Modernizing American roads and transit systems to drive public good 

The White House infrastructure proposal – the American Jobs Plan (“the Plan”) – offers a blueprint for a once-in-a-generation investment in the infrastructure underpinning of the American economy. The Plan highlights a chronic underinvestment in the United States’ infrastructure and identifies a number of critical opportunities for historic reinvestment, innovation and modernization, in an array of infrastructure sectors and the assets that make them work. For example, the Plan includes a call to “modernize 20,000 miles of highways, roads and main-streets.” 

Even as the U.S. government seeks to invest in the surface structure of the country’s physical infrastructure, it must also lay out the back-end technology that will help bring it into the second half of the 21st century. That includes not only scaling Internet-enabled communications and transportation technology, but also focusing them on the places most central to how the smart cities of the future will function.   

This white paper describes the significant opportunities for Internet of Things (IoT)-based transportation, transit and public safety technology solutions to transform cities by enhancing safety, delivering efficiencies – such as cost and time savings – and reducing harmful pollutants, including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and conventional air pollutants.    

This white paper presents a series of six calls to action designed to improve road infrastructure and transit systems, while prioritizing safety, health and equity. Collectively, these calls to action provide a new vision for the smart city of the future; and the infrastructure needed to build them today. 

GTT challenges policymakers, transportation regulators, transit authorities, grant programs and other actors influencing transportation infrastructure, to commit to the following actions: 

Six ways the White House’s “American Jobs Plan” can improve road infrastructure and transit systems, while prioritizing safety, health and equity.

1. Prioritize Smart Intersection Connectivity:

Ensure that all new intersections are connected and achieve a 50 percent increase in connectivity of existing intersections by 2030.

2. Advance Vision Zero in Communities Across the Country:

Take action to support President Biden’s goal to eliminate traffic deaths.

3. Promote Accessibility and Equity in Public Transit:

Call for 50 percent increased public transit ridership and greater access in disadvantaged communities.

4. Protect Public Health by Reducing Harmful Emissions:

Call for a 75 percent reduction of emissions of harmful conventional pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHG) associated with the transportation sector.

5. Scale Infrastructure with the Power of Software:

Unlock 50 percent more budget to pay for innovative services through subscription models.

6. Incorporate Connectivity with Intersections into All New Vehicles:

Maximize efficiency and reduce congestion by incorporating connectivity with the cloud and with intersections into all new vehicles by 2035.

Prioritize Smart Intersection Connectivity 

The next era of infrastructure investments in the United States should prioritize modernizing the nation’s intersections by ensuring they are connected, either with fiber optic or cellular communications. Connectivity (i.e., “smart” intersections) enables software-/cloud-based solutions, which are generally less expensive to install and maintain than purpose-built hardware solutions. Furthermore, smart intersections hold the potential for safer and more efficient, sustainable, accessible and flexible traffic management. Finally, smart intersections provide an ideal platform for “as a service” offerings, which can often be paid for with ongoing operational efficiencies.   

By installing connectivity capabilities in intersections and key vehicles, U.S. roads and traffic patterns can benefit from proven technological innovations. These technologies save lives. For this reason, GTT encourages cities, municipalities and the federal government to commit to ensuring that all new intersections are connected; and that 50 percent of existing intersections gain connectivity by 2030.  

In the United States, 40 percent of all crashes involve intersections and more than 20 percent of traffic fatalities occur at intersections.[1] Emergency vehicles are particularly at risk of crashes when responding to emergencies.[2] Connected intersections allow for the use of emergency vehicle preemption (EVP) technologies, which facilitate a change of traffic lights in response to approaching emergency vehicles to enable their safe passage through intersections. Drivers are generally unaware of any preemption event and simply follow the normal driving practices required by driving the traffic signals. These technologies have been successfully used to reduce emergency vehicle crashes (up to 70 percent) and reduce response times (up to 25 percent) for fires, medical crises and other emergencies. Some jurisdictions even use EVP to grant traffic signal priority to snowplows, enabling them to clear roadways efficiently – in some cases more than 20 percent faster – to more efficiently return streets to a safe condition for vehicle travel.[3] Transit signal priority (TSP) technologies, which can selectively prioritize transit vehicles when controlling traffic lights at intersections, have also been shown to reduce the number of crashes in transit corridors.[4] Connected intersections are often the first step to establishing a smart city, bringing intersections into the 21st century and creating innumerable opportunities for innovation, with safety, health and equity in mind.  

