CAMBRIDGE, MA—Making streets safer is the driving force behind a new smart city pilot program in Massachusetts. The concept, proposed for parts of Cambridge and Somerville, aims to improve traffic safety by tapping into technologies that can sense human activity on roadways. Pedestrians are the most obvious beneficiaries, but extensive research has shown that safety outcomes for bicycle riders and motor vehicle operators also benefit from investments in pedestrian safety. This data-driven, proactive and open-source approach is expected to serve as a model for other cities.
Among city planners, safer roadways are a common goal, and many cities have already embraced incentives and modernization efforts to improve traffic safety. In Somerville and Cambridge, those efforts have resulted in numerous roadway modifications, including separated bike lanes, reduced vehicular speed limits, dedicated bus lanes and safer intersection designs.
Besides reducing traffic incidents, such efforts have prompted many people to choose more sustainable modes of transportation, like walking, cycling and public transportation. In Cambridge, for instance, the number of people bicycling tripled between 2002 and 2012. It’s what experts call a greater transportation mode split, and it’s one hallmark of smart cities, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Recently, Cambridge and Somerville adopted commitments to Vision Zero, an international initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries. To support that effort, the cities are teaming up with two companies—Draper and Miovision—to design a pilot program for a high-traffic, mixed-used corridor between the two cities.
Draper, a not-for-profit advanced technology developer, is providing the pilot with expertise in data fusion, statistical analysis, artificial intelligence, machine learning and visualization tools to inform decision-making, often with high stakes outcomes. Miovision is providing TrafficLink, a smart intersection platform, which provides all the tools needed to monitor and understand traffic flowing through an intersection, including signal monitoring, video streaming and an open architecture for sharing and analyzing the resulting traffic data.
The technology-community partnership—dubbed Data Driven Comprehensive Road Safety—features a video-based traffic safety measurement system. The system generates data that will be used to objectively and continuously measure the risk to the most vulnerable road users: pedestrians and cyclists. The system is designed to identify high-risk behaviors and interactions between vehicles and pedestrians. The intended outcome will be a first-of-its-kind capability to inform cities trying to design future intersection for safety and drastically reduce the time to make a safety intervention—to days or weeks in comparison to months or even years associated with current approaches to post-incident investigations.
“With the introduction of video-based traffic monitoring, traffic planners have more big data to work with,” said Peter Miraglia, project lead in Draper’s Global Challenges Initiative. “By using data in all its forms—risk assessments, traffic volume, pedestrian counts, near-miss incidents, cross-walks crowded by those waiting for a light change—we can better understand the causes of traffic-related injuries at intersections and roadways and change the paradigm from post-accident assessment to real-time observation.”
“Cambridge is excited to participate in this pilot program as part of our commitment to Vision Zero and the safety of our residents and customers,” said Joseph Barr, Cambridge’s Director of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation. “By being involved in the development of this program from the beginning, we can also make sure that we do everything needed to safeguard the right of individuals to privacy, in line with Cambridge’s groundbreaking Surveillance Technology Ordinance.”
“In Somerville, we take great pride in our data-driven approach to public policy,” said Brad Rawson, Somerville’s Director of Transportation & Infrastructure. “The City has a well-established program for counting people on foot, people on bikes, motor vehicle traffic and traffic crashes, but we have identified a need to improve the way we track near-miss incidents. I look forward to these partnership efforts to advance our community’s ambitious and appropriate Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic crashes that result in severe injuries and fatalities.
Kurtis McBride, CEO and co-founder of Miovision, noted, “Miovision TrafficLink gives innovative communities the tools they need to better understand how traffic is moving through their streets. We’re excited to partner with Draper and the cities of Cambridge and Somerville to see how they take advantage of our open architecture, using data from TrafficLink to build a sophisticated understanding of how to improve pedestrian safety.”
Sheila Hemami, director of strategic technical opportunities at Draper, said another benefit is that the solution will be developed and disseminated in a manner to facilitate adoption by other cities. “Draper, Miovision and our partner cities share a common goal of offering an open-sourced solution for generating safety metrics to maximize the potential of advancing this technology beyond this project and its ultimate impact across other members of the Vision Zero community and beyond.”
Draper’s work in this problem space falls under the company’s Global Challenges Initiative, which applies engineering capabilities to the world’s pressing social and humanitarian challenges.