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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - May/June 2017

May/June 2017
Issue No:
Vol. 80 No. 6
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Connected Vehicles: Coming Soon to A Road Near You

by Egan Smith and Kate Hartman

Across the Nation, USDOT is pilot testing vehicles that can communicate with each other and with the roads around them. Welcome to the new world of transportation.

Downtown Tampa is the site of one of USDOT’s connected vehicle pilots.

Congestion in many areas of the United States cripples efficient travel. Annually, drivers in the United States waste more than 6.9 billion hours and 3.1 billion gallons (11.7 billion liters) of fuel due to traffic. Moreover, 6.3 million crashes occur on U.S. roads each year, resulting in more than 35,000 deaths. This heavy fatality toll affects the entire country—whether rural or urban, northern or southern. Innovative, universal, and tangible solutions to one of transportation’s toughest challenges are critical.

Enter connected vehicles. For more than a decade, the U.S. Department of Transportation has collaborated with some of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers, State departments of transportation, and roadside equipment suppliers to conduct research on how vehicles can share critical information about their position, speed, and brake system status through advanced wireless technology. This technology can provide motorists with 360-degree awareness of the driving environment. The resulting data will be the basis for powerful new applications in vehicles and on mobile devices, supporting improved safety and mobility, as well as more efficient use of transportation assets.

Such applications could alert motorists about potentially dangerous situations—impending collisions, icy roads, and dangerous curves—before drivers are aware of the hazards. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that just two of many possible vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) safety applications, such as intersection and left-turn assists, could prevent up to 592,000 crashes and save as many as 1,083 lives annually, once the technology has spread throughout the transportation system.

Connected vehicles also can offer information on recommended speeds and alternative routes, identify nearby travelers participating in ridesharing, and even send requests to bus drivers to delay their departures so that riders can make their connections. All of these benefits can help reduce congestion, save fuel, and improve travel options.

The Department’s research studies and tests support the tremendous potential of connected vehicle technology, including a promise to reduce unimpaired vehicle crashes by 80 percent.

“The time is now for transportation to begin capitalizing on years of research and investment in innovative technologies,” says Ken Leonard, the director of USDOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO). “We must move from the laboratory to the real world and equip our vehicles and our infrastructure with advanced technology that can save lives.”

As Leonard indicates, USDOT’s connected vehicle effort has expanded from research to pilots and demonstrations. The deployment of a wireless communications network among vehicles, infrastructure, and mobile devices is in fact underway.

Accelerating Deployment

To make connected vehicles a national reality and accelerate their deployment, USDOT launched a pilot deployment program in 2015. As part of the Department’s larger initiative to improve the performance of transportation systems by moving toward a more intelligent and connected system, the pilot program focuses on deploying connected vehicle technology at the State and local levels. The Federal Highway Administration is funding the pilots through the ITS JPO.

The goals of the pilot are straightforward—accelerate deployment, measure impacts, and uncover barriers to deployment in a hands-on manner.

In September 2015, USDOT awarded three cooperative agreements—collectively worth more than $45 million—to the New York City Department of Transportation, Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, and Wyoming Department of Transportation. These deployment sites represent diverse geographic regions—from one of the Nation’s most densely populated areas (New York City) to one of the least populated rural areas (southern Wyoming).

Transportation professionals at the three agencies that are conducting the pilots are using connected vehicle technologies to improve safe and efficient truck movement along I–80 in Wyoming, exploit V2V and intersection communications to improve vehicle flow and pedestrian safety in New York City, and deploy multiple safety and mobility applications along reversible freeway lanes in Tampa.

“These pilots are helping make the leap to deployment so that the integration of connected vehicle technology has an immediate short-term impact and lays the groundwork for even more dramatic transformations in the long term as other areas follow in their footsteps and begin to implement the technology,” Leonard says. “The resulting widespread adoption will transform transportation as we know it.”

This urban street crowded with taxis is typical of New York City’s complex and highly congested transportation system.

