Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)

Every commuting day, we get into our vehicles, drive to the highway or through city streets and arrive at our offices and work sites. Or perhaps we walk or drive to a park-and-ride lot where we board transit to get to our workplace. Or maybe we use a bike to commute to work. Usually, the trips are smooth. But what happens if we encounter congestion, delay, or an accident?

What if, before we started our trip, our smart phone and vehicle “talked” and exchanged information about our work schedule and upcoming commute. As we leave our driveway, the Transportation Management Centre detects accidents ahead and sends an alternate route to our vehicle’s on-board navigation system. It simultaneously recommends alternate routes to thousands of commuters, based on its network of detectors and closed circuit television cameras. As a result, we arrive on time, and then watch our car “self-park” perfectly into our parking spot. This scenario is possible with today’s intelligent transportation system (ITS) technology.

ITS technology helps make transportation safer and more efficient

Cars, buses, trucks, pedestrians, and cyclists compete for the same space and experience conflicts. The growth of our cities has accelerated these problems and changed our mobility needs. We want mobility, but are protective of the livability of our communities.

But after we have reached the physical limit for construction of new transportation corridors, how do we deal with big city issues such as congestion and accidents?

Over time, technology has evolved significantly to make our commutes and indeed, our daily lives, faster, safer, and more sustainable. The use of ITS has become a mainstay of many transportation programs. Many governments have embraced ITS as part of a broad menu of possible solutions.

What is ITS?

ITS is the application of technology to make transportation smoother, safer, and more efficient. It supports a seamless, integrated, and multi-modal journey to move people and goods to where they need to be. In some cases, ITS can be as basic as the coordination of traffic signals on a city corridor. At another level, ITS can monitor traffic flows, detect and verify incidents, and dispatch emergency response teams. And at a more complex level, ITS is about vehicles communicating together or with infrastructure. When ITS technologies work together as a seamless, integrated, and interoperable network, the big winners are the driving public and of course, the professionals who manage our transportation networks.

The Sum of all the Parts

The components of ITS are bundled into groups called “user services”. You may recognize some of them:

• Traveller Information Services (electronic signage, websites for traffic, and media)

• Traffic Management Services (traffic signals, incident management)

• Public Transport Services (“next bus” arrival signs at bus stops)

• Electronic Payment Services (tolls, smart cards)

• Commercial Vehicle Operations (trucks, ports)

• Emergency Management Services (emergency dispatch)

• Vehicle Safety and Control Systems (connected vehicles and driverless cars)

• Information Warehousing Services

At Associated Engineering, when we help our clients plan their ITS programs, we assess their needs, develop strategies for addressing the problems, and design the appropriate ITS user services and applications for them. Along the way, we deal with data management, privacy laws, intellectual property ownership, and system maintenance issues.

Why do we want ITS?

The easy answer is that the public demands it. The reality now is most major infrastructure projects have an ITS component. There is a physical limit to the amount of capacity that can be built, and transportation networks have to operate more effectively, efficiently, and safely. As a consulting firm, one of our primary roles is to provide our clients with the best technical advice. ITS is a part of that broad menu of solutions.

Our clients, their customers, and the public are evolving. Their needs are becoming more sophisticated as technology provides more options. If you want to see who our future clients are, look at your kids. They are playing with their tablets and smart phones, devices that they've known their entire lives. Their needs will be shaped by our future technology and they will be demanding real-time information and more functionality.

The next time you travel, think about ITS. It’s out there, looking after your trip.

About the author:

Keenan Kitasaka, M.Eng., P.Eng. is a Senior Civil Engineer with over 27 years of experience. He is a recognized expert in transportation engineering, planning, and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). He is a member of the ITS Canada Board of Directors and Executive Committee. He is currently serving as ITS Practice Lead on the Regina Bypass project for which Associated Engineering is providing services as Owner’s Engineer. He is also managing the development of Saskatchewan’s new ITS Strategic Plan.