Smarter Commuting Starts With Analytics, Visualization

August 30, 2010
252 Views

NY Traffic Congestion 150x150 photo (business analytics)

NY Traffic Congestion 150x150 photo (business analytics)

Anyone who has driven in New York City’s rush-hour traffic might want to consult with Charles Komanoff before doing it again.  If anyone has the smarts and experience to choreograph the movements of thousands of moving parts and people, it’s Komanoff.  His Balanced Traffic Analyzer is a massive set of spreadsheets and graphical analysis of vehicles, transit, people, speed and directions.  This collection of facts details how people and vehicles interact in a typical day.  This whirlwind of data, of course, required the artistic skills of Wired magazine to beautify the statistics and profile this immense project with infographics. 

It’s impossible to capture entirely the chaos of daily commuters, delivery trucks, kamikaze skaters and cyclists, taxis, buses, subway trains and the occasional walker – and even more so to reliably predict.  Yet for the past several years, Komaroff has been building calculations and exploring how options such as “congestion pricing” fees can deter motorists from entering busy downtown areas at peak hours.  Parking traffic light timing and other variables can be adjusted to limit vehicles in the business district.  Bridge and tunnel tolls, transit fares and other details can affect the ballet of transportation.  Benefits can also range from reducing air pollution, saving energy and cutting noise.

One estimate claims New Yorkers waste $2.5 billion in productive time dealing with travel delays and their costs.  Komanoff’s formulas, according to the article, each car etering the business district causes an average 3.23 person–hours of delays — during weekdays a vehicle produces $128 in lost time.  That kind of analysis doesn’t come easy and has to factor in soft, subjective issues such as “quality of life.”

There are lots of ways to address the problems, which often beget new issues — for instance raising tolls moves traffic to local roads or increasing transit fares makes it easier for people to choose cars over buses and trains.  Analytics isn’t the only tool needed but it can bring surprising details to life, even when exploring the dull routine of your daily commute.   Skymeter Corp.  is a Toronto-based company using satellite tracking, image analysis and visualization to report on parking, traffic and other information down to the individual block level.  Alcatel-Lucent has installed more than 4,500 roadside cameras – using video analytics and other technology – to reduce traffic on UK motorways by reporting the traffic patterns, road accidents and other conditions.

City governments including London and Stockholm already add congestion pricing to vehicles that enter downtown areas at peak hours – to encourage off-peak trips or surcharge people that are adding to the delays, noise, costs and parking challenge.  Click on this U.S. map to see what Intelligent Transportation is happening in your area – from the vehicle to the street, the roadways are getting smarter.

David Wallace
Spotfire Blogging Team

Image Credit: Courtesy of streetfilms.org