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Conference shows off ‘smart’ traffic solutions

  • DeAnn Komanecky/Savannah Morning News Michael Holt, President of the Georgia chapter of the Intelligent Transportation Society, talks technology at the group’s annual meeting held this week in Savannah.
  • DeAnn Komanecky/Savannah Morning News The Intelligent Transportation Society held their annual meeting in Savannah early this week.

The old driving instructions “Stop, look and listen” take on a whole new meaning in today’s “smart” world.

From a soon-to-be released smartphone app that alerts drivers of traffic signals and school zones to technology that allows emergency vehicles the power to change stoplights from red to green, intelligent transportation solutions are making the roadway safer and trips faster, developers say.

Some of this new and upgraded technology was on display this week in Savannah at the Intelligent Transportation Society’s annual meeting. The ITS was formed 20 years ago.

The next big thing in the industry, according to Michael Holt, president of the Georgia chapter of ITS, is connected vehicles.

“There will be lots of safety apps,” Holt said.

Holt said ITS Georgia has about 95 corporate members, all of whom work to provide technological solutions for traffic management and safety. The work of many of the members is used by the Georgia Department of Transportation.

TravelSafely, a smartphone app for Androids and iPhones, is one of those. It allows drivers to connect to traffic lights, school beacons and driver feedback signs.

Created by Applied Information in Suwannee, the TravelSafely app will be available to the public soon. The app is currently being used by the city of Marietta and in Atlanta.

Peter Ashley, vice-president of business development at AI, said the first goal is to increase safety.

The app connects to school beacons, letting drivers know they are in an active school zone and if they are driving too fast, Ashley said. TravelSafely also notifies drivers of cyclists and pedestrians ahead. It also warns those on foot and bikes that a vehicle is approaching at an unsafe speed

The app also warns drivers to get ready for a green light and it sounds an alarm if the app detects the driver may not stop for an upcoming red light.

“You don’t have to look down at your phone, all of the alerts are audible,” Ashley said.

Ashley said drivers save time when they know a traffic light is about to turn green.

“You can increase the capacity of the roadway by about 5 to 10 percent if you can get people to pull off just a little bit faster,” Ashley said. “So now, you are getting more people through the traffic light. Without having to build new roadways or having changed anything, we can get more people through and decrease congestion.”

Fire trucks also can be equipped to allow them to turn all traffic lights in their path green. The light change also keeps the traffic ahead of the fire truck moving ahead.

“They can get to a scene much quicker,” Ashley said. “Every second counts in an emergency.”

Another handy feature for users, Ashley said, is the app will let drivers know from which direction firetrucks are coming.

Firefighters in Marietta are already seeing a difference in response times, Lindsey Wiles, communications manager for Marietta said.

Wiles said Marietta has only been using the program for two months, so hard data on response times is not yet available.

“We are seeing the trends go downward,” Wiles said.

The $54,000 cost to Marietta was a much less expensive way to decrease call times, over building a new firehouse and buying new fire trucks, Wiles said.

“A new fire truck with equipment costs about $500,00,” Wiles said.

Wiles said AI picked Marietta to test its app because the city already had much of the needed equipment in place.

Other vendors at the meeting include Vaisala, Inc. The company provides real-time weather data to GDOT using roadside sensors. They also work with airports.

“If your flight has been cancelled, you can blame me,” Jason Pendlum, a Vaisala account manager said.

Gridsmart provides camera coverage. Its cameras allow users, such as traffic management engineers, to take a close look at the number of vehicles on the road and their direction of travel.

Savannah might not be ready for the TravelSafely app, but the city started the Savannah Regional Traffic Operations Program about a year ago, said Steve Henry, the city’s traffic engineering administrator.

Savannah has a consultant who helps with portions of the city’s 265 traffic lights.

“He’s been a great help to us,” Henry said. “We continue to find ways to improve.”

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