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Traffic management through tech innovation

On Feb. 20, 2017, Fremont, Calif., experienced such unprecedented traffic problems that the officials called it “Carmageddon.” Navigation apps were directing drivers who travel through the city to use residential streets, which prevented fire, police and other emergency response services from reaching their destinations.

The city realized it needed to better manage traffic on Fremont roads that drivers used to get  to other areas in Silicon Valley. Through partnerships with state and local transit authorities, officials opened new bike lines and improved bus operations. However, these solutions are not helping with the 40 percent of cars that use city streets to get to other places in the Bay area.

Now, officials are working directly with Waze to find ways to make congestion more manageable in residential areas. Through the Waze Connected Citizens program, the city got access to the company's algorithms for balancing roadway use and remove certain routes, said Fremont Senior Transportation Engineer Sheila Marquises.

“When there are incidents in the roadway, we can go into Waze’s web portal and implement road closures,” Marquises said.  “Within seconds, it shows up on the app to send to drivers.”

Fremont officials also send public safety and traffic alerts through a notification app called Nixle.  However, the service isn’t widely used among the 40 percent of drivers who don’t live in the city.

Fremont officials are also investing in autonomous vehicle technology with an informal partnership with local startup Pony.ai. The city is providing Pony.ai with information on what is going on its roadways, and the company is providing Fremont with details as it maps local streets for its autonomous cars.

In a partnership with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Marquises said the city is limiting the number of drivers traveling through residential streets.

“We can strategically increase the wait times on certain ramps to deter the cut through our Mission San Jose neighborhood,” Marquises said. “We’ve partnered with Caltrans to increase the delay of the cut-through ramp and decrease delay where we want them to stay on the freeway or enter the freeway.”

Another way Fremont is tackling traffic congestion is through participation in the Startup in Residence program that connects government agencies with startups that can meet their needs.

“My interest in the STiR program is to find technology solutions so we can reach the 40 percent of drivers who come from different areas," Marquises said.  “There is currently no way to for us to communicate with them other than our normal social media channels, Nixle and information on our website.”

Marquises is also interested in using the STiR program to explore improvements to Fremont’s traffic management procurement practices. By using the STiR program, the city wants to open itself up to new ideas for contract awards other than choosing the lowest bid on city traffic projects.

“We need to understand that some solutions from STiR may not be off-the-shelf solutions" available through the city's typical procurement process, Marquises said. "We want to find solutions that can modernize our procedures as well.”

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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