SMART Signal

UM News reports on my colleague Henry Liu’s new SMART Signal Technologies startup: University of Minnesota startup to improve traffic flow on congested roads:

“Based on research from the University of Minnesota, SMART Signal Technologies, Inc., will commercialize a system to better predict and manage the flow of traffic on roads controlled by traffic lights. The system could potentially cut down on traffic congestion and help drivers save both time and fuel.
Using data from existing traffic signal equipment, the system accurately calculates queue length at signalized intersections. These data, collected in real time and archived in a database, will allow cities across the state to better mediate the flow of traffic at peak times using real time performance measures provided by the system.”

I have talked about this before. I hope it gets widely deployed, what we don’t know about travel times arterials in real-time is embarrassing.

Driverless Cars

Tim Taylor (Conversable Economist) on: Driverless Cars:

“The fully self-driving car isn’t right around the corner. Clearly, costs need to come down substantially and a number of complementary technologies need to be created. However, we do already have cars in the commercial market with cruise control and anti-lock brakes, as well as cars that sense potential crash hazards and can parallel park themselves. Changes like these happen slowly, and then in a rush. As the report [Self-driving cars: The next revolution From KPMG and CAR] notes, “The adoption of most new technologies proceeds along an S-curve, and we believe the path to self-driving vehicles will follow a similar trajectory.” Maybe 10-15 years? Faster? “

A pessimistic colleague of mine writes:

the arguments in favor of energy efficiency will be swamped by the added demand. Right now, people don’t drive more because it’s a pain. If I can drive while sleeping, I’ll be more likely to work in one city, commute to another; or, go to the cabin every weekend; or, allow little Johnny to sign up for a soccer league since the car (not me) will drive him; and so on.
automatic-drive cars would make travel much more convenient, which would increase travel demand — likely, a lot. That’s not a benefit for energy consumption.
maybe we’ll have electric-only cars, which would help with local emissions but not energy consumption; and, we’ll only get those if we require them, which it’s not clear we will..

I agree distances will increase, but the cars will be more efficient as human driving patterns (excessive braking and stop and start, e.g.) will be replaced. There are parallel trends in making cars more energy efficient as well. How this nets out is unclear, but I am more optimistic.

Road, transit supporters hope for new revenue

Drew Kerr @ Finance & Commerce has this article up on Minnesota’s new attempt at raising transportation money: Road, transit supporters hope for new revenue

Sadly the article is behind a paywall. The Transportation Finance Advisory Committee has been looking at these issues for a year. The report is due out Thursday, but obviously has been leaked. With a DFL legislature and Governor, this looks like the shape of things to come.
I am quoted:

While expansion is on the table, David Levinson, a transportation engineer with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies, said money should be directed first to preserving existing infrastructure.
Levinson also said officials will have to offer a lot of details on bridge repairs, road improvements and congestion relief projects if they want public support for tax increases.

According to the article the Big items:

  • 10 cent increase in fuel tax (or a bigger increase phased in)
  • 0.5 cent on Metro-area sales tax for transit
  • 10% increase in vehicle tabs
  • 30 million in sales tax revenue on leased vehicles to be dedicated to outstate transit
  • giving local governments powers to implement higher wheelage taxes, transportation improvement districts, or local option sales taxes
  • tolling new system expansion
  • expanding MnPass

This is mostly good. Too bad the Stillwater Bridge isn’t being tolled. Or the Vikings Stadium.
An incomplete list of what I wish were on it:

  • Local option value capture
  • Local option congestion charging
  • Increasing the state gas tax further to help local governments pay for transportation, moving some road costs off of the property tax funding base they currently use (since a local option gas tax begets a race to the bottom). (Beyond what is currently proposed).
  • A well-capitalized state infrastructure bank to lend money to locals or private firms to provide transportation services, with loans paid back by user fees or value capture.

I would also like to see some more structural reforms:

  • A major reconsideration of who manages the network (we have three layers of road management in Minnesota (State, County, Municipal), I bet we could get by with two or one.
  • Moving MnDOT to be more like a Public Utility, with rates gaining approval from a PUC-like organization, rather than the legislature.
  • Charging the full cost of all transportation services as directly as possible, recognizing administrative costs of very precise pricing, (and providing direct subsidies to those who need it, rather than everyone)
  • Competitive tendering in transit provision

[I am not on the Committee, and have not been asked to present.]