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Future of mobility in metro Atlanta to be designed in Chamblee, Gwinnett County

Peachtree Industrial Boulevard

Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, in Gwinnett County, is one of the region's most heavily traveled roads. Gwinnett intends to use technology to increase safety and mobility along a 20-mile segment. File/Credit: snipview.com

By David Pendered

Even with more than $7 billion in transit and road construction on the books in metro Atlanta, the future of mobility improvements is soon to be developed in Chamblee and along Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, in Gwinnett County.

Peachtree Industrial Boulevard

Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, in Gwinnett County, is one of the region’s most heavily traveled roads. Gwinnett intends to use technology to increase safety and mobility along a 20-mile segment. File/Credit: snipview.com

This future is unfolding at such a rapid pace that the academicians helping to guide the development aren’t certain of what they’ll discover. The one certain thing is the goal: To use technology – data gathered by cameras and sensors and shared via wireless computing – to make all modes of travel easier, safer and faster.

“The potential is in the data,” Debra Lam, managing director for Georgia Tech’s Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation, said Monday. “When you start collecting the data, from traffic to pedestrians to all types of timing, there are analytics behind it.”

The data cannot replace the need for the road and transit improvements identified in the region’s long-range Transportation Improvement Program. The data can enable the mobility system to operate more efficiently.

This data is to be gathered and analyzed by partners created by the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge. The winners were announced last week. The challenge is a public-private program managed by Lam’s office.

Chamblee and Gwinnett County each won a grant to study a mobility issue in their jurisdiction. Gwinnett intends to improve safety and mobility along Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, one of the state’s busiest corridors. Chamblee intends to find ways to enable shared autonomous vehicles to make first- and last-mile connections between MARTA rail stations and destinations.

Tech will provide a team consisting of a lead researcher and a support staff to collaborate with the practitioners who work with the city or county.

Debra Lam

Debra Lam

The data Lam describes can be applied to address mobility issues as the culture evolves toward more flexibility from the traditional workday at a work site.

“We’re now at the point where, before you go out the door each morning, it’s all about choices,” Lam said. “Do you need to travel, or can do you a conference call to do what you need for work. If you do need to travel, what are the different options to travel – is it the default, the single passenger vehicle, or can you walk or bike or use public transportation or a shared vehicle. … We’re thinking about all that ways that might prevent people from accessing choices, and making travel as easy, safe and cost effective as possible.”

Gwinnett intends to use technology to improve mobility and safety along Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. Gwinnett’s grant application described how it wants to use technology to change traffic signals based on real-time traffic volume, rather than by a pre-timed, time-of-day signal plan created by traffic engineers.

A gee-whiz part of Gwinnett’s application discussed using “vehicle-to-vehicle” and “vehicle to infrastructure” communications. The “gee-whiz” part is evident in the technology being developed by Panasonic, one of the major players in the smart city effort.

Panasonic is developing technology that can spot and identify nearby vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists. This data can be transferred via WiFi to other travelers in the area. This assures that everyone exposed to impact has the ability to know of a potential hazard. A video on a relevant page on Panasonic’s website observes:

  • “Deep learning utilizes artificial intelligence to make pedestrians and vehicles visible within camera image. It automatically learns behavioral characteristics of objects on camera and recognizes pedestrians even if part of their body might be hidden from the camera.”

In addition to all the number crunching, Lam said the project has the potential to deliver lasting impacts on the way cities use big data to deliver services in addition to transit and transportation.

“Another aspect is how do you really affect change and imbed smart into city operations,” Lam said. “There’s a lot of opportunities, but we don’t want to say it’s all going to be sunshine and roses. Not everything is going to be perfect. But it’s on the right track because we’re starting with research, and working with operations.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity,” Lam said.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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