Each of the connected vehicle pilot sites developed a comprehensive deployment concept to ensure rapid and efficient introduction of connected vehicle technology into its transportation system. The sites are also building on lessons learned from the Safety Pilot, the connected vehicle deployment that USDOT established in Ann Arbor, MI, in 2012.

In September 2016, the three sites embarked on a 20-month phase to design, build, and test the Nation’s most complex and extensive deployment of integrated wireless in-vehicle, mobile device, and roadside technologies.

New York City Pilot

New York City is the most populous metropolitan area in the United States with more than 8 million people. Vehicles and pedestrians alike compete for space. The area also boasts one of the most extensive rapid transit systems in the world, and the city’s residents heavily depend on it.

Within this complex and highly congested transportation system, approximately 4,000 people are seriously injured each year in traffic crashes, and more than 250 are killed. Manhattan in particular has high levels of pedestrian traffic, which result in frequent interactions between pedestrians and vehicles. Seventy-three percent of all crash fatalities in the area involved pedestrians, compared to 14 percent nationwide.

Furthermore, senior citizens over the age of 65 comprise 13 percent of the city’s population, but they accounted for about 39 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in 2014. In addition, from 2002 through 2011, the primary reason for injury-related deaths of children in the city aged 5 to 14 was from being struck by a vehicle. Transportation has exacted a heavy toll on the safety of New York City’s streets.

In the New York City pilot, V2V and V2I technologies are helping improve safety for pedestrians like these waiting to cross an intersection.

To combat this challenge, the city’s connected vehicle pilot will deploy V2V and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technologies to improve the safety of travelers and pedestrians. This directly aligns with the city’s Vision Zero initiative, which began in 2014, to reduce traffic-related deaths and serious injuries on New York City’s streets.

“The connected vehicle environment is ready for primetime deployment in a densely populated area so that future deployers will have answers to the technical questions,” says Jonathan Walker, USDOT’s ITS JPO program manager overseeing the New York City pilot. “We are at a critical juncture in the connected vehicle environment. The New York City Department of Transportation [NYCDOT] will catalyze USDOT’s 10 years of collaboration on this technology with automobile manufacturers, organizations that develop vehicle standards, and various stakeholders. The technology and timing are perfect for a connected vehicle environment.”

New York City’s deployment provides an ideal opportunity to evaluate connected vehicle technology and applications in the tightly spaced intersections typical in a dense urban transportation system. The pilot is the largest deployment of connected vehicle technologies in the United States to date.

The Tampa pilot is deploying connected vehicle safety applications that work on pedestrians’ smartphones.

NYCDOT is leading the pilot, which encompasses three distinct areas in the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn:

  • A 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) segment of Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) Drive in the Upper East Side and East Harlem neighborhoods of Manhattan
  • Four one-way corridors in Manhattan
  • A 1.6-mile (2.6-kilometer) segment of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn

The deployment includes approximately 310 signalized intersections instrumented with roadside equipment using dedicated short-range communications to connect with up to 8,000 vehicles equipped with aftermarket safety devices, and at least 100 pedestrians with personal devices that assist them in crossing streets safely. In addition, NYCDOT will deploy approximately 8 roadside units along the higher speed FDR Drive to address challenges such as short-radius curves, a weight limit, and a minimum bridge clearance. The agency will deploy another 36 roadside units at other strategic locations throughout the city to support system management functions.

Tampa Pilot

Tampa is one of Florida’s most densely populated areas. It is also heavily car-centric, with a lack of other transportation options apart from buses and streetcars, and has considerable traffic on its streets. The area has no passenger rail system and limited bicycle and pedestrian amenities.

The reversible express lanes on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway serve as main commuter routes into and out of downtown Tampa. The city’s commercial business district contains bus and trolley services, high pedestrian densities, and highly variable traffic demand over the course of a typical day, plus occasional special event trip generators.

