Search title image


December 2005 / January 2006

Birthplace of High-Tech Becomes Hotbed of Intelligent Transportation

International Audience Gets Close-Up Look at Bay Area’s Cutting-Edge Solutions

Hot lanes Illustration by Steven Lyons

Chalk it up to our world class academic institutions, the critical mass of technology companies and a built-in market of early adopters: The region that gave rise to the Silicon Valley is now the perfect incubator for the new generation of intelligent transportation tools. Just how big a player the Bay Area has become in the global race toward development and deployment of “smart” transportation technologies became apparent when the 12th World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) came to San Francisco in early November.

Equal parts pep rally, technology transfer and marketplace, the five-day event drew some 7,100 delegates, speakers, members of the press and exhibitors to The Moscone Center as well as to nearby SBC Park, site of a series of live demonstrations.

Bay Area at Leading Edge Of ITS Revolution

For MTC, one of the host agencies, the five-day event was an opportunity to show off cutting-edge ITS applications in various stages of deployment in the Bay Area as well as to try out the next generation of hardware and software for helping travelers get where they’re going more efficiently and safely.

“The San Francisco Bay Area is not just a testbed for these new transportation technologies, it’s a hotbed,” said MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger at a pre-conference press briefing.

At both the press briefing and the opening session of the Congress, Heminger pointed to a series of technology-driven traveler services spearheaded by MTC — the phone- and Web-based 511 Traveler Information System, FasTrak® electronic toll collection and the soon-to-be-deployed TransLink® transit-fare smart card — as examples of how the region is embracing ITS solutions.

“Currently we have $160 million in contracts and grants to deliver ITS projects here in the Bay Area,” Heminger said.

Electronic toll collection is key to what Heminger believes is the next major transportation advance in the region: HOT (high-occupancy/toll) lanes that will allow both carpoolers and toll-paying solo drivers to bypass traffic congestion.

Conference Offers Live Demos Of “Smart” Technologies

During the week before the World Congress on ITS, car companies and technology firms teamed up with academia and the public sector to transform a barren parking lot behind the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark into a series of high-tech test tracks for demonstrating the cars, roadways and intersections of tomorrow.

Several of the demos involved VII, which stands for vehicle-infrastructure integration. The technical-sounding buzzword actually conveys a simple notion: allowing “smart” cars to communicate with each other and with “smart” roads.

“There are over a hundred different VII applications, but the primary goal is safety,” said Benjamin McKeever, MTC’s point man for high-tech highways.

Among the possibilities are alert systems (such as alarms, vibrating seats or dashboard displays) that warn drivers when they’re about to run a red light, exceed the speed limit, or encounter a hazard or incident up ahead.

At the same time, McKeever said, “each car would be equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) that constantly transmits data to roadside transceivers. If every single car had it, we would have tons and tons of real-time information to help manage the flow of traffic.”

MTC partnered with Caltrans, DaimlerChrysler and Volkswagen of America to position transceivers along nearby streets as well as a section of Interstate 280, allowing VII-equipped test cars to venture out beyond SBC Park’s lot to show their stuff in a real-world setting. The University of California PATH (Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways) Program and PB Farradyne were project contractors.

The VII demos will have a life beyond the World Congress and beyond the streets of San Francisco. Over the next year, MTC will continue to work with Caltrans, PATH and PB Farradyne on the next phase, which will involve installing transceivers along additional freeways and arterials around the region.

“Initially the system won’t be for public consumption,” explained McKeever. “It’s more for proof of concept. We will share our results with the national VII working group. Hopefully the U.S. Department of Transportation can learn from what we’re doing.”
— Brenda Kahn