Key Enabling Technologies 

Emergency vehicle preemption (EVP) helps first responders arrive on the scene quickly and safely by communicating with the intersection controller to grant emergency vehicles the green light as they approach an intersection.  

Transit signal priority (TSP) systems allow transit vehicles to signal their approach to an intersection and seek prioritization. Some smart systems will prioritize transit vehicles that are behind schedule, but elect not to prioritize vehicles that are on time or ahead of schedule.

Advance Vision Zero in Communities across the Country 

GTT supports President Biden’s new “Safe Streets for All” program to fund state and local Vision Zero plans. The approximately 40,000 lives lost in the United States each year to traffic accidents is far too many. These tragic deaths take an enormous personal toll on families and communities and cost society at large in the form of taxpayer spending on emergency response and health care costs.[5] Since traffic deaths are a pervasive and systemic issue, GTT embraces the Vision Zero approach of shifting the responsibility for road safety from individual users to a model of shared responsibility between traffic system designers and road users. GTT urges transportation decision-makers of all kinds to strive to achieve zero traffic deaths.  

The good news is that GTT increasingly has the kind of technology to make structural adjustments to save lives where they are frequently most at risk: in dangerous intersections. Incorporating EVP and TSP technologies into the fabric of transportation systems can significantly improve safety in communities by decreasing crash rates and reducing emergency vehicle response times. Signal preemption systems are low-cost and easily implemented solutions that can reduce intersection crash rates for emergency vehicles by up to 70 percent.[6] These technologies also collect valuable data for city planners and transit authorities, including which intersections have the most traffic or cause the longest emergency vehicle delays due to pedestrian activity. These data can be used enhance public safety in a variety of ways, including locating bus stops in safe locations along busy thoroughfares and rerouting emergency vehicles to more efficient routes. Many cities start deploying EVP technologies on critical roadways that lead to trauma centers or hospitals. This methodology allows the technology to gain usage on key thoroughfares, which can significantly improve patient outcomes. 

Promote Accessibility and Equity in Public Transit

Access to safe, reliable and convenient transportation options has the power to transform the lives of users and the community at large. GTT urges communities to increase public transit ridership by 50 percent and offer greater accessibility for disadvantaged communities, to expand and drive the benefits of public transit, including reduced congestion, decreased air and climate pollution and enhanced social and economic opportunity. 

TSP has been shown to make public transit systems more efficient, which can improve passengers’ experiences and increase ridership. Significant efficiencies can also facilitate bus route expansions, allowing cities to serve more communities and advance equity in public transportation.[7] For example, a 20 percent efficiency gain could enable expansion of the route by 20 percent, without having to increase the number of buses or drivers. Through efficiency and capital savings, cities are well-positioned to reinvest into expansions of existing transit availability to service a broader set of communities. Expanding transit availability can have a dramatic impact on communities. Many low-income communities and communities of color rely on public transit options and access to reliable and safe transportation is key to accessing employment, educational and health care opportunities.[8] In fact, an ongoing Harvard study of upward mobility has found that commute time is the strongest factor impacting individuals’ chances of escaping poverty.[9] 

By adjusting traffic signals to prioritize public transit vehicles, particularly when they are behind schedule, TSP can improve the efficiency and predictability of public transit. In addition to improving public transit efficiency, connected TSP systems allow transit systems to carefully track these efficiencies and gains in granular detail. Connected intersections enable cities to capture real-time traffic data, including activity on bicycle lanes, which enables them to promote the flow of traffic and conduct in-depth traffic analyses to inform city planning choices.[10]   

