The days of sending out crews to deploy traffic counting equipment to measure highway volume could be coming to an end as cities turn to apps like Waze.
The free, crowd-sourced navigation app offers constant traffic information to drivers as they head through town. But cities like Lousiville, Ky., have also started partnering with the company to capitalize on its wealth of daily transportation data. And from this data officials can pinpoint areas of congestion, as well as analyzing modifications to the roadway system, like lane reductions or traffic signal changes.
“So, really what we’ve been doing is trying to figure out ways that we can use this data to kind of help our current operations,” said Ed Blayney, an innovation project manager with Louisville Metro Government.
“We’re trying to do historical analysis, where we say, 'Okay, a road-diet is going on in this part of town. Is that affecting congestion? Is it making congestion worse?,' Stuff like that,” Blayney explained.
Louisville began its partnership with Waze, known as the Waze Connected Citizen Program, in August 2015, a process that Blayney described as “really easy.” At the time, the city had numerous downtown construction projects happening simultaneously, and officials needed a way to easily share information with motorists related to road closures and other problems.
“That was pretty much our goal,” said Blayney. “But when we joined the partnership, all of sudden we were getting this massive amount of data all the time ... All of a sudden, we had real-time data around what was happening in our community, but didn’t have really the ability to handle it at that point. It was like a deluge of data.”
“So we started working with our traffic engineers to see what might be some of the possible use cases for this Waze data, and how could this help our operations,” he added.
Today, Waze partners with more than 55 cities worldwide to offer “two-way data exchange,” according to the company’s website. More than 50 million active and passive users provide real-time road data through the app.
Louisville has since used the Waze data to supplement the same kind of information it was getting from traffic consultants. Traffic officials also realized they could use the Waze data to test modifications such as altering signal times or even adding or subtracting a lane to see how it might impact traffic flow.
“The other thing is kind of, where do we need to focus our resources? So where are the hot spots?” Blayney remarked.
In time, Louisville hopes to use Waze data to assist with strategic planning and tweaking the existing traffic network for improved efficiencies.
“That’s the goal right now. Right now, we’re not quite at that level,” said Blayney.
For now, traffic engineers are using the data to indicate areas where equipment may have failed.
“If they see a huge spike in travel time, or congestion in an area over a two-week period, they know that, hey, there may be a faulty detection device,” said Blayney.
Louisville officials say some of the next steps include sharing its processes with other cities.
“We want to get to where we can open-source this so that any community that joins doesn’t have to go through necessarily the same kind of project process that we went through,” said Blayney. “They can just kind of benefit from the result of it.”