Much like the traffic that Denver city officials hope to alleviate with the aid of new technology, the road to a future of connected vehicles is slow and plodding.
But a $12 million, four-year program that is set to receive City Council approval Tuesday aims to lay serious groundwork. Funded in part by a federal grant, the program will experiment with three threads of an emerging smart network that eventually could wirelessly tether most cars and trucks to traffic signals, signs and pavement, creating a real-time stream of information to smooth the flow of traffic.
“They are case studies in trying to establish this technology,” said Nancy Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the Denver Department of Public Works.
The three initial projects are:
- Connected Freight: By working with private delivery and freight truck companies to install communication devices on board, Public Works aims to reroute some trucks from neighborhood to arterial streets. It could use different types of traffic signal prioritization to speed up the trucks’ travel. The pilot might focus on north Denver, including Globeville and Elyria-Swansea, where freight trucks regularly cut through neighborhoods en route to industrial sites.
- Connected Fleet: In something of a beta test for general vehicles, Public Works will install communication devices in as many as 1,500 city fleet vehicles in a small geographic area to all for real-time reporting of traffic and road conditions to the city’s transportation management center.
- Connected Citizens: Pedestrian detection systems installed at a sample of intersections will be implemented to improve safety, potentially by allowing longer walk signals for pedestrians who need more time and alerting drivers of connected vehicles that a pedestrian is present.
By focusing on those areas, Kuhn said, the city’s data and traffic experts will be better prepared to integrate and make sense of the onslaught of wireless signals that is expected in the not-so-distant future from private connected vehicles and smart infrastructure. Some of the latter is being tested out at near East 61st Avenue and Peña Boulevard as part of the Panasonic-linked Peña Station Next development.
Two years ago, Denver fleshed out plans to harness connected-vehicle technology — as well as prepare for the expected adoption of self-driving cars — when it vied against dozens of other cities across the country in the $50 million Smart City Challenge program.
The U.S. Department of Transportation, which offered $40 million and the promise of $10 million in private money, invited cities to propose ideas they would pursue if selected as a national demonstration city for transportation technology. Though Denver and five other cities lost out to Columbus, Ohio, the competition accelerated Denver’s planning efforts on the connected-vehicle front.
As city transportation officials looked for other ways to jump-start the plans, they applied for and received $6 million through the Federal Highway Administration’s Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment grant program.
That award requires an equal matching grant from the city. The council on Tuesday night will consider approval for the federal grant agreement.
Here is a city study’s look at freight trucking concerns in north Denver: