Transportation Systems Management & Operations Highlights – TRB 2017
Over 14,000 people attended the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, January 7-12, 2017. The program includes technical sessions with presentations, committee meetings, and exhibits. With events starting at 8 am and going until 9 pm or later, this is a marathon of transportation technology information sharing. During any given time, slot, there are many competing programs of interest. Discussed below are some of the highlights in transportation systems management and operations.
One of the Sunday morning workshops explored how traffic incident management can support transportation systems management and operations. Traffic Incident Management (TIM) programs fit under the broader topic of Transportation Systems Management & Operations (TSMO). While TIM can be implemented as a stand-alone program, it can also be a part of a broader TSMO implementation that includes a variety of tools, such as Decision Support Systems or Integrated Corridor Management programs. The workshop discussed how TIM supports the TSMO program. The panel discussion on using TIM to support decision support systems assumed that the decisions to be supported were those of the state department of transportation. However, the other players in the TIM process include first responders including police, fire, and ambulance which are not controlled by the state department of transportation. Although nationalizing TIM performance management may have benefits in terms of comparison for programming improvements in the process, it is important to remember that the partners in the process may have their own measures.
Another Sunday morning workshop covered traffic management decision support systems. Next generations decision support systems were considered a cornerstone for transportation systems management and operations.
The Institute of Transportation Engineers Transportation Systems Management and Operations Council met on Sunday afternoon. The Council plans a program of webinars on transportation systems management and operations. It also plans to help the Institute establish an identity in the Smart Cities arena. The Council will help the National Operations Center of Excellence execute its business plan by convening at NOCoE/ITE Work Group. A Connected Vehicle/Automated Vehicle Steering Committee has been established as a “go to” committee for ITE members.
The ITE Connected Vehicle/Automated Vehicle Steering Committee met later that same afternoon. The committee noted the AASHTO Challenge on Traffic Signal Phasing and Timing. A Signal Phase and Timing (SPaT) message defines the current intersection signal light phases. The current state of all lanes at the intersection are provided, as well as any active pre-emption or priority. The SPaT message can be obtained from a traffic signal controller via a standard query protocol and is broadcast by most DSRC roadside devices as a standardized data message. The challenge is for state and local public sector transportation Infrastructure Owners & Operators (IO&Os) to deploy DSRC infrastructure with SPaT broadcasts in at least one coordinated corridor or network (approximately 20 signalized intersections) in each state by January 2020. The challenge is intended to show the auto industry that public-sector infrastructure providers are serious about connected vehicles. The Committee identified the need to update the Uniform Vehicle Code.
A Monday podium session explored the implications of autonomous and connected vehicles on infrastructure design, construction, materials, and maintenance. A presentation by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute noted that high visibility vests worn in the work zone can be equipped with sensors that give a signal when vehicles are approaching the work zone.
The TRB Freeway Operations Committee met on Tuesday. There were reports from the AASHTO Subcommittee on TSM&O. The SPaT challenge was discussed. The Federal Highway Administration reported recent publications from TRB on TSM&O. Two of these are the Traffic Signal Timing Manual: Second Edition (NCHRP Report 812) and the Impacts of Connected and Automated Vehicles on State and Local Transportation Agencies (NCHRP 20-102)
A Tuesday afternoon podium session covered disruptive and transformational technologies affecting transportation. One of the speakers on this program was Peter Sweatman, previously head of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and the Mobility Transformation Center. He is now with Cavitatrans and Econolite. This session discussed the implications of automated and connected vehicles.
A Wednesday morning podium session discussed Transportation Systems Management and Operations Workforce development. The workforce focus here was state transportation agencies. Not all of the workforce to be developed has a civil engineering training and background. Hardly any universities teach this subject. State DOT workforce for TSM&O comes from other disciplines within the state DOT, and there is no clear career advancement path for these workers. When they are promoted, they are unlikely to be in TSM&O.
The TRB meeting and associated transportation association meetings during TRB week featured TSM&O more prominently in 2017. Automated and connected vehicles will be an important issue for transportation systems to manage. Although TRB is oriented to state highways, operations at the local level of government will be a key in making the whole system work. State departments of transportation control only about 10% of the traffic signals in the United States, so most of transportation system hardware for controlling traffic in locally owned, operated and maintained. Local transportation and public safety staff will need to be more engaged in the TSM&O discussion than they currently are.