Technology is great, but . . .

News story leaves important questions unanswered

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I like technology, but most of the time I have no use for it. I’m amazed at how humans can bend scientific principles to create inventions, but in my personal life, I see no need for a GPS navigation device, for example. I can find my own way around with a good map.

 

So when I read a story about the city of Edmonton, Alberta, using complex calculations to predict traffic jams, I think that’s really cool, but I have to wonder whether the cost is balanced by the benefit.

 

Edmonton is conducting a pilot project to construct a predictive traffic model to provide real-time solutions to traffic congestion on Yellowhead Trail.

 

The software takes data from sensors in the roadway and adjusts the traffic lights to maximize traffic flow using “lots of complex math,” according to Transforming Edmonton (www.transformingedmonton.ca).

 

In the event of a traffic incident that the software predicts will lead to a traffic jam, the software adjusts traffic lights on Yellowhead to improve flow, posts a message advising motorists to avoid the area and adjusts traffic lights on the detour routes.

 

The system is supposed to result in less traffic delay, less pollution and less wasted time, productivity and fuel.

 

That’s great, but as a question of public policy, I have to wonder just how much more efficient will the complex math make Edmonton’s Yellowhead Trail?

 

The article in Transforming Edmonton is silent on that point. The article also doesn’t mention what the complex software will cost to develop and operate.

 

So I’m left with more questions than answers.

 

How much can intelligent transportation systems really improve the efficiency of our highway systems? How much will it cost to mine that efficiency?

 

Will the return on Edmonton’s investment show up in the city’s highway revenue? Or is it enough to make the investment just because it benefits society?

 

I don’t know.

 

Do you?

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