Flash traffic

Flash traffic

: Having spent five hours yesterday needlessly stuck in traffic after a little rain in New Jersey, I have two things to say (besides the fact that New Jersey’s infrastructure is about as good as Baghdad’s these days):

1. Shadow Traffic and Metro Traffic suck. They are worse than worthless. I’m backed up for 20 miles for hours on a major Interstate and they don’t know about it or if they do, they’re not telling. I might as well listen to a psychic to find the traffic. This Shadow doesn’t know.

2. We need to start the citizens’ traffic service, the flash traffic service: Smart Traffic. Hundreds, then thousands of people all knew more about the traffic on my route yesterday; they were close enough to shout at, yet we had no way to share what we knew.

I actually tried to convince folks in this traffic business years ago to use technology and drivers to solve all this. But they’re either too dumb or too scared of being replaced and I’ve seen no movement in this direction. So let’s invent it around them.

The goal is simple: Other drivers ahead of me on my route know what the traffic is like. I want that information. In return, I’ll share what I know with the drivers behind me.

This is the ultimate gift economy: information for information.

How to accomplish this? There are degrees of sophistication that can ramp up as technology does. At a simple level:

: Let’s say that I give my standard route to a web site.

: From my car, I call into a number; the system recognizes my number and thus my route. (And if I use a different route, I can tell it what highway I’m on.)

: It quizzes me about each part of the route and I reply: Fast, slow, flooding, accident, avoid — simple keywords that can be recognized and passed on by the system.

: It then tells me what it knows about the next leg of my journey with a rating of the quality of the information (how many calls, how recent).

I gave information, I got information.

Ramp it up with technology and let the system pass on what cells I’m passing from and to so it knows me and my phone and where we are and also how fast we’re traveling and it analyzes that.

Ramp it up again and put a GPS transponder in my car with data that feeds into a dynamic traffic data base, which in turn can feed data back down to my little device in my car.

Ramp it up more sell me a display device tied to GPS in my car that warns me before I get to a slow spot.

The key to all this is that it learns the lesson of citizens’ media: namely, how much more efficient and effective it is to have countless citizens reporting for you than a few dolts in helicopters who are over the wrong highways or a few state bureacrats who are too slow to report what’s really happening.

This can be simple. It can be technology dependent. I really don’t care. I just want it! I wasted five hours of my life yesterday for no good reason.

It can be supported with subscriber fees (but the more you use the service and the more information you feed in, the better discount you get) and/or advertising (don’t pay and you suffer through a commercial before you get your report).

And so now I want to see Shadow and Metro replaced (and with it go the revenue that comes from this bogus content given to radio stations that don’t always air the traffic at the same time, just to trick us). I want to join a network of fellow commuters reporting for each other.

This is citizens’ media that is truly useful. Forget politics. Give me citizens’ traffic!

: And we also need to invent the portable SUV potty.

: James Joyner in the comments suggests a traffic blog with audio posts. Yes, in fact, what I need is an I-78 in New Jersey with audio posts and audio output: a community answering machine that actually gives me answers.

  • http://outsidethebeltway.com James Joyner

    We need Traffic Blogs, is what we need. A few people with the capability to audio blog along with some sort of RSS implementation. . . .

  • http://www.varifrank.com Frank Martin

    If you can have all that infrastructure, why would you need to travel in the first place? As was said in the 1940’s ” Is this trip really necessary?”
    I contend that fully 25% of the workforce could ( and should ) work via broadband from their homes rahter than go to an office.
    If they can outsource work to india, why cant they outsource to my house?
    Imagine if just 1 in 4 people didnt drive to work at all?

  • ech

    NY/NJ needs to take a page from Houston and implement a system like this: http://traffic.houstontranstar.org/incmap/
    A color coded map with highway speeds is only the start of what is offered:
    – wireless updates to mobile devices
    – email updates
    All collected via the toll-road transponders many of us have on our cars. A cool repurposing of existing equipment.

  • spook

    The SUV potty was invented years ago. It has an alternate pre-use as a soda container…

  • bigcasino

    Get a CB. you hear all the oaths and anathemas from the other CB’ers when traffic is bad. This gives you the opportunity to detour.

  • http://countertop-chronicles.blogspot.com countertop

    Getting a CB is a great idea, but it just isnt really practical.
    Campmor in Ramsey sells portable toilets (#1, can’t really take care of #2)
    I think the Traffic Blog – or even an email alert system to your blackberry or cell phone – is a great idea. Washington, D.C. (who’s shadow traffic also sucks) has the Post web page, but its pretty weak. Metro is supposed to send out email alerts, but I’ve never actually recieved one.

  • Paul

    Don’t forget to pass on information on speed traps.

  • TomK

    Or, perhaps every city could have something like this.
    I’d love to add wireless internet to my truck so I could watch this realtime, instead of checking it right before I head out the door.

  • Paul Phillips

    I carry a V8 juice bottle for emergency #1. The larger mouth makes for easier aim much like the containers used in hospitals. Although I have no personal experience but might I suggest a large garbage bag for #2.

  • TXBueller

    I’ve been using TrafficMap(http://getitnow.vzwshop.com/getgoing.search.list.do?categoryId=232&phoneId=8034) on my Motorola v710 for about 3 weeks now and am pretty happy so far. It’s great to be able to bring up traffic info where ever I am and than listen to my iPod in the car instead of hoping to catch the radio traffic report in time before I make it to the highway on-ramp.

  • http://larrymorin.com Larry Morin

    As someone who spends a great deal of time on the road (30k miles a year), I’m going to second the vote for a CB Radio.
    They are inexpensive, small and very informative when it comes to traffic. You can even get a handheld model if you don’t want to permanently mount one in your vehicle.
    Truckers get paid by the mile. If they are in traffic they are not getting paid. Word travels fast when it affects the wallet.
    My CB has saved me countless hours of just sittin there. No I’m not a trucker, but I depend on them for an accurate traffic report.

  • http://www.greg-brooks.com Greg Brooks

    Someone else mentioned TrafficMap; I believe they as well as some of the other traffic-data-via-cell-phone companies are looking forward to greater market penetration for GPS-enabled phones.
    Once the market is awash in these, the phones can act as “virtual traffic loops” — by polling where a phone is at moment A and then again at moment B, you get a feel for how fast traffic is moving. Do that with scores, hundreds or thousands of phones, and you suddenly have a real-time picture of traffic that doesn’t involve tearing up thousands of miles of roads for new ITS infrastructure.
    I think there are a couple of states that want to integrate something like this into their 511 systems as well, so on-demand traffic info via cell phone wouldn’t be a for-fee service.

  • Mike

    Jeff,
    All the local highways were like that yesterday morning. I spent 3+ hours to go 5 miles on a different Interstate.

  • CharlesWT

    The Internet metaphor might work. Treat each vehicle as though it were a data packet with routers directing it along the fastest route to its destination.