us get more out of our streets without building sprawl-inducing highways.

parking_sensor

ITS is a catch-all phrase for the ways digital technology can be applied to all modes of transportation. There are familiar forms of ITS on highways. E-ZPass has been around for about 15 years already. Electronic highway signs warning of delays or detours are becoming commonplace. Now, Google traffic maps supplement radio reports to help drivers pick more efficient routes. Add to the mix Zipcar and other car-sharing services, or vanpools with real-time tracking, and ITS becomes not just a method to move cars more efficiently, but to make streets more efficient by taking cars off the road.

“The technologies already exist,” says Lilly Shoup, the report author at T4A. “Now it’s a matter of being more strategic in integrating them throughout the transportation network.”

Integration with infrastructure and vehicles is key – and it’s why this is the moment to shine the light on these technologies. Smart phone-based ride-sharing or bus-tracking, for example, wouldn’t have had much impact five years ago. But the proliferation of smart phones has made these real options. Building a transportation network based on technology is more possible when that technology is abundant in all the places you’re trying to link together.

And it can have a real environmental impact.

Japan credits technology with helping improve traffic flows and reducing emissions by 11 million tons, according to T4A. And a recent GAO report found that the benefits of deploying a real-time traffic information system across the country would outweigh the cost by a factor of 25 to 1.

Compare that to what the report calls “the more conventional solution of adding new highway capacity, which has a benefit-to-cost ratio estimated at 2.7 to 1.”

T4A, ITS America and their partners want the federal government to embrace these new technologies. Their recommendations are pretty loose: establishing emissions reductions targets and incentivizing technological innovations at the state and regional levels. With the variety of technological options out there, they aren't prescribing a one-size-fits-all approach to cities and regions.

Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) quietly introduced a bill on transportation optimization right before the House broke for recess, but details of the legislation are not yet available.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Talking Headways Podcast: IrrePLACEable

Kevin Kelley on his book Irreplaceable: How to Create Extraordinary Places that Bring People Together, and the future of downtowns.

July 18, 2024

This Heat Wave is a Car Dependency Problem

Our quickly warming planet has a unique impact on people who don't or can't drive — and we need policy action to protect their health.

July 18, 2024

A Hillbilly Elegy for Thursday’s Headlines

Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee for vice president, supports more federal subsidies for giant, deadly, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs.

July 18, 2024

We Need to Stop Killing People On Our Roads; a New ‘Bikes Belong’ Campaign Could Help

A ground-breaking campaign in the 90s helped deliver the federal money America needed to fund active transportation infrastructure. Is it time to re-laucnch it?

July 18, 2024

Encouraging Seniors to Use Active and Public Transportation

Using - and encouraging the use of - active and multimodal transport can greatly enhance people's lives, especially seniors.

July 17, 2024
See all posts