French Impressions – An American Traffic Engineer Samples Culture and Technology in Bordeaux, France

In October I was invited to make a presentation at the 2015 Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress in Bordeaux, France. The event attracted more than 12,000 delegates and visitors from more than 100 countries.  We stayed in the center of Bordeaux, and that meant that it was easy to get immersed in the charms of the city.  It also meant that we had to master transportation on the tram, since the Congress venue was on the north edge of the city, about a 30 minute trip from the center of the city either by tram or by taxi.

The city is multi-modal – an urban planner’s dream. The density of the city easily supports the tram operation.  There are buses, bicycles, and plenty of opportunities for walking.  We had no problem getting at least 10 000 walking steps in each day.  It was a 15 minute walk from our hotel to the tram stop that took us to the Bordeaux Convention Center (Palais de Congres) and the exhibition hall.  Tram stops had dynamic message signs giving you the arrival time for the next train.  We walked through a pedestrian square adjacent to the tram stop, and that square featured the restaurants we used for two dinners and one lunch.  Of course, we felt obligated to have wine with our meals.

As with any ITS World Congress, the Bordeaux was a three ring circus. There were presentations, exhibits, and demonstrations.  This World Congress was strongest on the exhibits.  The exhibit hall was vast.  The exhibits featured more than 400 companies dedicated to ITS technologies and services.  The ITS America Pavilion included a video on Ann Arbor’s MCity for testing connected vehicle technologies.

I was invited to give a presentation on using technology to facilitate international border crossing, primarily because I organized a similar session for the ITS World Congress in Detroit in 2014.  I was the only North American speaker on this panel.  The others were from France, Belgium, Estonia, Turkey, and Finland.  One of the questions the panel discussion addressed was how soon border crossings might be automated.  This is partly a technology question and partly an institutional question.  Before the technology can be applied, you need the governments adjoining border nations to trust and cooperate with each other.  This works well between the United States and Canada because the economies of the two nations work together and information is freely exchanged across the border.  The relationship between Estonia and Russia is more strained.  Some shipments can wait at the border for five days before they are cleared for entry.

The Macomb County Department of Roads prepared a presentation for this World Congress on their combination of the traffic operations center with Sheriff Dispatch and Emergency Management. It was entitled, “COMTEC – state of the art traffic operations center created by unique stakeholder collaboration.”   Because John Abraham was unable to get travel clearance for this presentation in France, I was honored to make the presentation on his behalf.


Richard F. Beaubien, PE, PTOE

Beaubien Engineering