Newsroom | Improving Traffic Safety Throughout the Region with Emerging Technology

MAG News

Traffic across the Valley has grown along with the size of our population. Congestion and long commute times are now part of the daily routine. MAG partners with public and private agencies to test which emerging technologies will help improve safety and efficiency on the road.

Newest “MAG Matters” episode focuses on how technology is making our commutes easier

Prop 400, Safety, transportation

Traffic across the Valley has grown along with the size of our population. Congestion and long commute times are now part of the daily routine. One way to ease some of the stress on drivers is to create better traffic flow and safer routes to get home. You have probably seen semi-autonomous vehicles in Chandler, Phoenix, and Tempe. You likely have driven right through intersections with adaptive traffic signals and not even realized it. But did you know why those technologies are being tested here on Valley streets?

The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) partners with public and private agencies to test which emerging technologies will help improve safety and efficiency on the road. Ram Pendyala is the Director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at Arizona State University. He says the field of emerging technologies is constantly changing.

“There are new technologies coming onto the market every day. A lot of these technologies are ready to be deployed. But for any agency, any community, the question is which technologies make sense, and which ones will provide the greatest benefits to the community,” Pendyala said in a recent interview for the “MAG Matters” video series. “What benefits do they offer, whether it be traffic, whether it be safety, you can think of all the different transportation applications that we are very passionate about. And certainly, we want to see how these technologies can deliver.”

Safety Benefits

Technology makes traffic signals more adaptive and responsive to real-time traffic conditions. One such program in Phoenix tested AI-based smart traffic lights to help congestion at intersections. It is an example of how those technologies can improve daily commutes. There also are sensor systems that can be installed at intersections to track nonmotorized transportation system uses.

Adaptive traffic signals HAWK and bicyclist

Bicyclists and pedestrians are particularly vulnerable. We don’t necessarily have the greatest track record in Arizona with respect to safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. And I think that is where the sensing technology can really make a difference,” said Pendyala.

The smart intersections can identify traffic interactions, including pedestrians and cyclists approaching the intersection. This information is then used to help manage the traffic flow.

“Having good data about particular locations where bicyclists or pedestrians seem to be encountering conflicts with motorized transportation, I think this would be very beneficial so that we can deploy the right technologies in the right locations so that we can make that difference,” he noted.

The push for safer cars also is in full gear, as vehicles also become “smarter.” Having the data is one thing, but the vehicle or the driver needs to be able to do something with that data.

“Vehicles are beginning to have the technology where the data is being communicated into certain actionable items to the driver. Of course, it still relies on the driver to take the right action.” Pendyala said.

Emerging technology smart intersections improve traffic safety

Pilot Programs

Some piloted technologies work better than others, and sometimes a particular technology ultimately is not deployed or needs further refinements after testing. Pendyala said that’s okay.

“I don’t necessarily badge them as successes or failures. Because with each of these techniques, they do certain things, they deliver certain results. And it is really about lessons learned. So, while it might not necessarily be the benefits you had hoped for in one location, (it) may provide benefits in a different location.”
One recent example was an autonomous vehicle shuttle that was deployed in the Peoria medical district. Although ridership did not meet expectations, Pendyala said it should not be considered a failure.

“It taught us amazing lessons as to what is the use cases and what might not be the ideal use case for an AV shuttle,” he said. “To me, that was a great success, in terms of the lessons we learned.”

Lasting Impact

The emerging technologies program at MAG continues to seek solutions that reduce congestion, improve safety, and have a lasting impact on our transportation system. Partnerships among public agencies like MAG, Arizona State University, and private companies provide an objective way to evaluate emerging technologies.

“I think it is very unique, and fascinating to really be able to engage with the private sector and give them a testbed to deploy technologies and see what they can do in the real world,” said Pendyala.

Published November 7, 2022

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