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Smarter Urban Tech Gives Transportation New Data to Leverage

New understandings related to parking, micromobility safety, intersection activity and more are being realized thanks to smart transportation technologies. Officials say the data they are able to collect opens the door to new innovations.

From left, Melissa McMahon, parking and curbspace manager, Department of Environmental Services in Arlington County, Va.; Jacques Coulon, mobility innovation manager in Orlando, Fla.; Dennis Randolph, traffic engineer for Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Josh Schacht, smart mobility program manager in Alexandria, Va., discuss smart transportation systems during a panel discussion at the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo on Nov. 28, 2023
Skip Descant/Government Technology
New batches of digital transportation data is helping cities better understand how residents are moving and where improvements to the system are warranted.

Alexandria, Va., is partnering with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to launch a smart intersections pilot, which will take into account pedestrians, cars, cyclists and other users. Five different transportation data tools will be deployed into the study intersections.

The pilot project will serve as “both a product and a process,” explained Josh Schacht, smart mobility program manager in Alexandria.

“The product is we get information about this intersection ... . This is also a process to vet out all of the different vendors, their strengths and weaknesses, and help us understand how we can scale one of multiple of those in other parts of the city,” said Schacht, during a smart transportation panel at the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo in late November.

Farther south in Orlando, Fla., transportation officials were able to turn to injury data related to micromobility to demonstrate that e-scooters did not pose a significant hazard for users or others on the street.

“We were able to show, there really haven’t been a lot of issues,” said Jacques Coulon, mobility innovation manager for the city, adding, “there has not been a rise in pedestrian and scooter riders of deaths and injuries, due to these machines."

“Being able to show that as part of the narrative, we were able to get our commissioners on board,” said Coulon during the panel. “And so now we have a full-fledged program that is moving forward.”

Data is underpinning smart transportation systems, whether they are intelligent traffic management solutions, digital technology to bring order to the curb or systems to make parking work more efficiently.

The value of data, said Melissa McMahon, parking and curbspace manager for Arlington County Department of Environmental Services, “is in multi-levels of decision-making."

"It’s in the big things that we can, in theory, do with better programs and models at the jurisdiction and governmental level. But it’s also all the way down to the individual level,” McMahon said in some of her comments.

Arlington has a full system of smart streetlights, as well as smart roadside beacons, which can communicate to the cloud data related to traffic activity at a particular location on the street. The region has also initiated “some basic data-sharing protocols, which is able to merge with state transportation data for added impact,” said McMahon.

Another project is a work-zone data exchange platform with a goal of centralizing and distributing countywide information to drivers about what work zones are affecting the right of way.

And the county is in the first year of a three-year plan to introduce a digital parking solution to better manage traffic flow, payment enforcement and congestion.

“There are opportunities where we don’t have data today,” said McMahon, making reference to the parking pilot project with technology firm eleven-x. “This is a case where we are collecting brand-new data that has never existed before, by putting sensors in the street and understanding where cars are. And then we have to figure out how we use it.”
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.