Tuesday, July 19, 2011

NYC Goes High Tech In Battle Against Gridlock; Setting Stage For Congestion Pricing?

While many reports are indicating that this pilot project is designed to reduce gridlock in Midtown Manhattan by enabling traffic engineers at the Department of Transportation to adjust traffic signals, alert police to hot spots, and otherwise smooth the flow of traffic in Midtown, it is reliant upon signals from dozens of cameras and EZPass sensors mounted throughout the zone.
Dubbed "Midtown in Motion," the $1.6 million system relies on more than 100 motion detectors, dozens of cameras and data gathered from drivers' E-ZPasses to compile immediate info on the most congested streets in the city.

That info is beamed wirelessly back to the windowless control room in Long Island City to the traffic engineers.

Not only will the DOT engineers get immediate notification of traffic backups -- caused by anything from a single car crash to a meeting of the UN General Assembly -- they'll also be able to do something about it.

Armed with pocket protectors and algorithms on city traffic patterns, the engineers will analyze the info and decide whether to speed up or slow down the street's signal changes.

Previously, the signal lights in the city could be wired only to change themselves at certain times of the day -- like for rush hour -- and weren't able to be switched remotely.

The all-seeing DOT engineers can also decide to deploy traffic agents from their command center if the congestion gets particularly thorny.
That's not a particularly expensive project if it can reduce traffic and congestion in Midtown. If successful, DOT is likely to expand that to other parts of the City.

My concern is over the EZPass sensors.

Reducing traffic by adjusting traffic lights is one thing, but installing a system that puts in place the critical infrastructure necessary to toll riders into Midtown Manhattan should worry those who do that drive on a daily basis. This pilot project could conceivably set the congestion pricing tax back in motion.

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