Friday, May 4, 2007

Traffic alerts and slow downs

It's Friday night and the Puget Sound roads are jammed. We all have places to go and people to see.

For several years we have suggested that travelers check their route before they leave home. We use a suite of tools to tell you about problem spots, including our web site, 5-1-1 telephone traffic information, e-mail alerts, highway radio transmitters and electronic message boards.

I can even get traffic flow map information on my blackberry device. It's not a statewide look yet, but we're heading that direction.

But in the end, all this information tells what we already know. Friday at 5 p.m. is a terrible time to try and get anywhere because we ALL want to get there at the same time. Even with the best information, we can't avoid gridlock when we all try and travel at the same time.

We are always looking for new ways to keep you updated on traveler information. What's missing? Got any ideas for how we can do this better? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

posted by Lloyd Brown, WSDOT communication director


The Geezer said...

No you wouldn't love to hear my thoughts, but you get them anyway, for free.

How about letting us see all the cameras, and not only that, all the cameras in full motion.

You let the TeeVee stations see 'em, and dont tell me bandwidth is expensive, or that they pay you for the privelege.

The Geezer said...

Am an inveterate WSDOT camera and temperature watcher. Burning gas all over the state. Went over North Cascades from Bellingham early morning after opening. Then Winthrop, Loup Loup to Dude ranch S. of Republic, then over Lake Roosevelt Ferry eventually finding my quest== Wawawaii on the Snake.
What a trip! Duane

Anonymous said...

Fun post :) Here goes...

1) Please provide more detailed camera coverage. My commute home takes me from 520 west to 405 north, and that interchange is highly variable. Unfortunately the one or two cameras in the area really don't clearly show the traffic backups that can occur.

2) Be far more agressive about using the variable message signs, particularly on weekends. Traffic in Seattle is unfortunately 24/7, not just weekdays. I've been burned several times trying to cross 520 on the weekend when there's been an accident and the variable message signs don't indicate anything.

3) Put in variable message signs in more useful locations. The one on 520 west just before 405 is useless. It's after the last exit to escape 520 if something bad happens, and traffic is often backed up well earlier than the sign. By the time you see it, the info is far far too late.

4) Update your site to include the incident report list. The incident report list is often the most useful piece of info, yet you can't get to it from the small page.

If I think of other's I'll include 'em.


Anonymous said...

We need several traffic cameras on Highway 2 between Waterville and Spokane. This is always a highly traveled stretch of road, and especially in the winter it would be nice to see the road conditons.

Washington State Department of Transportation said...

There have been some very good comments and questions following this post. I'll try to answer what I can as best as I can.

The question about the cameras is a very good one. We are working on that very issue. We want to make more video accessible through the Internet site. Stay tuned for that because I think by the end of the summer we'll have more camera locations that offer real-time video.

The suggestion from Neil about more camera coverage in the SR 520 and I-405 interchange area is a good one, too. I've forwarded this on to our regional traffic folks to see whether there are plans to add more cameras.

The variable message signs suggested by Neil also are valuable tools. One of the difficulties is that some times the information doesn't reach the traffic management center in Shoreline until a backup has already started. Then the crew at the center run through a list of items that need to be updated. Without boring you with a list of whys and why nots, the story is simply that the variable message signs are some times updated after people have already started to queue at an incident.

The suggestion to add incidents to our "small" site is also one that we are working on. I don't have a timeline, but we want to expand the small site to make it more useful to mobile device users.

Finally, I will forward the suggestion that we add cameras to US 2 between Waterville and Spokane to our eastern Washington traffic management center. They will know better what the schedule is for camera installations.

Thanks for all the great suggestions. Let me know if you need any additional information.

Lloyd Brown
WSDOT Communication Director

Lloyd Brown said...

I promised that I would respond to some of the comments posted here earlier this month. So, here we go ...

The Geezer started on May 5 asking about how WSDOT can let the public see all our traffic cameras in full motion. I checked with our technical staff and here's what they wrote:

The TV stations have direct access to the WSDOT video. The access uses fiber optic cable that connects from our video switch in Shoreline to a hub site at Roanoke Street in Seattle. The stations then microwave the video to their broadcast location. So the links between WSDOT and regional TV stations don't use the Internet. Video is a very high bandwidth media. A small low resolution image requires about a 100 KB/s. Ten (10) users of such a system would require a 1MB of bandwidth. A reasonable requirement would be to support about 500 users. So we would need about 50 MB. Consider one server for every eight video streams, we need about 20 servers. As you can see the cost adds up. Sorry to say cost and bandwidth are real issues. While the cable company may offer you 3 to 6 MB/s rates for $50 per month, these are intermittent download rates. To serve video to the Internet requires upload rates. Upload bandwidth costs 10 to 100 times more then download bandwidth.

I learned something else about the cameras near SR 520 and I-405. We are working on updating our traffic information web site with a more interactive map. While we're still a few months off from having that available, we hope that when it is online you will have more "views" to choose from in that particular area.

Unfortunately, I don't think we'll be posting more traffic cameras north of Spokane any time soon.

I hope this gets to the remaining questions that need answers.

Post more questions and I'll do what I can to get the answers.

Lloyd Brown
WSDOT Communication Director

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