Someone’s epiphany that cooperation and open standards are far better for everyone is beginning to bear fruit. We’re starting to see instances of the best technology being improved by one agency and then released into the wild for others to use. One of the many examples of this philosophy here is New York City’s award winning new Applied Solid-state Traffic Controller (ASTC). This is the box that physically controls the lights, grabs sensor data, etc.
NYC recently worked with contractors Peek Traffic and US Traffic to create a new controller for their central business district. It has all the bells and whistles: support for adaptive signaling and transit priority, full compatibility with legacy wiring systems, and the new NYCWiN wireless system. And it supports pretty much every standard and control protocol in the industry. It’s as open a platform as you can find and available for anyone deploy.
The things are cheap (Pacific Signal Supply in Washington State where I’m from lists the controller for around $2500 and the complete controller and cabinet package for around $8500). On average in NYC, it only took around 45 minutes to swap an old controller and cabinet for one of these new ones. NYC hopes to have every one of their 12,000 signals upgraded to use these controllers and the wireless network within two years.
To get a better idea of how this is all working out today, I hopped on the shuttle from the convention center to Queens for a tour of their Joint Transportation Management Center (JTMC).
The JTMC itself is an impressive instance of interagency cooperation. City, state and national DOTs all share the same control room with the NYPD. Here they can monitor the 400 CCD cameras around the city and instantly capture videos and photos from the first responders in the field.
They have an emergency response room for coordinating with numerous other agencies and the ability to share data with them all through their complicated network of response and monitoring systems. In the event of a large-scale emergency, they also serve as liaisons for the city to outside agencies.
The signal control room was what I was really interested in. Here is where they fuse together the legacy computer controlled signals with the now upgraded ones and even the 6000 signals that are not computer controlled by this center at all. They have maintenance teams on the streets 24/7 who must respond to any signal problem in less than two hours.
Surprisingly (to me at least), despite having one of the most advanced communications and signal control systems in the world, they still time all their lights by hand. The signals aren’t even traffic responsive, they only change by time of day. NYC is currently experimenting with adaptive control systems and their new controllers are all “spec’d” with the ability to communicate with each other and adapt, but in the near term deployments would be confined to small areas.
Back at the convention center, I took some time to flush out some technical details of these systems with the vendors and started to track down some experts on international deployments of advanced signal control systems.
The thought has also been slowly growing in my head that the Pacific Northwest should have a greater presence here. We’ve been historical leaders in ITS and have innovative companies such as Inrix and Microsoft, great research facilites at UW and a government that at least pays a lot of lip service to environmentally friendly transportation. So why is it that we aren’t picking some of the low hanging fruit around here?
Around the time our minds all started resisting analytical thought, we hit a couple of the conference receptions, and then found an inconspicuous bar for our daily post mortem. A bit later we had the somewhat unique experience of having to use text messages to get on the list of an old speakeasy style place with not so much a sign on the front door called Milk and Honey. A old bland steel door with no bouncer, no line, you must be on the list or a member but you can’t call to get on the list and you certainly can’t just show up and get it. Just send your text messages into the abyss and hope to receive one back when you are permitted to drink. …New Yorker’s must be really bored to jump through such hoops to get a decent drink – I feel like I’m part of some perverse dog and pony show here. Well at least once you’re in the drinks are good and the staff is friendly. Until next time.