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Advanced traffic management is the next big thing for smart cities

Using video, analytics and artificial intelligence to unclog roadways isn't just good for vehicle emissions reductions. These technologies could become the foundation for more efficient and inclusive transit systems.

Traffic congestion is rising in cities around the world. Contributing factors include expanding urban populations, aging infrastructure, inefficient and uncoordinated traffic signal timing and a lack of real-time data.

The impacts are significant. Traffic data and analytics company INRIX estimates that traffic congestion cost U.S. commuters $305 billion in 2017 due to wasted fuel, lost time and the increased cost of transporting goods through congested areas. Given the physical and financial limitations around building additional roads, cities must use new strategies and technologies to improve traffic conditions.

The quest to solve traffic congestion

Advanced traffic management technologies such as adaptive traffic control and traffic analytics can improve safety and significantly decrease traffic congestion levels and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

For example, Pittsburgh deployed Rapid Flow Technology’s Surtrac system at 50 intersections across the city. The decentralized system uses a combination of video detection and radar to detect vehicle traffic and adjust signals in real-time using artificial intelligence-driven software. Results from the implementation have been substantial: travel times have been reduced by 26 percent, wait times at intersections are down 41 percent and vehicle emissions have been reduced by 21 percent.  

These systems can help cities accommodate additional vehicle populations, but they alone cannot solve the overwhelming traffic demand growing in urban areas around the world.
Advanced traffic management systems are also enabling the development of smart intersections, which are emerging as one of the most important data-driven backbones needed to solve core city challenges.

Similar to the platform capabilities offered by smart street lighting, layers of additional services can be added to advanced traffic management systems, such as public transport prioritization and communications with connected vehicles.

For example, in early 2018, the city of Dallas partnered with Ericsson to upgrade the city’s traffic management system. In addition to the ability to adjust traffic signals across hundreds of intersections in real-time, the system will be connected to local transit systems. This connection is anticipated to enable a bus rapid transit route to be prioritized through targeted greenlight timing.

Growth and maturity levels

Over the next 10 years, the advanced traffic management market is expected to achieve gradual but accelerating growth. Navigant Research estimates that the global market for advanced traffic management will be worth more than $1.1 billion in 2019. Annual revenue is expected to grow to nearly $3.8 billion by 2028, representing a compound annual growth rate of 14.2 percent.

This growth likely will occur as cities prioritize reducing traffic congestion and GHG emissions, make improvements in safety and livability, and integrate advanced traffic management systems with other smart city initiatives such as smart street lighting. Adoption is also expected to be enhanced by greater penetrations of connected vehicles.

Globally, cities vary in their level of maturity in terms of using advanced traffic management systems. Collecting traffic and vehicle detection data are often the first steps toward advanced traffic management, followed by in-depth traffic analytics that enable traffic managers to develop mitigation strategies and make operational improvements to existing traffic signal timing systems.

In smart cities with mature traffic management solutions: 

  • Advanced traffic control technologies enable traffic signals to adjust based on real-time traffic conditions (with increasing use of AI).
  • Traffic data is sent to connected vehicles traveling in the traffic flow.
  • Inter-agency data sharing is on the rise.
  • Transport platforms enable cities to better manage their mobility ecosystem.

Navigant Research identifies the stages of mature ATMS in smart cities in the following figure.


Recommendations for cities and suppliers

As cities determine what level of advanced traffic management system to deploy, they should consider how the investment could be complementary to broader smart city goals.

For example, most of these management systems run on fiber communications. Cities that update their fiber infrastructure for the purpose of better traffic management are also establishing a strong foundation for future connected and automated vehicles.

To help fund these systems, cities should use their traffic light assets to charge rental fees to a variety of companies. Cities could, for example, generate revenue by renting their traffic poles to cellphone carriers for 5G small cell deployment. Additionally, updating government procurement models and designing more flexible request for proposals would help to encourage increased deployments of advanced traffic management systems.

However, it is also important to note that technology has limits. Cities should develop a multimodal mobility strategy that aims to reduce total vehicles on the road and prioritizes other modes of transport such as walking, bicycling, mobility as a service and public transport — advanced traffic management systems can help cities accommodate the expected arrival of additional vehicle populations, but they alone cannot solve the overwhelming traffic demand growing in cities around the world.

Navigant Research recommends the following for suppliers aiming to capitalize on the growing market for advanced traffic management systems:

  • Develop differentiated, high-performance and localized offerings: Considering the crowded space of competitors in the advanced traffic management market, suppliers must offer differentiated solution offerings that use advanced technologies and are tailored to the local context of different cities. Upgrading solutions with the latest technology capabilities in AI and cloud computing while focusing on providing strong performance metrics (largest reduction in vehicle travel times, GHG emissions, etc.) will provide a competitive advantage. Suppliers that have an advanced understanding of local city traffic rules and dynamics (most congested corridors, location of schools and hospitals, etc.) and that tailor their products based on the local context also will be better positioned to win city contracts.
  • Be flexible and creative around business model development: Suppliers must be willing to offer hybrid business models that include a mix of upfront and ongoing costs that can be somewhat adapted based on city priorities, funding levels and political considerations. Some cities might want to license data and not use software tools or install new hardware. Suppliers should offer a variety of options that can be packaged together or implemented individually.
  • Partner with smart city providers: Several smart city projects (San Diego, Copenhagen) are using smart street lighting as a platform to integrate advanced traffic management and other applications. Partnerships with other solutions providers in emerging application areas will be important to demonstrate the wider value of advanced traffic management applications.
  • Emphasize the foundational importance of smart intersections with smart city development: Advanced traffic management forms another key data-driven backbone for smart city applications and offer platform opportunities for additional services (public transport prioritization). Upgrading the communications and traffic controller infrastructure for advanced traffic management systems also has the simultaneous effect of better preparing cities for the expected arrival of connected and automated vehicles.

Editor's note: For more analysis on the ongoing transformation occurring in the traffic management industry, see Navigant Research’s recent report, "Advanced Traffic Management for Smart Cities."

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