USA. MIT Magazine. Virtual valet perfects parking
Traffic Technology in Spain
Imagine this: you set out to drive across town to meet a friend. Before you start, you pull up a map of the route on your car’s
navigator. Anticipating the traffic expected during the next twenty minutes and the approximate duration of the drive, your
navigator suggests a route that should be the least congested. You click to accept the route and follow it to your destination
without incident. Once you arrive, LED signs on the street point you toward blocks with available parking and alert you to the
nearest recharging station. Wasting no time circling the area, you slip into a free spot, plug your car into the post, lock up, and
use your phone to pay for two hours of parking and charging.
This scenario is not so far in the future. Spanish companies, which have achieved international prominence in traffic planning
and modeling, tolling, lighting and signage, and guidance systems, are harnessing the latest technological advances, working to
create this reality in cities around the world.
Keeping all moving
As urban populations continue to grow, traffic pressure on existing roads and highways increases, although many cities in
western countries have expanded their built environment nearly to the limits of what is possible. City and national managers
are also concerned about pollution and global warming: urban traffic contributes up to 40 percent of a city’s carbon dioxide
emissions, and about 70 percent of other pollutants, such as nitric oxide.
In response, says Rafael Morán, Madrid’s associate director of traffic and planning, “We first need to convince people to use
public transportation . . . . And then we have to facilitate the movement of vehicles.”
Adds Pablo Barceló, COO of Barcelona-based Bitcarrier, “The only alternative is optimization” of current roads, “to make better
use . . . of the infrastructure that we already have,” in order to avoid increasing traffic and to reduce emissions from idling. To
accomplish this, Spain’s Traffic Authority, part of the Ministry of the Interior, has invested significant funds in intelligent
transportation systems (ITS) over the past twenty years.
Communications and computing power are already altering the way we drive. Cell phones and GPS navigators send out signals
that allow managers to monitor the volume and speed of cars on the road. And the movements of buses, cars, and trucks are
monitored in real time, with drivers alerted by their on-board navigators and by roadside signs to the best routes to take to
avoid snarls. Systems like these, which employ the tools of the high-tech economy to keep traffic flowing, are some of the latest
examples of ITS that are starting to enter the market.
In order to speed up city bus rides, Grupo Cegasa, headquartered between Bilbao and Pamplona (specialists in providing road
signs called variable message signs and communications among those signs, vehicles, and control centers) is developing a
technology to give traffic preference to buses, controlling access in special dedicated lanes. A GPS onboard a bus communicates
its location to a central computer in a control center, which relays that location to traffic lights. The system monitors the
occupancy of the dedicated lanes so when the bus approaches a signal, the signal remains green long enough to allow it to
To manage the flow, traffic controllers, sitting by screens that show a scattering of city roads, need access to real-time
information about the location and speed of vehicles all around the city. One of the most significant changes that supports this
effort is the use of travelers as information producers, rather than simply information consumers. “All the systems [in use, such
as mobile phones and GPS systems with Bluetooth connections] are generating huge amounts of information,” says Francisco
Cáceres, chief technology officer at Madrid’s Telvent. And Bitcarrier is one of the first two companies in the world to
commercialize a product that picks up on these signals to count vehicles on the road.
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