Meaningful technology makes our lives better, faster, and cheaper. When I arrived at my public agency role after 15 years in consulting, I was taken aback at the number and variety of responsibilities the public sector must handle – often managed with limited or antiquated tools, software, and processes. This means tasks and approvals often take longer, and we rely heavily on manual data collection and model-based analysis.
Over the next decade, public agencies will go from data-poor to data-rich…or data overwhelmed! The challenge is to implement software tools that allow us to become information rich. What information is meaningful and actionable, and can I integrate the software solution into everyday agency business practices with the same limited resources?
I am a traffic signal nerd. Frustration over inefficiencies at traffic signals is the reason I became a traffic engineer. In my 20+ year career, I’ve helped agencies do signal retiming, adaptive signal control, transit priority, and controller-based signal performance measures (SPM) to reduce inefficiencies. These treatments have high benefits but are fairly resource-intensive to design, implement, and maintain.
When INRIX presented their cloud-based solution for measuring the quality of traffic flow at signalized intersections, called INRIX IQ Signal Analytics, I was hooked. This new solution offers industry-defined measures such as wait times (delay) and quality of flow (arrivals on green) based exclusively on anonymous GPS-equipped vehicle data.
Signal Analytics provides useful and actionable information on signal performance delivered daily to my inbox, helping us proactively find root causes of signal inefficiencies. In our first year, we found broken detection and communications, contractor damage, and signal parameter errors, all before public complaints. It was also used to reality-check developer submissions for traffic studies and correct baseline modeling efforts in our planning group.
Cloud-based solutions are not panaceas in and of themselves. They often work to complement agency infrastructure investments. The software finds the issue, then the agency can use its camera system and/or controller-based SPM system to confirm on-the-ground conditions to right-size a solution. The software is leveraged to complete the process by confirming the effectiveness of the treatment.
Agencies must also adapt to this new business model of ongoing subscription services. Traditionally, capital funds are easier to come by, than ongoing maintenance funds. Programming for these useful subscription services needs to be accounted for in agency budgets, or agencies must get creative in rolling the subscription into capital costs for projects.
Signal Analytics, and other cloud-based, subscription services, are examples of the promise of technology paying off. It made my life easier, allowed tasks to be completed quicker, and represented a reduction in costs. We didn’t need to pay for costly, extra in-field treatments to determine the quality of traffic flow at our signalized intersections, and our staff could complete their analysis in a fraction of the time.
The best part is it’s available now at every traffic signal in the United States as a streaming service. I believe so strongly in the promise of INRIX to meaningfully improve safety and reduce inefficiencies that I recently left my public agency post to serve as a traffic engineer on staff at INRIX. So yes, I am a little biased. Agencies in 18 states are already using Signal Analytics, and I think they would agree with my assessment, it can be a win-win for everyone… better, faster, and cheaper.
The author, Shaun Quayle, PE, is Senior Traffic Signals & Safety Engineer at INRIX