Sep 22nd 2017 | Posted in Technology by Kristin Gordon

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part article on our follow-up with cities that presented innovative transportation projects at the Texas Mobility Summit 2.0 in 2016. This week we will cover the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, city of Corpus Christi and the city of San Antonio. Last week’s article covered the city of Bryan, city of College Station and the city of Arlington. 

Several cities in Texas are researching and testing technology on the road and in fully-equipped science and engineering labs to help communities improve the flow of transportation and information. At the 2016 Texas Mobility Summit, teams made up of experts from several cities and universities gathered together to network, develop ideas and push beyond the boundaries of innovation in the Lone Star state.

smart Texas cities testing innovative transportation projects, Part IIRepresenting Dallas-Fort Worth was a team that included Thomas J. Bamonte, senior program manager, automated vehicles, North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG). After submitting a statewide application, Dallas-Fort Worth was designated by the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) to be part of a network of automated vehicle proving grounds. The Interstate 30 corridor in between Dallas-Forth Worth, as well as low speed automated vehicle test sites were included as part of the statewide network that won DOT recognition. “The corridor has long been recognized as an ideal area for testing transportation technology,” said Bamonte. “Some think the way to go (for autonomous vehicles) is separated lanes from human-driven vehicles. Others think that with the use of connected vehicle technology as well as onboard sensors will allow automated vehicles to co-exist with human driven vehicles in the same lanes. No one quite knows the answer so we are trying to prioritize things public entities can do now at a relatively low cost that will benefit travel.” Bamonte says they would like to partner with auto manufacturers and the automated vehicle developer community to figure out what they need from the infrastructure to help support automated vehicles.

The NCTCOG has awarded grants to local governments in the region who have made traffic signal data accessible to the community. The city of Frisco is one of the national leaders in sharing traffic signal data, according to Bamonte. There are auto manufacturers that use traffic signal data to build connected vehicle applications that will tell a driver how long they will be at a red light. The data will also provide recommended speeds so drivers can catch the green traffic lights. This data would also be more accommodating to autonomous vehicles.

The NCTCOG has another grant program that encourages regional partners to become involved in data sharing with travel navigation services. Connected drivers can share their data on road closures, construction, flooding, accidents and road hazards to help optimize travel. Bamonte said this data-sharing service has been helpful for drivers in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

The NCTCOG’s policy board, the Regional Transportation Council (RTC), authorized funding for two low-speed automated vehicle pilot programs in Arlington and in another part of the region. The RTC also has authorized a million dollars to fund testing of automated vehicles technologies focused on expressway speeds along the I-30 corridor. “We are actually in preliminary discussions with TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) folks on bringing this forward,” said Bamonte.

Other people from the summit’s Dallas-Forth Worth team have been working with blockchain related technology issues, said Bamonte. “Another member of the team was instrumental in putting together a Texas application for the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. We are one of 30 semi-finalists from a worldwide pool of, I think, 500 applications.”

The Dallas-Fort Worth team recently finished working on a statewide application to get a 5G research platform in Texas. The National Science Foundation is going to build four research platforms that can be used for 5G wireless communications. “We want to bring that to Texas and there is a lot of transportation and other applications that might be built off of that research platform to generate the economy in Texas,” said Bamonte. “If we are chosen, there will be $400 million of National Science Foundation basic research on those platforms and we expect a lot of public and private investment too.” The application will use a portion of Austin and a portion of College Station as the research platform. The Dallas-Fort Worth team is collaborating with Texas A&M University, The University of Texas, Texas State University and Southern Methodist University. The application was submitted in July.

Jeff Pollack, transportation planning director of the Corpus Christi Metropolitan Planning Organization, says his region hopes to furnish a larger delegation for this year’s Texas Mobility Summit, to be held in October. The challenges, goals and outcomes that we identified by his team last year are still relevant, according to Pollack. Those challenges are cultural barriers, increasing commercial traffic and a tremendous backlog of deferred maintenance on local roadways. “One of the formative challenges that has come up in recent discussions in our region is the potential mismatch in the time frame over which vehicle technology is changing relative to the time required to plan and build new infrastructure (and the expected service life of that infrastructure),” said Pollack. “To this end, our regional delegation is mindful of the need to identify flexible/modular smart elements that can be integrated into existing infrastructure retroactively and can be adapted to keep pace with changes in the marketplace.”

According to Pollack, Corpus Christi is still looking toward enhanced Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) on regional roadways as a key step in its transition to a “smarter” and more integrated mobility system. There hasn’t been a firm decision made on a regional case study, but Pollack says the city may feature a truck queuing project that is in the planning stages at the Port of Corpus Christi. “During grain season, trucks stack awaiting their turn at the elevator, which is inefficient economically, unsafe for all involved and is counter to our efforts to maintain our ozone attainment status,” said Pollack. “The queuing project lends itself to the inclusion of ITS elements, and, given the pace at which freight connected/autonomous vehicle (CV/AV) technology is evolving, inclusion of CV or CV-ready infrastructure would be a natural extension of this scope.” Decision makers at the Port of Corpus Christi are evaluating this possible expansion of the project scope.

The San Antonio team presented three challenges at last year’s mobility summit. The first challenge was to eliminate pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries. “We have been spreading the Vision Zero message throughout our community by educating our youth at back to school events and participating in classroom presentations,” said April Alcoser Luna, public relations manager, Transporation and Capital Improvements, city of San Antonio. “We also educate adults at community workshops, neighborhood association meetings, defensive driving classes and professional organization gatherings.”

The city has completed pedestrian improvement projects at five intersections and plans on making improvements at the following intersections:

  • Austin at Hays Bridge – pedestrian crossing
  • Fourth Street at Avenue B – pedestrian crossing
  • St. Mary’s near French Place – pedestrian crossing
  • Flores near Mayfield – pedestrian crossing
  • Wurzbach near Fernglen – pedestrian Z-crossing
  • Commerce at San Bernardo/San Dario – pedestrian Z-crossing
  • Cesar Chavez at Yanaguana Park – pedestrian Z-crossing
  • Culebra near 26th/Bandera – median
  • San Pedro at Laurel and Cypress – upgrade pedestrian signal with a walk/push button and install an audible pedestrian signal

The city also has a pilot project that uses pedestrian detection technology at select signalized intersections to detect pedestrians that are in crosswalks and hold conflicting traffic until the pedestrian is able to clear the intersection.

The second challenge is to create mobility options that equitably serve regional center urban design. The city is in the process of selecting a vendor to present to the city council this fall that will provide up to 25 digital community kiosks in a variety of locations in the downtown area, at the San Antonio Missions and the airport. Each kiosk will provide information on city services, way finding, transit information and will provide Wi-Fi hotspots for residents and visitors. Operation and maintenance of the kiosks will be paid through advertising revenue from local businesses who promote on the kiosks.

The third challenge for the city is to provide a tool to crowdsource pedestrian pathway conditions for real-time travel decision and infrastructure planning. According to Art Reinhardt, assistant director, Transporation and Capital Improvements, city of San Antonio, “the third challenge is long-term so there is not much to share at the moment.”

Other cities that participated at last year’s summit were Austin, Houston and El Paso. A research and development team that also took part in the summit was composed of a selection of experts from universities and research institutions in Texas.

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