Smart traffic system will clear intersections for emergency vehicles in Columbus

Self-driving cars are cool but vehicle-to-infrastructure projects have more potential to make sidewalks and streets safer in the short term.

Columbus is building the infrastructure to test this communications platform that allows cars to communicate with other vehicles, traffic lights, and even crosswalks.

The connected vehicle environment will launch in July 2020 and will cover 88 intersections, including places with the highest collision rates in the city.

Ryan Bollo is leading the Connected Vehicle Environment work, which is part of the Smart Columbus project. The communications system will send vehicle-to-vehicle safety messages to drivers and collect non-personally-identifiable data to the Smart Columbus Operating System. The CVE project will capture, relate, store, and respond to data generated by the communications infrastructure.

The hardware for the project includes more than 100 roadside units and the related communications equipment as well as 1,500 to 1,800 onboard units in private cars, city buses, and fleet vehicles, emergency, and freight vehicles.   Bollo said the roadside units at traffic lights will broadcast the current state of the traffic light (red, yellow, or green) as well as a MAP message, which describes the layout of the street, including the number of lanes in the intersection and the location of the stop bar.

"The onboard unit will make a decision to display a message to the driver to get them to make a decision about what to do next," he said.

The new system also will be able to manage traffic lights to give priority to fire engines, police cars, and ambulances.

"These vehicles will get priority through the intersections, which will give them a favorable position down the corridor," he said.

Bollo, a senior project manager for the city, said that officials made a decision to collect only as much data as required for the project, instead of scooping up all the data that is available. Bollo said that the goal is to understand traffic flow.

"We won't know who it is going through the intersection, it will be anonymous," he said. "We will just record trajectory and speed to determine what safety message the driver should have received, but we won't know whether they received it or not."

The safety messages will appear on a heads-up display and participants will receive a post-project survey to measure the effectiveness of the notifications.

In addition to safety data, the connected vehicle system will collect information about the movement of buses and police cars to analyze activity within the city.

Alyssa N. Chenault is the communications project manager for Smart Columbus and she is planning to recruit up to 1,000 residents to participate in the connected vehicle environment project starting in March and continuing through September of this year.

Chenault said Smart Columbus is using digital campaigns to boost awareness as well as in-person conversations at community meetings.   "We have learned who the movers and shakers are in the community are so we can inform them and answer their questions so they can be good stewards and messengers to other residents in the community as well," Chenault said.

The local residents who agree to put an onboard unit in their cars will get safety messages, such as an alert that an ambulance is approaching an intersection.

The pilot project will test a variety of traffic messages, including:

The CVE is part of the Columbus Traffic Signal System, which is a high-speed network backbone. When complete, the CTSS will connect 1,250 traffic signals in the Columbus region and allow traffic engineers to coordinate traffic signals throughout the system.

The project starts in July 2020 and continues through March 31,2021, although the infrastructure will remain in place after the pilot project ends.

Smart Columbus work

The CVE project is one of eight Smart Columbus programs, including:

There are four themes that connect the projects: connected, autonomous, electric, shared. The connected vehicle environment (CVE) project is in the connected category, although most of the projects cover all four themes. Also, the CVE project makes some of the other projects possible, particularly the smart operating system.

The Smart Columbus work is funded by three buckets of money: a $40 million award from the Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge, $10 million from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and the Acceleration Fund.

Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and The Columbus Partnership created the Acceleration Fund and raised $90 million initially. That number has since increased to $600 million in committed investments, and now has a goal of $1 billion by the end of the year.

The fund is covering operating expenses for Smart Columbus and will support some of the initiatives launched during the project as well as smart mobility research, testing, startup activity and business growth. The partnership is a nonprofit organization made up of 75 CEOs of the region's largest private sector employers.

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