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Chattanooga, Tenn., to Explore the Many Uses of Traffic Data

The region will use a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation for establishing the Smart Corridor+ project in the downtown area to study transportation. The project will involve a range of stakeholders.

The National Science Foundation awarded nearly $1.4 million to develop the Smart Corridor+ project in downtown Chattanooga, Tenn.
Shutterstock/Sean Pavone
Transportation data in Chattanooga, Tenn., is being shared across departments and community stakeholders to grow insights into everything from pedestrian safety to economic activity.

The region is the recipient of a recent $1.37 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to establish a project known as Smart Corridor+ in the downtown area. The project is being led by researchers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Center for Urban Informatics and Progress (CUIP).

The corridor will be established along a 1.2-mile stretch of Martin Luther King Boulevard, where variables such as traffic flow, the environment and other “quality of life factors” will be studied, say officials. The funds will be used to help expand the testbed to a portion of U.S. Highway 27 and its on and off ramps, as well as the deployment of a web portal to be used by researchers, said Reid Belew, marketing manager for CUIP.

The smart corridor research lab and testbed is a good match for the city, where an intelligent transportation system (ITS) is at the heart of smart city efforts, providing data streams used to single out dangerous interactions between cars and people, as well as offer clues about how tax revenue may be trending.

“During the pandemic, we were monitoring traffic in a handful of areas, and as we saw these dips — critical dips — on a lot of our main corridors out there, we knew that that was going to be having an impact on our tax revenue,” said Smart City Director Kevin Comstock during a recent panel to discuss the future of smart city projects. The July 29 panel, titled “Is There a Blueprint for Smart Cities?,” was organized by autonomous vehicle software maker Seoul Robotics.

“As we began to see those things climb out of the COVID time, taxes started to return,” said Comstock.

Comstock believes it’s possible to use traffic data “as a metric to reflect when the tax base would be returning to some level, if we knew in advance what the traffic system was looking like” he said.

The project will function as a form of transportation research lab, pulling in data from a number of different sources, to be used by not only university academics, but also the smart city tech team.

“I think one of the key things to being a smart city is actually starting to utilize the information you have on your fingertips already, and making use of that in some proactive fashion,” said Comstock.

Within this framework, the city is working with the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga and the Center for Urban Informatics and Progress, exploring a lidar system focused on pedestrian safety, as well as a predictive cash model, which uses city-provided data in partnership with the Chattanooga Police Department.

“We want to find our pain points and figure out a way to mitigate some of these things before they even become a problem. It’s about proactive thinking about these things. We’ve got tons of technology at our hands. It’s about applying them in some new fashion that maybe hasn’t been thought of yet,” said Comstock.

“At the end of the day, the citizens of our community are interested in what we’re doing to make their lives better. And that’s specifically the task we take at hand. We’re just using technology to help us,” he added.

The corridor will examine variables like the design of intersections, as well as pedestrian and traffic patterns, said Belew.

The corridor will also be made available to high school students in the area to offer instruction in science and math. Projects like this one allows schools “to build stronger and more integrated programs that result in more impactful outcomes for our community,” said Debra Socia, president and CEO of The Enterprise Center, a Chattanooga nonprofit that manages the Chattanooga Innovation District.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.