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.