City making Park Street a ‘connected vehicle corridor’

City making Park Street a ‘connected vehicle corridor’

Madison traffic engineers are undertaking a project to make Park Street a “connected vehicle corridor,” updating infrastructure to allow vehicles to communicate with traffic signals, signs, pedestrians and more. It would be one of the first of its kind in the nation.

“We want to improve transportation safety, we want to improve the mobility, we want to improve the bus on-time performance,” said Yang Tao, an assistant city traffic engineer.

The U.S. Department of Transportation says “connected vehicles could dramatically reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries caused by accidents on our roads and highways.”

“Cars on the highway, for example, would use short-range radio signals to communicate with each other so every vehicle on the road would be aware of where other nearby vehicles are,” the agency’s website states. “Drivers would receive notifications and alerts of dangerous situations, such as someone about to run a red light as they’re nearing an intersection or an oncoming car, out of sight beyond a curve, swerving into their lane to avoid an object on the road.”

Tao said Madison is only one of a handful of cities testing out this technology. He said Park Street was chosen for the program because of its importance to the city’s transportation network, serving the city’s medical facilities and a high number of public transit riders.

“Park Street is one of the major corridors connecting downtown Madison and the UW campus with the only freeway that we have,” Tao said.

According to USDOT, connected vehicle technology uses a system called dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), which is similar to Wi-Fi. It also makes use of GPS, cellular networks, Bluetooth and other communications systems, to, the agency says, “attain 360-degree awareness of nearby vehicles.”

The city is working with UW-Madison’s Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory to model and implement the program.

Transportation Systems Engineer Jonathan Riehl said connected vehicle technology can improve safety and commute times, but for it to work, car companies will need to adopt it. The good news, he said, is that Cadillac already has started to, and other car companies are looking to follow its lead.

He said connected vehicle technology can lead to positive results for drivers even without widespread use.

“Even with as little as 5 percent of vehicles connected, you can write algorithms to improve travel time,” Riehl said.

The city is partnering with private companies to test and implement the technology; Tao said the Park Street corridor could be fully connected within the next few years.

Riehl said if the project is a success, other Madison roads will follow.

“I think there’s 200-and-some-odd signals throughout the city,” Riehl said. “We’d like to connect them all eventually.”

While connected vehicles don’t necessarily mean self-driving vehicles, Tao said implementing connected vehicle technology on Park Street will lay the groundwork for autonomous vehicle use in Madison.

“A vehicle can be both connected and autonomous,” Tao said. “I think in the future, an autonomous vehicle is probably going to be a connected vehicle.”

The project is currently being funded through private partnerships with hopes of getting federal grants in the future, Tao said.