If Navigation Apps Don’t Alleviate Congestion—Could City-Wide Traffic Software Help?

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Image of a dog sticking his head out of the car window while stuck in a traffic jam. Photo: iStock Gridlock congestion is aggravating to everyone, even canines.

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Aside from being a major nuisance to commuters, traffic congestion costs the average American driver $1,348 annually in lost time. According to INRIX, an analytics company based in Washington state, Americans lost 97 hours each to congestion in 2018 alone. 

We are in a congestion crisis and the problem is not exclusive to America—Londoners lost 227 hours apiece due to congestion, according to the same study. 

With the rise of technological advances including IoT and AI, multiple companies are now working on ways to reduce congestion for residents and cities alike. Mobi, a traffic management company based in Israel, sells technology that aggregates data from a wide variety of sources to predict traffic patterns and optimize mobility. 

VP of Marketing Ron Srebro says the company uses public data, cellular data, and its own IoT-based data to “paint an accurate picture” of a city’s real-time traffic patterns. Once installed along a roadway, Mobi’s custom wireless sensors detect signals emitted by vehicles and their passengers on the road, including those from Bluetooth and Wi-Fi-enabled devices. After analyzing data from all these sources, Mobi’s software creates traffic simulations which help the team figure out what tools the city might employ to combat congestion.

Image of the Mobi sensor on a white background Photo: Mobi Mobi’s wireless smart sensor

Mobi has worked with the city of Atlanta for years to control traffic during large events, including for the 2019 Superbowl. According to Mobi CEO Dov Ganor, Atlanta’s traffic management center makes special changes to city-wide traffic routes for those events, based on guidance provided by Mobi’s system, causing traffic to operate differently than it does on the average day.

In this scenario, Mobi’s data-driven system is meant to give officials the tools to shift from management to control. “They can now be active,” says Ganor, and prevent traffic jams before they form.  

Mobi also gives cities the power to make their roadways dynamic, Ganor adds. As traffic changes, operators can manage roadways to reflect those changes. For example, the lights in New York City’s Battery Park tunnel change depending on whether it’s rush hour or a weekend. Using data, Mobi can predict how these changes will affect traffic before the city actually implements changes, essentially giving cities the ability to test in a controlled manner. 

A screenshot of Mobi's system and example data it collected. Illustration: Mobi Mobi’s system shows the median net speed with flow indication along selected routes, helping cities predict patterns in traffic.

Mobi is now working with Atlanta as the city builds its new Department of Transportation facility, which will house all aspects of transportation management under one roof. 

Another Israel-based company, Axilion, approaches traffic management slightly differently and is also rolling its software out in U.S. cities. Although Axilion still uses data to predict traffic, its system can automatically prioritize vehicles based on weight. If a bus approaches an intersection, this technology can prolong the green light, allowing the bus to pass and reducing commute times for public transit riders. 

“Our solution is applied through a hardware agnostic abstraction layer that can create weighted priority,” Axilion CEO Oran Dror says. For example, the software pushes the Jerusalem Light Rail through 100 percent of lights along its route; the lights change in its favor, creating a “greenwave.” 

Screenshot of the greenwave Photo: Axilion A graphical representation of Axilion’s “greenwave” along New York City bus routes. Graphical representation of the greenwave emulator is available as part of Axilion’s Trans-Em Director tool.

“This is known as adaptive traffic signal response. It offers greenwaves, allowing the train to stop only at stations, not lights, all the while taking pedestrian safety into consideration,” Dror says. 

In April, New York City started piloting the Axilion software under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Better Buses Plan. When the Jerusalem Light Rail system started using Axilion’s product, average commute time dropped from 80 to 42 minutes, and ridership increased 387.4 percent.

Dror couldn’t disclose which cities are using Axilion’s software at this point, but did confirm it’s used in “major urban areas across the east and west coasts,” as well as in France and Switzerland. 

“If we do not fix the current congestion issues, urban streets will become more congested and polluted with overcrowding of sidewalks,” says Dror. “But, I’m optimistic. Solutions are available to help overcome the growing traffic problem cities around the world are facing.”