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Archive for June 4th, 2014

Real Time Signs Being Tested

Real Time Signs Being Tested

Drum roll…. it’s coming this summer.  Oregon motorcycle riders will be bossed around by technology.

I’m talking about how the state has money to burn on solar arrays, sensors, LED signs, and computers at the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).

You’ve likely noticed the construction of those seven full-color, LED, 30-foot wide traveler information signs on OR 217, four in the southbound lanes and three in the northbound lanes.  In addition, there will be five smaller signs on roads leading to OR 217, including OR 99W, Barnes Road and Kruse Way.  The system will  include subterranean sensors, moisture tracking all communicating via advanced computer algorithms that we’re told will fix the congestion-plagued OR 217.

Real Time Signs - WDOT

Real Time Signs – WDOT

What?  Congestion on Oregon 217 with all the light rail, WES and bike paths, how is that possible?

If you’re like me… texting, day dreaming, adjusting the navigation system, eating a bran muffin and chugging down an extra hot vanilla latte while shaving during the work commute… we missed all the lane expansions during the last 30+ years on Oregon 217!   Of course there was no expansion and all the transit geeks in Portland (who hate all things automobile) celebrate weekly that it’s still only 4 lanes.  To be fair, there have been small widening of the shoulders on three sections of OR 217.  Of course there have been several signage changes and who can forget that rutted out mess last year that was re-paved?!

Variable Message Signs

Variable Message Signs

But, what ever happened to the studies for widening 217 or how about that Newberg-Dundee Bypass?   ODOT’s stated goal is to improve transportation operations by first addressing management techniques prior to building additional capacity to a highway.

But I’ve strayed off topic.

There are approximately 200 crashes a year along OR 217, which equates to a crash occurring four out of every five weekdays.  So, ODOT is following the likes of Seattle (clearly they are traffic leaders to emulate!) by powering up strategically placed signs displaying variable speeds and real-time traffic reports based on the weather and road conditions.

When ODOT flips the power switch on that $6.5 million artificial traffic-intelligence project, motorcyclists will no longer have to endure recurring bottlenecks, high crash rates, and unreliable travel times.  We won’t witness panic braking during peak travel times and can ignore those short weaving areas that create erratic changes to traffic speeds due to interchange spacing.  The new flash advisories will tell us if it’s raining (duh!), if a crash has occurred if it’s being cleared and which lane will glide you along with faster commute times to your destination.  At least that’s ODOT’s hope.

Color me skeptical about this “intelligent” system.

UPDATE: July 11, 2014 — ODOT turned-on the first of the RealTime travel signs yesterday on OR 217.  An email message went out highlighting the accomplishment and evangelizing that National studies show that advisory speed signs have reduced overall crashes by 20 percent, reduced rear-end collisions by 30 percent and reduced secondary crashes by 40 percent.

Full Disclosure:  I’ve been disappointed in ODOT for 4+ years now about a proposal to use the Variable Message Signs (VMS) to help make the driving public more aware of motorcycles.  It’s been rejected multiple times.  The absurd viewpoint, especially given the 12 new signs on OR 217 going off /on multiple times a day has ‘artificially’ influenced this writer.

Photos courtesy of WDOT and CalTran.

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