Tech pilot initiative aims to smooth traffic on Bayfront Expressway | August 1, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - August 1, 2018

Tech pilot initiative aims to smooth traffic on Bayfront Expressway

by Kate Bradshaw

As part of an effort to minimize idling and smooth traffic along Bayfront Expressway in Menlo Park, people will be able to download an app starting this fall that will tell them how fast they should go through a set of selected traffic signals.

Menlo Park was chosen to be part of a pilot project, called OUT (short for "Optimizing Urban Traffic"), that is intended to improve traffic flow along the highly congested area near Facebook's headquarters and the Dumbarton Bridge.

While the initiative won't change roadway infrastructure, Menlo Park's Assistant Public Works Director Nikki Nagaya says that minimizing the frequency of quick braking and smoothing the flow of traffic can improve capacity through the system. The intent of the project is to smooth traffic flow, make driving speeds safer, and decrease idling time in order to boost pedestrian, cyclist and driver safety and decrease carbon emissions and air pollution.

"Part of the pilot will be testing how effective the system is and evaluating the results," she said.

The pilot program will cover nine key traffic signals along and near Bayfront Expressway on the approach to the Dumbarton Bridge, including Marsh Road and Willow Road between U.S. 101 and Bayfront Expressway.

The initiative is an early model for technology that connects vehicles to traffic signals and comes from Sustainable Silicon Valley, a nonprofit that deals with environmental sustainability issues in the region, and the software consulting company Urban Institute. According to a report by the City and County Association of Governments in San Mateo County (C/CAG), those two groups approached the association about testing the project in San Mateo County, and in subsequent talks the groups decided to pilot the program in Menlo Park on traffic corridors that are heavily congested.

There are three steps to the project, according to the report:

• First, project leaders will create a "traffic light assistant" app, which will give drivers information about when the traffic lights will change and advice about how fast to go when approaching them.

• Next, a dashboard on the app will be created to give information about road capacity and traffic incidents at specific intersections in Menlo Park along and near Bayfront Expressway.

• Finally, a "citizen app" will be created for people who live or work in Menlo Park and special groups that provides relevant open traffic data. It could help develop future services to assist local employees with their commutes.

Partner agencies on the project include Caltrans, the city of Menlo Park, C/CAG, Sustainable Silicon Valley, Urban Integrated and Kimley-Horn. Project leaders are also in talks with Facebook, according to the report.

The project, estimated to carry a price tag of $417,900, is funded with a $236,700 grant from C/CAG, which is directed by representatives from the county and each city in the county. The initiative is also expected to receive $176,200 in in-kind contributions from Urban Integrated and about $5,000 from Sustainable Silicon Valley.

Only minimal staff time is expected to be required from the city of Menlo Park and Caltrans, according to Nagaya.

According to an announcement from the city of Menlo Park, there is a special interest in getting people who commute to Facebook to participate in the pilot program.

The initiative is part of an ongoing countywide effort to create a "smart corridor" through San Mateo County that would connect traffic signals with fiber so they can communicate with each other, set signal timing to ease traffic flow and provide Caltrans with the power to control traffic in a major emergency, Nagaya said.

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