More reliable public transportation options have been shown to increase ridership. Savvy municipalities may wish to reinvest savings from reduced fuel consumption into expanding the geographic reach of public transit routes.[11] Attracting greater public transit ridership is a particularly important goal today, as global congestion grew by 15 percent between 2010 and 2018[12] and bus ridership has rapidly declined around the nation in recent years.[13] Improving transit systems can help combat some of the causes of bus ridership reductions, including failure to meet consumer expectations for frequent, reliable and convenient transportation options.[14]  

Mobility Drives Social Equity

Many communities around the country are working toward goals to increase equity. Mobility is deeply tied to social exclusion, as existing limitations on public transit service areas and other limitations on transit accessibility can prevent marginalized groups from participating in the economic, political and social aspects of their communities.[15] Research has shown that low‐income and economically disadvantaged populations tend to have significantly longer, more complex (i.e., switching buses, trains or between modes) and more unreliable commutes.[16]

Protect Public Health by Reducing Harmful Emissions

GTT applauds the broad array of governmental bodies – both national and subnational – that have taken steps to commit to improving air quality and curbing climate change by reducing the emission of harmful conventional pollutants and GHGs. Ten states, more than 290 cities and 400 colleges and universities from around the world signed the “We are Still In” declaration, pledging their support for climate action needed to meet the Paris Agreement.[17] In addition, GTT recognizes that more than half of Americans live in a jurisdiction with a sub-national net zero GHG emissions target.[18] GTT urges governments to put public health first by reducing emissions of harmful conventional pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHG) associated with the transportation sector by 75 percent by 2040. 

Any nation’s contribution to the Paris Agreement is only as strong as its own domestic policy; and by the same token, any national domestic policy can only be as strong as the technology powering the efforts to decarbonize cities, transportation and people’s day-to-day lives. That’s why reducing emissions from city traffic is an essential component of any global approach to climate change. Integrated signal priority systems are a key strategy within a smart city climate approach: they help achieve traffic emissions reduction goals by reducing the length of time public transit vehicles are idling; spur greater public transit ridership through improved system reliability and efficiency; and enhance individual vehicle efficiency by reducing start/stop driving.[19] For electric vehicle drivers, these road efficiencies can enable them to complete their journeys faster, reducing the risk of battery depletion before reaching their destinations. TSP systems can also reduce emissions by enhancing system-wide efficiencies across major public transit networks, such as those in New York City and the Los Angeles metropolitan area. In the event of natural disasters or other emergencies, cities can take advantage of connected intersections as components of their climate resilience plans by lengthening green lights and facilitating the flow of traffic during emergency evacuations.  

Scale Infrastructure with the Power of Software 

GTT calls on governments to reimagine their transportation infrastructure not as fixed assets requiring large one-time investments, but as evolving systems that require regular investments over time. To this end, agencies should strive to unlock 50 percent more budget to pay for innovative transportation services through subscription models. Financing physical infrastructure with outdated capital investment-intensive models worked for the 20th century, but will not help to modernize the infrastructure needed for the future. Cities should allow for more flexible finance models that recognize the core role of innovative and IoT-based transportation and transit technology as infrastructure upgrades and not just services. 

In fact, signal priority services represent major opportunities for cost savings, by allowing transit authorities to pay service providers monthly for the installation and maintenance of road safety and priority systems, rather than spending large upfront sums to invest in major capital assets. It is important to note that investments in the infrastructure components for either EVP or TSP also benefit the other. Still, transportation agencies can earn a meaningful return on investment on just one of these interventions. These cutting-edge service programs help cities pay for upgrades over time and predict future costs by extending the period permitted to pay for programs to upgrade road technology and ensure that equipment maintenance can be implemented promptly through pre-defined maintenance costs.  

Subscription services allow municipalities to invest their funds in projects other than capital maintenance funds and better predict their workforce needs, since maintenance staff are already accounted for. Setting up and maintaining connected road technology also enables cities to seamlessly integrate new technologies into existing systems.  

