Dallas Gives Green Light to New Transportation Management System

The city has signed an agreement with Ericsson to overhaul the communications backbone for its traffic signalling network.

Improvements to the traffic signal infrastructure in Dallas could pave the way toward faster responses to crashes, better timing of signals and green light priority for bus lanes. The city recently signed an agreement with Ericsson, a provider of communications and Internet of Things infrastructure, to provide hardware and software upgrades for its traffic management systems.

“Ultimately, what we’re doing is building a system that basically is a communications network. When you think about our transportation network, everything is connected, or should be connected,” said Michael Rogers, director of the Dallas Department of Transportation. “What we’re doing is building the backbone of our system right now that allows us the opportunity to communicate across many different networks.”

The upgrade will allow Dallas to use video and other data feeds to make decisions about how to deploy resources to crashes or reroute drivers away from congested areas.

“When you look at traffic and traffic congestion starting to build up, you know that something needs to change in order to respond to that,” said Rogers. “And this is what our system can do. It can say, ‘OK, congestion is starting to build up at a certain location.’”

Dallas has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country, costing city drivers $2.9 billion in lost time and wasted fuel.

When a section of roadway shows signs of slowing, transportation officials say video footage could zoom in on the problem and offer a window into an area that may be in need of assistance.

“Ericsson is a leader in connecting people and things including vehicles, drivers and travelers,” said Brenda Connor, head of Smart Cities and Intelligent Transport Systems, North America, for Ericsson.

The new technology will improve traffic signals across hundreds of intersections with sensors detecting the presence of vehicles, and the system adjusting itself in real time.

“Traditionally, traffic engineers would take a corridor and they would look at how to time or retime those signals,” Rogers explained. “We’re replacing the controllers to those signals at those intersections to now be able to smartly communicate and have the algorithms to optimize the signals,” he added.

The software upgrade is expected to be complete in April.

“Then the next phase of the program is to look at the video and integrating all the cameras out there … We want to make sure that cameras can automatically focus and send that information back (to the transportation center),” said Rogers. This section of work will be complete by this summer.

The Intelligent Transportation System, as it’s formally known, can also sync with transit systems to facilitate a bus-rapid-transit route, allowing buses to move steadily through traffic with carefully timed green lights.

“It has to interact with the traffic signal so that when the bus comes up to that signal, it’s always going to get the green. And the bus, and the traffic signals along those corridors all have to talk to each other. And this will allow us the opportunity to do even more with our public transportation system as we move forward,” said Rogers.

Dallas is surrounded by numerous other cities, and as drivers move across the region, the transportation management system needs to sync with neighboring networks, say officials. 

“We’re truly looking for a system, not just for Dallas, but this entire region,” said Rogers, adding the new transportation management system “will be able to talk to other communities.” 

“Ericsson’s Intelligent Transport System technology is based on open platforms with (application programming interfaces) API’s and services already proven in many other industries,” said Connor, in an email. “By using the Ericsson ITS offering, developers and local stakeholders can easily access published API’s and make use of available data in a controlled and secure way.”

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 Sacramento.