Atlanta DOT in Full-Time Training for Olympic Games

Atlanta is preparing for the Olympic rush by designing an integrated traffic management system to ease inevitable transportation problems.

by / September 30, 1995
Oct 95 Level of Govt: City, State. Function: Transportation. Problem/situation: The Olympic Games pose a unique challenge for a Atlanta's transportation agency. Solution: An integrated transportation systems designed to ease traffic flow. Jurisdiction: Atlanta. Vendors: TRW Transportation Systems, JHK and Associates. Contact: Marion G. Waters, 404/656-5423

By David Aden Contributing Writer Athletes spend years, or even decades, preparing for the Olympic games. So do cities. Hosting the Olympics puts a unique kind of strain on a city. Not only are stadiums and playing fields needed, so are accommodations for athletes, hotels for visiting dignitaries and tourists, restaurants, medical facilities, etc. But just building these resources is not enough - people have to be able to locate them, get to them and get back to their homes or hotels when the event is over. Few things could destroy the excitement of the Olympics - not to mention its economic opportunities - faster than an impenetrable transportation gridlock.

THE JOURNEY BEGINS In early 1990 - while Atlanta was in contention as the site for the 1996 summer Olympics - the Department of Transportation (DOT) was asked to come up with solutions to handle the expected flow of traffic. Preliminary plans and cost estimates were drawn up but work didn't begin in earnest until Atlanta was selected in late 1990. Fifty-eight million dollars in federal funds were earmarked for an Advanced Transportation Management System (ATMS) in Atlanta in 1991 and by July 1992 a request for proposals went out. A team headed by what had been TRW's Military Electronics and Avionics Divisions won the contract in 1993. TRW applied their military experience to the problems of traffic control has really come into its own in the 1990s. "Any decision-support system gathers information from a variety of inputs, processes it, displays it to a decision-maker in a cogent fashion, allows that person to make a decision, checks the outcome of it and then disseminates the information," said Robert "Tip" B. Franklin, Jr., the regional director for the southern region for TRW Transportation Systems. "What we are building here is rather unique as we have a deadline of the Olympics and no one was willing to have the dates of the Olympics changed," said Marion G. Waters, a state traffic operations engineer with the Georgia DOT. "Normally, when you're building a highway you can shift the dates of completion if you need to. We have changed the method of doing things by getting multiple contractors." Waters currently has 11 contractors on 14 contracts - one putting up the changeable signs, another digging the trench, another laying the fiber optics - which has sometimes made life complicated.

LEARNING FROM OTHERS During the design phase of the project, DOT officials visited some of the most successful systems in the country. What they found is that many systems that were touted as integrated actually consisted of independent systems. For example, in one city, when a traffic light failed, someone in the transportation department received notification and then placed a call to another department to get it fixed. In the Atlanta ATMS, such a failure will show up as an alarm on both the traffic management system and the department charged with handling repairs. Additionally, because problems in one area often creates problems in others, the alarm shows up in all surrounding areas. Information will be fed into the ATMS from standard loop detectors already in the street for approximately 900 traffic lights. On the freeways, the plan calls for the use of AutoScope - a system of six cameras mounted on a pole at the side of the road. The system translates the visual image into digital data describing volume, speed, occupancy by lane, and alarms for accidents or drivers going the wrong way. A video system was preferable for the highways since it is a lot easier to put a pole at the side of the road than to embed sensor loops, especially since traffic patterns will likely change after the Olympics. The AutoScope system will cover about 60 miles of freeway. Once the data has been captured, it is processed and used to help coordinate traffic routing and emergency response via changeable roadside message signs, highway information radio, commercial radio, phone messages and computer bulletin boards.

Kiosks A network of 160 to 200 kiosks is also under development. "The kiosks will be self-contained, touch screen computers tied back into main server, with some realtime data including current traffic conditions, current speeds on the freeways and special events or incidents on the highways," said Jim Pohlman, a Senior Associate with JHK and Associates in Atlanta, the agency contracted to produce and install the kiosks. "They will also have route planning. A user can enter the origin and destination and get information on how to get from where they are to where they want to go." Kiosk users will be able to get printed directions for either driving or using the public transportation system. Plans call for a travel and tourism section with a database full of attractions and events, and possibly weather and airline schedules. The kiosks will be located in major hotels, large office buildings and rest and tourist stops on major highways. Although Pohlman anticipates the kiosks will be used during the Olympics, he feels their major use will come after the Games are over. Because the kiosks will be located in major office buildings, workers will be able to check before they leave at the end of the day to see how traffic is doing. There has also been some discussion of making the kiosk information available online from a home computer. Commuters could access the data before they leave for work in the morning to find the best route.

UPGRADING PUBLIC TRANSIT In addition to building the ATMS, Atlanta has an entirely separate project to upgrade the quality of its public transportation service, which entails expanding the customer information system and incorporating some automatic vehicle location systems. Although the ATMS and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) are being done under separate contract, TRW is the prime contractor for both. The two systems are designed to communicate and will share a common basemap. MARTA will have access to information generated by the ATMS and visa versa. For example, information on road conditions or an accident that is radioed into MARTA by bus drivers will be available to ATMS to help manage traffic patterns and incident response. At this point, all aspects of the ATMS are either under construction or are let to contract and are scheduled to be in full operation by April 1996. Even though the system is not yet complete, Atlanta is already receiving interest from other states and TRW has set up a prototyping and simulation facility to help demonstrate what integrated traffic management systems can do. So while athletes from around the world are girding up for the Games, so is Georgia's DOT. If they do well, Olympic fans will win in terms of ease and speed of travel to and from the Games. And, after the athletes have packed up and gone home, Georgians will continue to win with a modern, user-friendly transportation system designed to take them into the next millennium.


The ATMS is a distributed, high availability system. It is platform independent and is POSIX and OSF/1 compliant. It is an object oriented system to allow for easy additions and changes. All the code is written in C++ and the Georgia DOT will own the software and have all the code. The kiosks will be PC-based machines running Windows NT. The servers are dual processor PCs, also running Windows NT. The kiosks system will be turned over to GeorgiaNet - a state authority charged with providing online access to state data such as legislative, corporate and real estate information - for management and maintenance.

David Aden
David Aden is a writer from Washington, D.C.