TRAVEL SURVEY: TRB tries new tech to gather travel info

Omaha agency needs data to plan future road projects

March 29, 2013

Using new methods for obtaining traveler information, researchers with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) are using technology in new ways to conduct an external travel survey for Omaha, Neb., and neighboring Council Bluffs, Iowa. The survey will take place this spring.

Instead of relying on traditional, more intrusive methods to obtain traveler information that requires stopping motorists for interviews, researchers will use a TTI-developed Bluetooth technology called Anonymous Wireless Address Matching (AWAM). The system is able to read the unique addresses from anonymous wireless devices, such as cell phones and on-board diagnostic systems. Additionally, researchers will use automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) technology, which is able to read license plates with the use of video cameras, and a community-wide web-based survey.

“As far as we know, this is the first time these technologies will be used to gather data for a travel survey,” said TTI Associate Research Scientist Steve Farnsworth, project manager for the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) External Travel Survey. “In years past, external surveys were conducted by deploying traffic control plans and querying motorists on the shoulders of roadways. Technology is helping us get away from the decades-old methods that require a roadside interview.”

MAPA is updating its travel model and needs accurate data in order to help planners with future road projects based on the travel habits of motorists traveling within and through the area.

TTI’s AWAM was developed for traffic monitoring in order to measure travel time between two points along freeways and arterials in rural and urban environments. In the MAPA Travel Survey, the technology will allow researchers to track a vehicle’s travel route within the survey area.

ALPR, which has numerous applications, is most commonly used for collecting tolls on roadways. In the MAPA project, TTI researchers will use the technology to determine the residency status of motorists passing by each of the data-collection locations.

“All of the information will be collected anonymously,” Farnsworth points out. “The technology allows us to gather the information accurately and at a cheaper cost than the traditional methods.”

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