Tackling traffic in NYC and beyond

Traffic management is complex and a big-ticket item for cities.

Older copper networks connecting thousands of traffic signals constantly corrode from ice, salt and snow. Replacing copper networks usually means tearing up streets or sidewalks, creating the very traffic jams that traffic engineering departments were originally created to prevent.

For city managers, updating an aging traffic management network system is a huge headache and the procurement process is not easy. The cost for a fix in a large downtown can run into the hundreds of millions.

Wireless networks have emerged in recent years to take the place of copper and New York has become a poster child for how to implement such a network.

In 2020, New York City Department of Transportation completed a large-scale Intelligent Transportation System deployment at a cost of more than $100 million. The city collaborated with vendors and agencies to connect 14,000 signalized intersections along most of its 6,300 miles of streets and highways.

The ITS system runs on 4G/LTE with cellular routers and a concurrent dual carrier network for failover and high reliability at 99.99%. It also provides centralized device management and encryption and has been used in a connected vehicle pilot. AT&T and Digi International were primary vendors for the upgrade, providing the network services and routers and related management software.

“The traffic system in New York is deemed a part of its critical infrastructure supporting quite a few international entities,” said Steve Mazur, director of government sales for Digi. “It’s the lifeblood of New York City and it’s a challenge on any given day. ITS has been a great success, especially because few would have thought you could put the system on cellular.  It wasn’t that way 10 years ago but cellular has matured and is trustworthy... Cellular is cheaper now, really.” 

More than a year after the project’s completion, AT&T and Digi are now working together to spread the approach used in NYC to other cities, enabled with a combined turnkey smart traffic management solution that relies on pre-negotiated contracts through the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO).

The NASPO approach, announced by the companies in early February, will hopefully bypass lengthy contractual and procurement processes.   “NASPO makes it easier to go forward with a new project,” Mazur said in an interview with Fierce Electronics.

Digi has more recently worked with the Chicago Transit Authority and City Tech Collaborative on a passenger-counting pilot project to gain an understanding of vehicle occupancy at various times of day along a busy 79th Street bus route to ultimately improve the passenger experience.  Passenger data that is anonymized and gleaned through video and lidar can help the CTA make operational decisions to add gap buses or hold buses or even direct buses to drop off passengers only.

One of the functions of the upgraded New York City traffic management system was to support a connected vehicle pilot with Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) connectivity. The pilot, completed in December, involved 3,000 vehicles equipped with wireless connections to roadside transceivers and other infrastructure. Some pedestrians were also given personal devices to help them safely cross the street.

The pilot and related efforts were designed to evaluate technology focused on reducing traffic injuries and fatalities under the Vision Zero initiative started in 2014. In Manhattan, 73% of all crash fatalities involved pedestrians compared to 14% nationwide. The U.S. Department of Transportation has supported the New York City connected vehicle pilot as well as others nationwide. The original goal of the program was to create a national system of interoperable connected vehicles and infrastructure, according to DOT materials.

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