Friday, July 30, 2010

I-5 gets smarter on Aug. 10

by guest blogger Patricia Michaud

On your mark, get set, get smart. Not Maxwell Smart. We’re talking Smarter Highways.
If you’ve driven northbound I-5 between Boeing Access Road and I-90 recently, you’ve probably noticed a whole bunch of new electronic signs over the freeway. These are our Smarter Highways signs. Since we began testing them in May, the new signs have displayed bunches of random dots, asterisks and other cryptic test messages.

Starting Aug. 10, the test messages will go away and the new signs will officially get smart. That means it’s time for you to get smart, too.

When the signs go live, they’ll be giving drivers real-time traffic information about what’s happening on the road ahead through a series of Xs, arrows and electronic messages. If you’re wondering what that’ll look like, you can check out a video of how the signs will work on the Smarter Highways website.

So what makes these signs smarter than the electronic signs we already have on I-5? For one thing, they’re stationed every half-mile along I-5. That means we can get more specific traffic information to drivers well before they get stuck in congestion. And because we have a sign positioned above each lane on the freeway, we can let drivers know exactly which lanes are blocked and which lanes are open. We can even let drivers know to adjust their speed before they reach slower-moving traffic.
This information means that drivers can change lanes ahead of time or even get off the freeway to avoid congestion. It’ll also help reduce the number of rear-end crashes that can happen when drivers suddenly find themselves in slowing traffic. 

As regular commuters probably know, crashes cause congestion, congestion in turn causes more crashes, and those crashes in turn cause more congestion. It’s a vicious cycle, especially during rush hour. Since building nine miles of new lanes on I-5 isn’t a feasible or affordable option, we had to find a way to make our highways work more efficiently. There’s an old saying: Don’t work harder, work smarter. And that’s exactly what these signs will do for our highways.

We’re getting smart. How about you?


John - Bellevue said...

Too bad it can't tell absent minded drivers who are lolly gagging around under the speed limit to speed up in order ot accomodate more vehicles... maybe a flashing Mr. Yuk symbol?

Anonymous said...

What a collosal waste of money.
- Merging ahead of time doesn't help congestion. It just stacks it up.
- Reducing speeds to eliminate collisions? Please...signs are not going to stop people from rear-ending in stop-and-go traffic
- fluctuating speed limits?! - Just more excuses for WSP to issue tickets

The only thing that helps congestion, is more lanes. Too bad the state decided to clog up the medians with bus offramps, rather than add lanes.

Anonymous said...

I like the smarter highways idea. It's been used successfully in the UK for a number of years. But then again, British drivers will actually move over for faster traffic, instead of the very annoying habit of camping out in the left lane that a significant minority of drivers have here.

Anyway, it's certainly worth a try, when there is not nearly enough money available for more lanes everywhere. I think the money for this is coming from the federal government and would go to another state if WSDOT did not use it.

Also, WSDOT has been using variable speed limits on Snoqualmie Pass ( I-90 ) for a number of years now, and more recently on Stevens Pass ( US 2 ) and I-90 between Bellevue and Seattle. So they have some experience with this. I do have one question. I'm sure these signs can display different speed limits for different lanes. Will you do this, or is that too much change for local drivers at this time?

One more thing. Please use "accident" and not "collision". "Collision, congestion, construction, all look too similar at freeway speeds. That's why "accident" and "road work" are better choices.

Dan said...

Wouldn't it be nice if traffic management was as simple as this video would like us to think? I perfectly understand the theory that if traffic is smoothed, blocking incidents will have less effect and traffic waves will be reduced, thus decreasing the travel times for everyone.

The grand assumption nobody seems to have questioned is whether drivers will **comply.** As the I-90 floating bridge is part of my daily commute, I think I'm on good authority to say that people will generally not comply. Traffic abhors a vacuum. Speed limit reductions when traffic is free-flowing are **ignored.**

Also, there are plenty of competitive and inattentive drivers, and each one has the potential to start his/her own traffic wave.

The jerk who changes 3 lanes in 1000 feet cuts off multiple drivers and generates a wave.

The idiot who plugs the left general purpose lane and impedes traffic instead of driving in the correct lane for their speed also generates waves. He/she also generates resentment in the delayed drivers following behind, causing them to attempt risky passes on the right that can result in crashes.

I am perfectly able to find traffic cameras and flowmeters using my wireless device before I set out. I fail to understand why we are spending money on high-tech nonsense when much of I-5 through Seattle is 35-40 years old and desperately needs resurfacing.

Anonymous said...

I hope that one possible smart sign is "NEXT EXIT ONLY". You could use that when the right lane(s) are closed in advance of an accident but the accident is after the next exit. You could also use this sign to let people exit if the remaining lanes are very congested.

Anonymous said...

What a waste of money! This is going to do nothing for traffic control. The video the state put out does not even give us one substantial benefit for the millions of dollars this cost. I wonder who got paid off to let this project move forward.

Anonymous said...

My only complaint is that when many people see that lanes ahead are closed or ending, they use those closed lanes for as long as possible then merge in the front last minute.

This is not unlike many places that have an empty exit lane, such as the 520 by the West Lake Sammamish exit or the 40/51 exits. By butting into the front of the line, several minutes are shaved off the commute at the expense of those trying to be courteous.

If I can make a recommendation, put in place a law that people have a certain distance to exit a closed lane. First couple times getting caught sneaking into the front of the line is a warning, and after that is considered wreckless driving. Then enforce it.

Bob said...

If there is no penalty to 'obey' the signage our normal bully drivers will wait until the last to leave the closed lane and merge, will not slow down, etc. The true cause of the commute slowdown is the reduction in lanes through downtown Seattle. What normal city would reduce from 4 to 2 lanes as it approaches the main downtown exits.

Jeremy Bertrand said...

Bob - The signs are enforceable. See news release from the State patrol website.

sunlover said...

Jeremy - add that link from WSP about enforcing the signage to the orginal article. Some drivers will change their minds if they know this.

Anonymous said...

Ok, saw the signs why is it that all lanes are open and the speed limit has been reduced to 45 MPH at 9:00AM going northbound?!? I thought the point of this was the slow down traffic and signal people to merge early around an accident. Why is the speed so slow when there are no lane closures and no accidents? like I need another 10 minutes on my commute?

Come on guys think with your heads, I-90 was already ruined by reduced speed limits signs no one pays attention to when it's sunny, 70 degrees and it says you need to go 55MPH...yeah right in perfect conditions let's not go the freeways speed of 60+.

Please, whom ever is in control of this system please drive I-5 every day to work from now on so you know what is really going on out there. It seems like you are just guessing based on heresy input...

If anything speeds on I-5 should be 60 at the lowest and 65+ on I-90 with faster accident response and OH please actually update the traffic FM signal to TELL GPS users about these lane closures like they failed to do two weeks ago when 4 lanes of I-5 were shut down after 11:00PM...clear road so why would we not take it... because 4 lanes had zero traffic! Please ensure these system intemperate and add to the volume of traffic data, not provide disparate views of it.


Anonymous said...

It's been a couple of months now, and I still think these are some of the most useless, distracting and wasteful freeway signs I have ever seen. Often the posted speed limits will be far above what traffic is actually moving at. What is the point? It's more important to watch the cars in front of you than a blinding array of signs every quarter-mile. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. (That is, NOT smart.) I can't wait for either these signs or me to go away.

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