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Publication Number:      Date:  January/February 2003
Issue No: Vol. 66 No. 4
Date: January/February 2003


Internet Watch

by Keri Funderburg

Inform Web Site Shares Low-Cost ITS Solutions

Keeping up-to-date on simple and affordable solutions to transportation problems can be difficult in this age of rapidly evolving technologies. State and local transportation agencies are looking for low-cost, proven solutions to their transportation problems, and many have had success deploying intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to meet their needs.

To share these strategies, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Minnesota Department of Transportation created a Web site in collaboration with Enterprise—a consortium of U.S., Canadian, and European transportation agencies that specializes in promoting the use of intelligent transportation technologies. The Web site, called "Inform" (www.its.dot.gov/inform/index1.htm), features a searchable database of low-cost, low-tech transportation projects.

Screenshot of Inform Web site.

New Inform Web site.

Enterprise launched the Inform project in the mid-1990s as a means of technology transfer to deliver ITS solutions to rural areas. The consortium started by collecting 85 "simple solutions" (or case studies) of low-cost, low-tech ITS projects that were developed by local transportation professionals and proved effective in the real world. FHWA published short descriptions of the simple solutions, as well as more detailed descriptions of the 10 best projects, in a document called the "Rural ITS Toolbox." Available online at www.itsdocs.fhwa.dot.gov//JPODOCS/REPTS_TE/13477.html, the documents in the toolbox were chosen based on their simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and applicability.

Easy Access to Solutions

Not long after the Rural ITS Toolbox was published, the document was turned into the Inform site. The original Web site listed short descriptions of each solution according to broad categories. In 1999, FHWA and Enterprise updated the site and added 10 to 15 new projects. "We made it much more useful to a broader audience of transportation professionals," says James Pol, ITS coordinator at FHWA.

For each simple solution, the Web site provides the project's goals, technical approach, status, geographic location, cost, timeline, and contact information. Inform users can search for simple solutions relevant to their specific transportation needs or desired geographic features.

The case studies represent more than 20 States across the country. One of the solutions is traffic signals activated by speeding vehicles. On a stretch of roadway in Herndon, VA, the Town of Herndon's Public Works Department connected two loop-detectors per lane and a speed detection unit to the traffic signal. The system calculates the speed of passing vehicles based on the distance between the detectors and the time it takes for the vehicle to cross that distance. If a vehicle is speeding, then the traffic light turns red. Traffic signs give the driver advance warning that the light ahead will turn red if they are speeding.

Another solution is a safe road-sharing system for bicycles and autos. On Highway 40 between Craig and Steamboat Springs, CO, the Colorado Department of Transportation installed a pushbutton system that, when activated by a bicyclist, triggers flashing beacons above a fixed sign that reads "Bicycles on Highway." This enables bicyclists to share the road with other drivers more easily and safely.

Solutions for Everyone

According to Bill Legg at the Washington State Department of Transportation, which is a member of Enterprise, the contents of the Inform site have universal appeal. "Although originally intended to target rural areas," he says, "many of the simple solutions collected on the Inform Web site also could be applied to sites in both urban and suburban environments."

Neither FHWA nor Enterprise collects usage statistics or case studies on how projects from the Web site have been used; however, both Legg and Pol agree that anecdotal evidence indicates that the Web site and the Rural ITS Toolbox are a success. "At transportation conferences and professional meetings, we've continually heard good things about both the Web site and the toolbox," Pol says.

Inform-ing the Future

As ITS technologies become more common in rural areas and other places as well, FHWA and Enterprise will continue sharing best practices. FHWA plans to publish a series of documents called "Real World Solutions for Rural ITS," which will describe in detail the implementation process for specific rural ITS technologies.

Technologies continually change as transportation systems become more intelligent and engineers learn new information about traffic management. Through projects such as Inform, the Rural ITS Toolbox, and "Real World Solutions for Rural ITS," FHWA is helping everyone stay informed and connected.




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