A collaboration among the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the city and other partners drives work behind the MLK Smart Corridor, used to test new technologies and generate data-driven outcomes.
MetroLab Network has partnered with Government Technology to bring its readers a segment called the MetroLab Innovation of the Month Series, which highlights impactful tech, data and innovation projects underway between cities and universities. If you’d like to learn more or contact the project leads, please contact MetroLab at email@example.com for more information.
In this month’s installment of the Innovation of the Month series, we explore Chattanooga’s MLK Smart Corridor, which is a test bed for research in smart city developments and connected vehicles in a real-world environment.
MetroLab’s Ben Levine and Stefania Di Mauro-Nava spoke with Mina Sartipi, director of the Center for Urban Informatics and Progress at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga; Deb Socia, president of the Enterprise Center; Kevin Comstock, smart city director for the city of Chattanooga; and Bill Copeland, director of business intelligence at the Electric Power Board (EPB) of Chattanooga to learn more.
Ben Levine: Could you please describe what the Chattanooga MLK Smart Corridor is? Who is involved in this effort?
Mina Sartipi: The MLK Smart Corridor is in downtown Chattanooga, Tenn. It spans just over 1.25 miles on one of the main arteries downtown, from Highway 27 to Central Avenue. The corridor is a test bed for research in smart city developments and connected vehicles in a real-world environment. It also serves as programmable and flexible wireless infrastructure for different applications. The wireless communication infrastructure and network of sensors in combination with data analytics provide a means of monitoring and controlling city resources and infrastructure in real time. Additionally, the test bed supports a wide variety of data sources, computation capabilities and communications technologies for users.
The Center for Urban Informatics and Progress (CUIP) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), the city of Chattanooga, the Enterprise Center and the Electric Power Board (EPB) of Chattanooga are all involved in this effort.
Top: Number of objects (pedestrians, cars, buses, trucks, etc.) passing through each intersection. Bottom: Weather quality at each intersection (PM2.5 being shown here). Courtesy of Mina Sartipi, UTC.
Levine: What motivated the city and university to develop this test bed?
Sartipi: We believe that the increase in urbanization in combination with aging infrastructure and processes have led to the rapid increase in research around the smart city concept. The researchers at CUIP realize this challenge and want to better understand what technologies should be deployed at scale. Additionally, they want to research and develop new applications to help manage the city's resources to optimize transportation and provide a safer environment for pedestrians. The collaboration and shared goals with the city resulted in the decision to deploy the test bed to achieve the goals of both the city and the university.
Deb Socia: When we created a framework plan for our Innovation District in 2018, we envisioned using the city as an urban lab. The MLK Smart Corridor embodies that vision. With an asset like our fiber-optic network, it just makes sense to harness its power as a community, to create solutions that will help the people who live here. This collaboration is a powerful and tangible outcome of a community that works together to solve problems.
Kevin Comstock: This was a very organic occurrence when the city, UTC and others decided to use the MLK corridor as a platform to deploy, test and validate various technologies. The city managed and operated eight signalized intersections within the corridor. Those locations included an established communications network, control of the locations through a central system application and the ability to utilize the on-street technology to aggregate and analyze data. In addition, the city supported the City Traffic Operations technical staff in the installation of many of those technologies on the testbed.
The city provided access to numerous data sources, allowing UTC to evaluate many issues within the corridor. The initial programmatic interests investigated utilizing the test bed include crash analytics, mobility patterns and air quality statistics. These issues are considered a high priority by the city’s leadership.
Bill Copeland: This exciting research aligns with EPB’s mission of seeking new and innovative ways to leverage the community-owned fiber-optic infrastructure.
The Chattanooga MLK Smart Corridor. Courtesy of Mina Sartipi, UTC.
Stefania Di Mauro-Nava: What have been some of your initial findings, and is this changing how you view the role of the corridor?
Sartipi: Initially, we heavily focused on real-time high-throughput data collection infrastructure and data analysis techniques to represent the current state of the city. This consisted of highly scalable software infrastructure that could support the various sources of data at a citywide scale. This data shows real-time and historic data from a variety of sensors and computer vision systems developed at the university for this project. The computer vision was developed as a key component of our system to understand the vehicle and pedestrian flow within the city, air quality data, and automated traffic signal performance measures at each intersection. This work was a necessary step in understanding the current state of the city and the performance of the city’s infrastructure. The role of the corridor has not changed as much as it has evolved. The initial findings have enabled us to proceed with new research topics in a wide variety of fields.
Comstock: With regard to mobility patterns indicated above, the city and UTC are working to evaluate near-hit crash statistics within the corridor. The systems allow for anonymized tracking of various targets and through vectoral projections indicate the probability of a collision. These data points allow the city to evaluate operational and geometric enhancements in an effort to mitigate these events.
Levine: How are some of the initial findings being used and implemented by the city and/or community?
Sartipi: Currently, we are working on integrating our systems with the Chattanooga Department of Transportation (CDOT). The data being collected on the corridor is shared with CDOT to improve their decision-making. The results of the computer vision application developed by the university are allowing CDOT to better understand areas within the road network that needs to be optimized. Near-miss results are a high priority for the city to understand potentially dangerous intersections. We are working on the deployment of V2X technologies that will allow us to support emergency vehicle pre-emption. Last, data extraction from city infrastructure including traffic controllers is providing CDOT with automated traffic signal performance measures.
Copeland: It is exciting to see so many different assets — like sensors, fiber infrastructure, traffic hardware, AI and pattern recognition software — work together to generate insights into traffic patterns and optimize investments and strategies around future transportation, improving safety, environmental benefits, etc.
Di Mauro-Nava: What was the most surprising thing you learned during this process?
Comstock: The capacity of both the school (UTC) and its different colleges that are participating in the work being performed on the test bed. There are so many linkages between the different disciplines. For example, social science studying the public perceptions of the deployment, or the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze the data to find other patterns for analysis.
Copeland: The project has given us a new appreciation for how many innovative areas of research the university is actively leading. It has also been refreshing to see how seamlessly multiple stakeholders have worked together on a project; it is clearly an example of the Chattanooga way.
Socia: It’s been incredible to see how we can use the data that we collect to create solutions that we can implement right in our own community. So often, communities do not own the data that is collected from them, but in Chattanooga, we do. The capacity for what we can do with the data to positively impact people’s lives here is so much greater because the data is ours to use to find solutions that matter in our community.
Illustrative rendering of the Chattanooga MLK Smart Corridor. Courtesy of Mina Sartipi, UTC.
Levine: Where will this project go from here?
Sartipi: The connected vehicle research domain is a growing component of the effort. Standards for connected vehicles are constantly being updated due to the immaturity of the field. The test bed will be an optimal location for testing new technologies and communication standards. This project will become even more integrated with the city of Chattanooga. Emergency vehicle pre-emption, traffic signal optimization and real-time dynamic routing are all potential challenges the collaboration can address.
Comstock: The city has recently deployed advanced traffic signal performance measurement (ATSPM) controllers along the entire corridor. These controllers have the ability to perform Signal Phasing and Timing (SPaT) and MAP supporting the use of V2I protocols. These are the foundational applications to introduce connected and autonomous vehicles to the corridor.
The further expansion of the test bed is a goal of the city. There are two other parallel corridors that the city is interested in equipping with similar technologies.
Copeland: We believe that this project will continue to collaboratively develop and align goals and strategies around smart city applications. Additionally, it will optimize next-generation models and strategies regarding transportation, health, energy and water consumption.
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