VOL. 17 ISSUE NO. 46   |  NOVEMBER 16 – 22, 2011

NOVEMBER 16, 2011

National Spotlight on Maricopa County Test Site for High-Tech Traffic Management Prototype

MCDOT Launches “SMARTDrive” Test Bed in Anthem

ANTHEM – Criminals and fires are obvious threats for police and firefighters, but traffic accidents also pose a serious danger for these first responders. Nearly 13 percent of the firefighters and police officers who die in the line of duty are killed in vehicle-related incidents, and fire trucks are involved in ten times as many collisions as other heavy trucks.

Maricopa County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) engineers and University of Arizona researchers are on the national forefront developing a system that will radically lower these statistics and make signalized intersections safer nationwide for emergency responders and the general public, according to Faisal Saleem, MCDOT ITS engineer, and UA Systems and Industrial Engineering researcher, Dr. Larry Head.

“MCDOT’s testing is leading research in emerging technologies to fine tune traffic control systems that will in the very near future link all drivers to both their surroundings and other vehicles on the road. This means fewer crashes and more saved lives,” said Saleem.

smartdrive logoStarting this week, MCDOT will begin testing of the SMARTDrive prototype, a state-of-the-art field lab for testing new transportation technologies systems for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-roadway communications, including vehicle prioritization at traffic lights, along a 2.3-mile stretch of Daisy Mountain Drive in the Anthem community just north of Phoenix.

The first MCDOT SMARTDrive application to be tested is a vehicle prioritization system which can simultaneously communicate and give traffic signal priority to multiple emergency vehicles converging at the same time at the same intersection. In the very near future, this experimental vehicle communication technology can help prevent emergency responders from colliding with one another at strategic intersections. Additionally, as more and more automobiles are equipped with onboard devices that can communicate with traffic signals, other vehicles on the roadway, and “real-time” traffic control centers, this system will also help prevent collisions between emergency vehicles and private automobiles.

Currently, traffic signal emergency pre-emptive technology simply provides a red light in all directions and is not able to accommodate multiple requests for traffic signal priority, and emergency vehicles approaching an intersection are not aware of other emergency vehicles in the area, leading the drivers of both vehicles to think they have the right-of-way through an all-red intersection. “This situation has led not only to many serious collisions involving emergency vehicles colliding into each other, but also accidents involving private vehicles and pedestrians,” said Saleem.

With this new technology, traffic control signals will have two-way communication with emergency vehicles, and the vehicles will be in communication with one another. When one or more emergency response vehicles are approaching an intersection from different directions, the SMARTDrive Multi-modal Intelligent Traffic Signal system will selectively prioritize and notify all approaching emergency vehicles which vehicle has the right-of-way, thus significantly improving both intersection operation and safety.

“SMARTDrive testing will advance connected vehicle technology and make intersections safer for emergency responders,” Saleem said. “We also hope it will improve response times where seconds can mean the difference between life and death.”

The MCDOT’s SMARTDrive (connected vehicle) test bed in Anthem, along with CALTRANS test site in California, were both selected to serve as national test sites for the Multi-Modal Intelligent Traffic Signal System applications funded by the US Department of Transportation and the Cooperative Transportation Systems Pooled Fund Study (CTS PFS). Over the next year, these sites will collect and exchange data to develop and design a test plan to implement system and operational requirements for the futuristic Multi-Modal Intelligent Traffic Signal System.

Led by CTS PFS, the multi-agency study team will focus on the design, analysis, field testing and demonstration of the new Intelligent Traffic Signal System that will allow traffic data to be shared between roadway infrastructure (ITS equipment/software) and passenger, transit, emergency and freight vehicles and even pedestrians, using the wireless communication system within MCDOT’s SMARTDrive connected vehicle environment. 

The MCDOT SMARTDrive field test involves six interconnected traffic lights along Daisy Mountain Drive in Anthem. Test equipment including dedicated short-range communication devices, integrated WiFi Bluetooth connections, closed-circuit TV cameras, traffic detection and data collection software programs, fiber optic Signal interconnect Systems and  communication connections to MCDOT’s Traffic Management Center located in south Phoenix were installed over the summer and software application testing is currently underway.

The first round of field tests will involve MCDOT emergency traffic control REACT vehicles carrying vehicle communication prototype radios and tracked by GPS. The  Daisy Mountain Fire District (DMFD) and Deer Valley Unified  School District (DVUSD) will be participating in live SMARTDrive field testing to simulate real traffic conditions, according to Saleem. The final testing will involve DMFD trucks and DVUSD buses staging real life emergency response scenarios.

These combined efforts are part of a national push by the US Department of Transportation to create “intelligent” vehicles that communicate with one another and with traffic control systems. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which mandated seatbelts for all cars and trucks over 40 years ago, is already on board and is working to require that every vehicle sold in the United States be equipped with smart vehicle communication devices by 2013.  “Connected vehicle technology has the potential to nearly eliminate rear-end collisions, red light running and left-turn smashups at intersections,” said Saleem.

The MCDOT SMARTDrive field test corridor is helping to lay the groundwork toward the future deployment of smart vehicle systems throughout the country.  “It’s unclear which will come first, the intelligent cars or the ITS infrastructure to support them.  The installation of vehicle prioritization systems for emergency vehicles at the intersections will also provide core infrastructure for the path to national deployment. What is clear is that over the next decade, as the nation's public and private vehicle fleets are renewed and equipped with this technology, this system will lead the way in making intersections significantly safer,” said Saleem.

In the future, with MCDOT SMARTDrive technology, emergency vehicles will also be able to communicate with the Arizona 511 traveler advisory network to alert motorists to the traffic problems in the area. Forewarned, motorists will have the option to select alternate routes and avoid the area altogether,  which helps to prevent secondary accidents that often occur near an accident scene, and the reduced traffic congestion near the incident scene will allow emergency vehicles to more rapidly enter or exit the area.

Transit priority systems can also be developed using SMARTDrive technology.   Valley transit and school buses could run more efficiently, stay on schedule and provide better service if they were given traffic signal priority at smart intersections. “If you have a bus that's behind schedule, you can have the traffic light hold the green longer or give an early green,” said Dr. Larry Head, University of Arizona. “If they're running on time, they can go with the normal stream of traffic.” Tying transit vehicles to the system could make public transit more attractive because the vehicles would run on time more often.

UA researchers are also working with ADOT to adapt the vehicle prioritization system to freeway entrance ramps that are controlled by traffic signals. “If we have a two-lane ramp, you can hold one lane red and turn one green to let everyone go, clearing the way for the emergency vehicle,” said Head. "On one-lane ramps, you can just turn the light green and flush out the cars to clear the way.  “ADOT is considering testing the system on the Warner Road onramp for eastbound I-10 in Tempe,” said Head.

“This study will result in reduced traffic accidents and safer, more efficient roadways all over the country,” said Chairman Andy Kunasek, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

“SMARTDrive has put MCDOT in the national forefront of the SMART signal system technology transformation and this achievement would not have been possible without the foresight and vision of our County leadership and the hard work of our highly competent and professional MCDOT traffic management staff.”