How Smart Cities Could Change Traffic Norms

Everybody hates city traffic. But few know that in fact, much of that traffic occurs due to an easily solvable problem.

In fact, one study found that an average of 30% in urban traffic consists solely of people looking for parking. These cars circle around the blocks, looking for spots without any idea whether one will open up anytime soon.

What if these cars could receive real-time updates on open parking spots near them? The reduction in traffic could be significant, alleviating anything from commuting time to environmental pollution. It’s just one of the many benefits that smart cities could provide.

The Basics of Smart Cities

The core concept of a smart city is based on connectivity. The idea is simple: if various objects within the city could communicate about their current status, technology could be used to make more efficient use of the physical infrastructure provided by the city.

The exact definition of a smart city is difficult to nail down. Any type of connectivity within city limits that improves life and infrastructure technically qualifies, depending on which definition you read. After examining a number of these clauses, Computer World established a working definition of the concept:

A smart city is about having sensor data that then gets used to create actions. You can define a smart city as a city with better managed infrastructure that is variable, based on input of data and adjustments of the results to best utilize resources or improve safety.

The goal tends to be improving efficiencies, public safety, and infrastructure. That’s what leads us to the current traffic problem and potential future solutions.

Using Technology to Improve Urban Processes

No one living or commuting into a city would argue the fact that many of the daily processes occurring in cities are hopelessly inefficient. The above-mentioned parking is just one of the problems; in addition, traffic could occur due to inefficient stop lights, inconvenient public transportation, and more.

Many of these problems can be solved with technology. Chicago, for example, is experimenting with a system in which stop lights can communicate about upcoming traffic, allowing for an optimum flow rather than countless stop at red lights.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the above-mentioned 30% of traffic is due to a lack of available parking spots. In reality, thousands of parking spots are open in any major city during any hour – they’re just impossible to find. Smart cities are hoping to solve that problem with real-time updates, both on smart phones and electronic street signs, that can lead directly to open parking spots.

Finally, imagine a public transportation system dynamically adjusting its schedule based on traffic. Rather than operating on a strict hour schedule, a subway (or even an autonomous taxi) might be able to make itself available exactly when most riders are expected.

How Smart Cities Could Change Traffic Norms

All of the above are examples on just how smart cities can change traffic norms. Much of an urban area’s inefficiencies come down to simply ineffective communication. Traffic lights and public transportation systems have to be set manually. Meanwhile, parking is impossible to find even when available.

Compare that with software dynamically calculating and implementing more optimal traffic aids to change traffic norms. Thanks to federal and local funding, experiments to move that way are already happening. It wouldn’t be shocking to see these opportunities accelerate in the near future.

Smart cities are around us, even if we don’t notice it. You might not know that an algorithm can now calculate the optimal time to turn a street light on and off. Simultaneously, you may notice the smoother traffic thanks to automated traffic lights, but don’t know that it’s due to real-time communications between each light. That’s the power of smart cities, and it will only become more intense in the near future.