Here’s how big data is being used to fix traffic congestion

Big data is used for a lot of things. Most of the time, the focus is on what big data analytics can do for businesses, helping them improve sales, reach more customers, and create more efficient operations. In fact, big data is often used for the sake of greater efficiency, so the idea of using it for more efficient traffic flow hasn’t been lost on data scientists. Researchers have spent years looking at various ways to make traffic flow more smoothly. This has become especially important as major metropolitan areas continue to grow and the number of vehicles on the road increases. Traffic jams have become a common challenge many commuters have to face, but the answer may be found in the proper utilization of big data solutions. It’s a topic that has intrigued researchers, and many cities are already trying it out.

When looking at current traffic problems, many engineers automatically think the best solution is simply to build more roads. Obviously, cities eventually reach a point where more highways and streets simply aren’t possible. That’s where smarter solutions need to come into play. Researchers from MIT and Birmingham Universities decided to turn to big data from five cities to see if there were any hidden insights that could be gained from more detailed information about traffic flow. The answer turned out to be something much different from adding roads. Researchers referred to the new strategy as strategic routing, effectively sending a small number of drivers on slightly longer routes in order to shorten travel times for everyone else. Research showed that traffic congestion could be reduced by up to 30 percent if employing this idea, and it has a lot of people talking.

The data for the research was taken from mobile phone data, and it centered on finding ways to optimize travel times around existing roads. Most drivers choose the route they feel will be fastest for them, but if some are redirected to a different path that takes them a longer time, the rest will have a quicker and easier commute. Researchers call this the socially optimal solution over the selfish solution. Drivers would be notified through apps on what routes to take, thereby making commutes better for everyone on the whole. Getting a small number of drivers to take longer routes for the good of everyone else does sound like a tall order, but if there were some swapping, where the same drivers aren’t taking the longer route each day, the strategy just might work out.

But big data is being used in many other ways to help reduce traffic congestion. Boston is one city that is using real time analytics and data from Google’s Waze to solve one of the city’s biggest traffic problems: double parking. When drivers double park, that can often reduce the number of lanes available to traffic, essentially cutting the flow. Through the collected data, the city is able to help the police force find and ticket double parked vehicles. It may seem like a simple solution, but it’s one that is needed to get people where they need to go quickly.

Big data also plays a major role in the development of smart cities. Put simply, smart cities are part of the Internet of Things (IoT) and utilize data and wireless sensors to map out city activities. From the data that cities can gather, they’re able to get an accurate and real time picture on how traffic is flowing. Based off of this data, sensors can automatically manipulate traffic lights in such a way as to optimize traffic flow and reduce congestion. These smart traffic systems use predictive software to impact traffic and can even be used to change bus routes and times to ensure everyone gets where they need to on time.

Big data, when combined with other technologies such as the cloud and flash storage array, can be pivotal in the ongoing effort to help cities better manage their traffic problems. Whether it’s pointing drivers to better routes, ticketing cars that are holding up traffic, or changing traffic light patterns and bus routes, all of these solutions involve the latest in big data technology. As these concepts become even more widespread, we can expect more cities the world over to use them. Traffic jams may one day be a distant memory.



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