Incorporate Connectivity with Intersections into All Vehicles

Smart cities of the future will be powered by connectivity. GTT encourages vehicle manufacturers to equip all new vehicles with connectivity to the cloud or directly with intersections. By enabling all vehicles to interact with transportation infrastructure, cities can promote safety, reduce congestion and maximize traffic efficiency, thereby reducing emissions of harmful pollutants through vehicle transportation. Connected vehicles can be harnessed to reduce congestion and smooth the flow of traffic by granting priority to heavier traffic flow directions. This technology-neutral proposal can also improve efficiencies by granting priority to zero emission vehicles, thereby encouraging the use of less-polluting modes of transportation.   

  

Conclusion

Investing in smart intersections, subscription-based infrastructure projects and new vehicle connectivity has great potential to substantially improve American communities and roadways by making them safer and more equitable, offering more accessible public transit options and improving public health. GTT urges political leaders, transportation regulators, transit authorities and other interested parties to take prompt action to invest in these key aspects of transportation infrastructure.  

SOURCES

1. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Analysis of Fatal Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes and Fatalities at Intersections, 1997 to 2004, 12, 97 (Feb. 2007).  In some cities like Washington D.C., fatal crashes at signal-controlled intersections account for a quarter of all fatal crashes.  Id. at 2.  

2. Hongwei Hsiao, et al., Preventing Emergency Vehicle Crashes: Status and Challenges of Human Factors Issues, Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (July 2018).  

3. See GTT, St. Cloud (MN) Plows Snow Faster with Opticom. 

4. See Yu Song & David Noyce, Effects of transit signal priority on traffic safety: Interrupted time series analysis of Portland, Oregon, implementations, Accident Analysis & Prevention, (Feb. 2019).  

5. See What is Vision Zero?  

6. See Federal Highway Administration, Desktop Reference for Crash Reduction Factors 10 (2007). 

7. Higher rates of public transit usage are also linked to improved public safety.  See Vision Zero Network, Public Transit: An Undervalued, Effective Vision Zero Strategy (2018).  

8. See, e.g., Peter A. Gautier & Yves ZenouCar Ownership and the Labor Market of Ethnic Minorities, Journal of Urban Economics (2010) (finding that access to better public transportation will reduce racial differences in labor market outcomes); Joel RastTransportation Equity and Access to Jobs in Metropolitan Milwaukee (2020) (describing the need for job opportunities accessible by public transportation due to the spatial mismatch between low-income residential communities and job opportunities); The Greenlining Institute, Mobility Equity Framework: How to Make Transportation Work for People 7 (2018) (noting that low-income communities and communities of color are less likely to own cars and public transit can limit their mobility and economic opportunities).   

9. See Mikayla Bouchard, Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty, New Yok Times (May 2015) (citing Raj Chetty & Nathaniel Hendren, The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility (Apr. 2015)). 

10. See Canoga Traffic Sensing. 

11. See U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration, Transit Signal Priority Research Tools (May 2008) (describing opportunities for savings in transit signal priority systems).   

12. Elements of success: Urban transportation systems of 24 global citiesAn Integrated Perspective on the Future of Mobility, Part 3: Setting the Direction Toward Seamless Mobility 

13. See Washington Area Bus Transformation Project, Project Overview (Oct. 2018).  

14. Id. at 3.  

15. See R. IversEvaluating the implementation of transit signal priority on a bus route, with a focus on equity (Apr. 2017).   

16. U.S. Department of Transportation, Transportation Connectivity Whitepaper (Jan. 2015).  

17.  We are Still In, Who’s In 

18. See Kate Cullen, et al., Leveling up net zero climate leadership in the United States: An analysis of subnational net zero targets & recommendations for the Federal Government, Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment Working Paper No. 21-01, 6 (Mar. 2021). 

19. See GTT, Public Transit.  Improving transit systems in a way that spurs greater ridership, such as by improving reliability, efficiency, and convenience, can have significant impacts on GHG emissions.  Indeed, switching from private transportation methods to public transportation is one of the most significant and effective actions individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprints.  See Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration, Public Transportation’s Role in Responding to Climate Change 2 (Jan. 2010). 

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