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New trend: Traffic control times two

Thu, 10/31/1996 - 7:00pm
Tom Robinson
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Yes, I am one of those folks who attempt to get work accomplished while inching down the highway, and yes, I do understand that this increases my chances of being involved in a fender- bender. But currently, at the 0 mph that I'm traveling, the chances of any vehicle-to-vehicle contact are remote.

So first I'm wondering, is there anything that could help alleviate this situation and enable me to get to my destination more quickly, so that I can work at a more appropriate location — like on an airplane? And second, I'm wondering, if I keep wondering about improving traffic flow, how I'm going to get this column done.

Well, my two wonderings have some synergy this month. Specifically, in researching how networks targeted at one application can be developed into multiple application networks, I've come across a trend. Local governments, both individually and on a regional basis, are looking at infrastructure developed for traffic signalization purposes to be further developed to provide transport for other types of data, voice and video communications.

Typically, fiber infrastructure used for traffic signalization connects one or more central operational sites to signals or clusters of signals out in the field. The transport path is used for both central site monitoring of field operations from information received upstream, and control functions that send data downstream to the signals, including dynamic re-synchronization of signals to react to changes in traffic conditions and improve traffic flow. The system is often designed to be fail-safe. If the communications link is cut for any reason, operation of any individual signal reverts to a preprogrammed mode controlled by an on-street master unit.

In many cases, there is a significant amount of fiber capacity remaining once all necessary traffic signalization transport needs are met. Additionally, computerized traffic signalization systems are most often set up in a fiber grid along key arterials and high-volume collector routes. Putting these two facets together, then, provides a significant amount of fiber capacity that runs past a major portion of public facilities.

It is easy to see why it's attractive for a number of jurisdictions to pursue a concept that combines the traffic signalization system and the potential for a wealth of additional communications applications. The City of Denver is one such jurisdiction. The city, in association with the Denver Regional Council of Governments, is pursuing development of a communications infrastructure for this type of traffic signal system, beginning with the core area of Denver that houses the central business district. As part of this effort, Denver has already issued a request for statements of interest ("RFSOI").

The RFSOI was focused on obtaining conceptual proposals on how the communications sub-system for the traffic signal control system could be developed, including linkages from office locations to field-located master controllers, and then from the masters to individual intersections. The RFSOI also sought to obtain specific proposals on public/private partnership arrangements. For example, Denver had already been involved in a pilot project where the city and a telecommunications firm shared the cost to construct a joint-use conduit line, with pull boxes, splice vaults and other access points at sites of mutual need. Currently, a significant amount of information has been gathered through the RFSOI process and related discussions, and the city anticipates issuing a specific request for proposals regarding the communications infrastructure on or about November 1.

City-wide telecom applications

The City of St. Louis is involved in a similar project, and it already has a fair amount of fiber infrastructure in place. A significant portion of this fiber has been installed along major thoroughfares for traffic signalization as part of an overall congestion mitigation and air quality project. Based in part on a June 1995 strategic plan for information systems study commissioned by St. Louis and performed by the Center for Business and Industrial Studies of the University of Missouri — St. Louis, the city is now pursuing the development of an integrated information network that would enable city-wide telecommunications applications.

For example, such a far-reaching network could be used to develop a more integrated health care system; improve the quality, availability and efficiency of educational services; improve universal access to telecommunications services; and serve both public and private needs by encouraging partnership opportunities similar to the Denver initiative. These are all goals of the St. Louis Board of Public Service in pursuing development of this network, and based on the experiences and efforts of other cities, they would seem to be attainable.

As local governments continue to experience significant budget constraints in the face of ever-mounting demands for services, these types of network initiatives that build on existing infrastructure and strive for multiplicity of use could be critical. In this case, helping to improve vehicular traffic flow, while at the same time, improving the flow of data communications, would seem to be an excellent response to both types of traffic challenges. And at this point, having been able to increase my speed to a breakneck 3 mph, I would appreciate any easing of traffic congestion that I can get.

Ya' know, working while motoring wasn't all that bad when I only had the cellphone, microcassette recorder, steering wheel and laptop to contend with. But with the new car's five-speed gearshift added in, I just ran outta hands!

Contact Tom Robinson at: tomgrob@rivoakscom.com

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