HB369 Could Help Reduce Traffic Congestion

TrafficEveryone hates being stuck in traffic. Or sitting at a long red light when no traffic is coming from other directions.

New technology incorporating roadside sensors to monitor traffic patterns could enable the Utah Department of Transportation, Utah Transit Authority, and local governments to better manage transportation systems and reduce congestion. However, a few changes are needed to current law to allow use of anonymous location data collected from electronic devices.

Legislation sponsored by Rep. John Knotwell of Herriman, is designed to enable use of aggregated traffic data for a variety of applications, while still protecting the privacy of citizens. The legislation would not allow use of the data for investigative purposes by a law enforcement agency.

The supporters of HB369, including transportation agencies, say it is necessary to enable the transformation to advanced traffic management, connected cars, and eventually autonomous vehicles. The legislation allows UDOT or other agencies to receive and utilize electronic data containing the location information of an electronic device from a non-government agency “as long as the electronic data contains no information that includes, or may reveal, the identity of an individual.”

One company that hopes to provide the data to UDOT and other agencies is Salt Lake City-based Blyncsy. The company has developed inexpensive sensors that detect electronic devices like smartphones or tablets equipped with WiFi or Bluetooth. As a vehicle, bike or pedestrian passes by a sensor, a signal is detected and the data would be instantly anonymized, aggregated, visualized, and distributed.

All data would be rendered anonymous, so while the technology would detect a device passing by, no one could re-connect the signal back to an individual. The data would be instantly “hashed” – the process whereby the unique identifier or address of the individual mobile device is scrambled, encrypted and an anonymous ID is created. This process would protect individual privacy and only totally anonymous data would be available to any government agency.

With sensors placed in many locations on roads, highways, trails, parks, etc., traffic engineers could see a real-time representation of what is happening with traffic. Or with a sensor placed at a trailhead, a park or at an event, local officials could know exactly how many people use the trail or enter a park or attend an event. Better understanding commuting patterns, UTA could plan improved transit routes and systems to accommodate more riders.

An individual anonymous signal could be picked up by one sensor and then tracked as it moves down a highway and to its destination. Thus, officials could know, for example, how many people leave Layton to work in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City could accurately see when and how many people enter and exit the city each workday, and how many work at different locations. UTA could determine how to better serve the “last mile” needs of commuters after they exit trains or buses.

Other practical applications are possible, including:

–Instant notification of traffic slowdowns and crashes in areas where the state doesn’t have traffic monitoring cameras, including rural areas. As the technology sees patterns, it could predict traffic jams before they occur.

–Traffic signal management that could turn a traffic light green as a vehicle approaches if no vehicles are detected coming from other directions.

–Better management of metered freeway entrance systems and “managed lanes.”  

–Improved management of highway construction to time lane closures to real-time traffic conditions, rather than static fixed times.

–Improved traffic information for citizens, through smartphone apps, regarding congestion, accidents, and construction work zones.

–Development and implementation of connected vehicles and autonomous vehicle systems to revolutionize the transportation experience.

As the technology is developed, it could be sensitive enough that officials monitoring traffic could potentially even “see” when a vehicle veers off a highway or rolls over.

The system could potentially differentiate between drivers, pedestrians and cyclists all on the same road, based on speeds traveled. Planners could obtain accurate information on how many cyclists actually use a bike lane.

Utah’s transportation agencies are among the most technologically-advanced agencies in the country. They will quickly make use of anonymized location data as another important tool to better manage traffic and transit, reduce congestion, and help first responders quickly react to accidents.