“The idea is simple,” Palmisano said. “The traveler’s time, safety and experience should be the initial design point. And a system’s design point matters. What you optimize it for – the way you envision its end state – will determine the value it ultimately delivers.”
ITS’ Slow Insinuation
Since its launch in 1991, ITS has insinuated itself almost imperceptively into road users’ daily drives.
But instead of self-arresting autos, and onboard controllers that plot a trip to avoid traffic tie-ups or minimize congestion fees, today’s motorists initially experience ITS via advanced traveler information systems (ATIS).
The traffic information may be provided via dashboard GPS systems which can provide real-time traffic congestion data on maps, but more commonly via overhead signage announcing travel times or delays ahead. Many urban regions also have this information displayed graphically on the Internet, providing much more detail to the road user than he or she gets from the over-the-airwaves traffic reporters (for an example, visit the Gary-Chicago-Milwaukee Corridor page, www.gcmtravel.com).
Such ATIS technologies are “decision support systems” that enable travelers to make their own trip routings based on current conditions, using real-time, site-specific devices like dynamic message signs, highway advisory radio, 511 telephone systems, and the Internet, all of which offer “on demand” information.
Separately, behind-the-scenes advanced traffic management systems (ATMS) “war rooms” permit toll, regional and state road agencies to manage traffic flow, saving time and money for road patrons. These ATMS centers receive data and images from in-pavement sensors, motion detectors, video cams, and even automated weather stations to speed traffic-flow decision- making.
But two decades ago, much more was promised by ITS proponents. Via application of computers, communications and sensor technology to surface transportation, ITS was to be a pathway to entirely new ways of using, designing, and operating our road system.
ITS technologies – when fully integrated into our road system – were to form an electronic information infrastructure that would work in concert with the physical infrastructure, enhancing the efficiency and usefulness of the system. It was to be a secure system that could both detect and respond to regional crises, such as speeding hurricane evacuations.
And the future of ITS touches on science fiction. By integrating vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, ITS has the potential to independently control vehicle speeds on-the-fly, resulting in efficient more efficient traffic flow, and to make travel much safer, with far fewer and less severe crashes for all types of vehicles, and far faster response and recovery when crashes do occur.
This latter mission was dubbed VII, for Vehicle-Infrastructure Integration. But as of just last year, VII has been restyled and rebranded as IntelliDrive. The new IntelliDrive program now will drive, so to speak, the development of a wide range of vehicle control products that will reside on board vehicles, and along pavements.
New Visions for ITS
The ITS mission has changed in other ways. Under the Obama administration, which is promoting a “transformative” multi-modal and environmentally-sustainable transportation policy to be codified within the stalled SAFETA-LU reauthorization, the U.S. DOT now frankly states that ITS implementation will focus on multi-modal solutions for ITS, with a “focus on moving people, not cars,” and allocating transportation via price “signals,” that is, congestion pricing.
This implies enhanced funding for ITS for transit and rail, perhaps at the expense of highway users. Congestion pricing always was part of the ITS architecture, which, it is thought, will manage congestion by imposing fees for the privilege of driving at peak periods, with collection enabled by ITS technology.