Traffic Management: Why You Can’t Just Think Locally

More often than not traffic management hones in all of its focus on local traffic, even though our transportation needs don’t stop at the city limits. In reality, regional traffic patterns significantly impact local traffic and should not be ignored. 

In order to expand the focus to a regional level, what is needed is an enhanced level of cooperation, interoperability and data sharing. Fortunately, with the right tools, traffic managers can broaden their scope with ease and accuracy. 

Why You Should Go Wide

Most local monitoring and management entails traffic video monitoring and real-time data analytics, used to reduce commute times, traffic, and accidents. Whether drivers are commuting outside of city limits or not, regional traffic impacts local traffic. If there is an accident right outside the city, it could significantly impede local traffic. Whether the accident creates a back-up on the highway or forces drivers to reroute through alternative local routes, drivers will be caught off-guard and experience severe delays without regional traffic management.

However, if local traffic monitoring is expanded into regional roads, such delays do not catch anyone off guard. Traffic managers would then be aware of accidents and delays outside of city limits that may affect local traffic. 

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With these insights, drivers can be rerouted before they get stuck in a backup or accident. As a result, drivers can continue to reduce commute times and avoid traffic - even outside city limits.

Apart from real-time traffic monitoring, there are other aspects to be considered. We are reporting a few striking examples, where authorities in the US and the UK, recognised the limitations of their local traffic management and how they took action.

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Case Study: Maryland Masters Regional Traffic

Maryland’s state traffic management program blossomed in the 1980’s as the “Reach the Beach” initiative, which focused on improving travel to and from the state’s east shore. Over time, the program’s scope expanded and the initiative was renamed the Coordinated Highway Action Response Team (CHART). 

Today, CHART is a statewide, multidisciplinary program responsible for real-time and emergency operations, along with special events. The program provides 24/7 traffic management, including traffic monitoring, traveler information services, and incident management and response services. 

The success of the CHART program offers some insight on how other local transportation management programs can successfully expand to regional operations: 

  • Start small: Maryland’s regional traffic program began with a limited, specific scope that focused on a few key travel paths. With that initial success, the program could be better scaled over time. 
  • Maintain a strategic focus: the focus of the program remains on traffic incident management, with the primary goal of ensuring quick clearance of traffic lanes, enhanced safety, and reduced vehicle collisions. 
  • Use the right tools: CHART employs advanced technology, from CCTV cameras and pavement weather sensors, to traffic speed detectors and counting devices. 
  • Get creative about data acquisition: Today’s traffic managers can draw from a host of data sources. CHART applies both private-sector and crowd-sourced data to get the most accurate picture of traffic conditions. 
  • Include other stakeholders: CHART relies on multiagency cooperation, which requires institutional partnership agreements and well-established standard operating procedures that can be implemented across agencies

Traffic signs and speed limits

To enhance these efforts, Maryland DOT has also invested in intelligent transportation systems (ITS) infrastructure, along with telecommunications infrastructure and centralized advanced transportation management systems (ATMS). The investment has paid off; in 2019, the CHART program saved users about $1.4 billion, thanks to decreased delays, fuel savings, and fewer secondary traffic incidents. 

The Potential Issue with Regional Traffic Management

This lack of integrated traffic management and network-wide approach drastically reduces the potential of efficient planning on both, the local and the regional level, as they impact one another equally. So why isn’t it being done everywhere?

The primary reason for this missing integration is that different network types are operated and maintained by different traffic managers, who are only responsible for their individual parts of the network.  

Case Study: Cooperative Traffic Management between Highways England and Local Traffic Authorities

Highways England (today's National Highways) manages the Strategic Road Network (SRN) for the country, including approximately 4,300 miles of highways and major roads in England. Since trips never start or finish on the highways of the SRN, the organization recognized the need for cooperation with local traffic authorities throughout the country, with the stated mission of  “connecting England through better journeys.” 

Diagram with integrated traffic management blockers

This task took on more urgency as travel times actually got worse. The average delay on the SRN in 2018 was approximately 9.4 seconds per vehicle per mile–a 3.9% increase over the previous year’s statistics. Given this issue, Highways England undertook the effort to become a data-driven company. However, the organization struggled to achieve this goal due to four key roadblocks: 

  • Lack of interagency communication: Often someone would know that they needed to share information with another agency or organization, but simply didn’t know whom to contact. The only people who had access to accurate contact information tended to be those who had worked at the organization for many years and had put consistent effort into building interagency relationships with local authorities. 
  • Conflicting priorities: Every local agency had its own priorities and challenges, making it difficult to collaborate around shared goals. In some cases, priorities even seemed to conflict. A local Director of Network Management noted, “Highways England want to get traffic off the SRN as quickly as possible and local authorities don’t want traffic in their cities. They want to get traffic out of cities and off their roads as quickly as possible. The difficulty is how do you balance these contrasting strategic objectives?” 
  • No data-sharing framework: Each organization had its own data framework, standards, and governance. This lack of consistency impeded data sharing, which is critical to the success of regional traffic management initiatives. When data did get shared, it was often already stale. One key route network manager said, “One of my biggest issues when receiving information from different organisations is that the information I do receive is often out of date very quickly.”

The Solutions 

Clearly, traffic management beyond local influence is not only wanted but needed. While integrating traffic control between urban areas seemed pointless in the past, technology today has made it possible. On top, integrated traffic data analytics enable better-informed decisions regarding traffic management. 

The key ingredient to integrating local and regional traffic management is implementing technology that fosters collaboration. While local and regional traffic managers may have state-of-the-art traffic control software, the data loses a significant amount of its value if the software cannot share data in the desired format and in real-time. GoodVision Live Traffic can be integrated with any traffic data database, traffic management system, road LED signs or a city portal. Its integration with GoodVision Video Insights platform allows also historical traffic data analysis.

Traffic engineer using GoodVision Video Insights

Finally, with analytics software such as GoodVision Video Insights, local and regional traffic managers have the ability to share traffic data, enabling them to collaborate with ease and efficiency. As a result, they can achieve a more accurate and efficient traffic management - whether inside or outside city limits. 

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