Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stockholm traffic management lessons from Randy Blankenhorn

Today at the Metropolitan Planning Council's "Around the World in 90 Minutes in Global Infrastructure Best Practices" Randy Blankenhorn of CMAP shared some insight into how we can reduce traffic congestion through better management, Stockholm-style.

We don't really do much to manage traffic flow in Northeastern Illinois. There's an Illinois Department of Transportation website on real-time highway congestion, but nothing on arterial streets. Drivers should be getting information about what routes are congested (so they can avoid them), but that information isn't widely disseminated. As an example Randy brought up, there are big signs on the highways that tell drivers how much time it takes to get downtown, but those signs should be before the entrance ramp so drivers can decide whether or not to take the expressway or stick with arterial streets. And we don't really manage traffic signals at all, particularly in the suburbs.

Part of the problem is that the municipalities own and set the traffic lights. There is no regional body to run traffic signals on a real-time basis to adjust traffic signals to changing conditions (like an accident). Airports have the federal air traffic control to manage the traffic. There is no Illinois road traffic control to open express lanes or change traffic signals or (ideally) adjust prices on tollroads to keep roads at a free-flow level). And there should be.

Stockholm has a Trafik Stockholm Joint Traffic Management Centre that takes information in from thousands of cameras and sensors and immediately dispatches roadside assistance, shifts or closes lanes and (I think) adjusts traffic signals. That's something we should emulate as we learn how to manage our transportation infrastructure more efficiently.

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