A few months ago, I got an email from the editor asking me to write this column in Traffic Technology International. I was flattered and humbled but it was not clear to me that I had enough of value to say (and surely not every few months), so I consider this an experiment. If I can make a contribution to this industry and you all can benefit in some way from my thoughts, we’re good. But if you would rather golf, then I’ll just join you! So here goes...
In the 1970s and well into the 1980s, we had a few mainframe computer-operated signal systems and landline telephones. When, in the 1980s, an LNG tanker truck sprung a leak on the George Washington Bridge, the New York area went into gridlock because all the agencies had were landlines and they were not quick enough to get ahead of the unfolding traffic nightmare. As the computers got smaller and easier to program and wireless service began, the traffic engineers started to dream about how the new technology could be applied
They dreamed of desktop computers running signal systems. They dreamed of traffic control centers with incident detection and video coverage. They dreamed of providing real-time traffic information to drivers; of seamless payment for transit and tolls; of a safer, seamless surface transportation system. They created the technology and institutions to support the dreams. ITS America was born. And they talked to each other endlessly at meetings and conferences. They bewailed the fact that their local policymakers did not get ‘it’ and they struggled to achieve some modest level of funding for early deployments.
There were heroes in the early days who risked their careers for these high-tech solutions, and I hope to write about some of them in future columns (assuming there are future columns!), but in this edition I want to talk about our biggest failure then… and even now.
It is fair to say that at the beginning, ITS technology was a set of solutions looking for a problem. Engineers with PCs and wireless services developed some marvelous, innovative solutions – but the leadership of the local transportation departments, their engineers and planners had not connected their problems with our solutions. That was the hallway conversation at all of the early meetings. How can we get management to use our stuff? How can we get police, fire and emergency services to see the value of this technology?
The people defining the problem and the folks designing the solution were not one and the same. Since then, a generation of leadership has grown up with instant wireless data communication. The local transportation leadership and their planners and engineers are more familiar with what we do but we have yet to fully bridge the gap.
Transportation planning departments are where the problems are defined and where solutions are explored. Engineering departments are where the big projects are developed. The early planning and design phase is where ITS must be included. Indeed there are some federal requirements and some agencies that accomplish this, but we need to be clear that the problem drives the solution and not the other way around. We need to be the vital force in the transportation community and not expect the community to join with us.
Republished from the April/May 2012 edition of Traffic Technology International magazine
• To make a comment about the content of this column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
There are currently no comments.