Drivers on the reversible express lanes experience significant delays during the morning peak hours, resulting in, and often caused by, a correspondingly large number of rear-end crashes and red-light-running collisions. Because the lanes are reversible, wrong-way entry is possible, which increases the risk of collisions. The Tampa commercial business district also has significant pedestrian activity in areas with high volumes of vehicular traffic.

With its network of connector roads and adjacent surface streets, Tampa was chosen as an ideal deployment site for a connected vehicle pilot.

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority is leading the deployment of a variety of connected vehicle technologies on the downtown’s reversible express lanes and in their vicinity. The goals are to relieve congestion, reduce collisions, and prevent wrong-way entries at the exits of the express lanes. The expressway authority is also using connected vehicle technology to enhance pedestrian safety, improve bus operations, and reduce conflicts between streetcars, pedestrians, and passenger cars at locations with high volumes of mixed traffic. The expressway authority will employ dedicated short-range communications to enable transmission among approximately 1,500 cars, 10 buses, 10 trolleys, and 500 pedestrians with smartphone apps. The authority also will deploy approximately 40 roadside units along city streets.

To support this initiative, the expressway authority worked with the city, the Florida Department of Transportation, and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit to create a regionwide task force for connected vehicles. The task force’s primary mission is to support the deployment of connected vehicle infrastructure in a uniform manner to ensure interoperability and interagency coordination as these deployments transition from concept to planning to operations.

Govind Vadakpat, the research transportation specialist at the Federal Highway Administration who is overseeing the Tampa pilot, notes, “With the support of Federal, State, and local agencies, the expressway authority is at the forefront of deploying connected vehicle technologies to help address mobility and safety-related issues in downtown Tampa. We hope the lessons learned from this targeted and timely pilot deployment will be readily transferrable to communities throughout the United States and beyond.”

Wyoming Pilot

Wyoming highways constitute an important freight corridor that plays a critical role in the movement of goods across the country and between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In southern Wyoming, I–80—which reaches its highest elevation at 8,640 feet (2,633 meters)—is a major corridor for east/west freight movement with more than 32 million tons (29 million metric tons) of freight transported per year.

Freight movement on highways during winter months creates safety challenges in the Wyoming pilot area.

“Approximately 13,000 vehicles travel this corridor every day, and by using V2V and V2I, the Wyoming Department of Transportation [WYDOT] will collect information from vehicles equipped with the new technologies and disseminate information to those that are not equipped,” says USDOT’s Leonard.

During winter seasons when wind speeds exceed 30 miles per hour (mi/h) (48 kilometers, km/h) and when wind gusts hit 65 mi/h (105 km/h), crash rates on I–80 have been three to five times higher than the summer rates. This resulted in more than 200 truck blowovers within 4 years and often led to road closures.

The WYDOT connected vehicle pilot focuses on the needs of commercial vehicle operators in the State. The agency is developing applications that use V2I and V2V connectivity to support a flexible range of services, including roadside alerts, parking notifications, and dynamic travel guidance.

In all, WYDOT is developing systems that support the use of connected vehicle technology along the 402 miles (647 kilometers) of I–80. The agency has deployed approximately 75 roadside units along various sections of I–80 that can receive and broadcast messages using dedicated short-range communications. In addition, WYDOT has equipped around 400 fleet vehicles and commercial trucks with onboard units. Of these vehicles, at least 150 are heavy trucks that are regular users of I–80. The 400 vehicles also include 100 WYDOT fleet vehicles, snowplows, and highway patrol vehicles equipped with onboard units and mobile weather sensors.

Connecting Communities

The potential of advanced wireless communication technology extends beyond transportation itself. The technology enables transportation systems to join the growing environment of connectivity and shared intelligence that is the “Internet of Things”—the network that collects and exchanges data from connected mobile devices, vehicles, and smart infrastructure, such as traffic and parking sensors, smart streetlights, noise and environmental sensors, and shipping containers equipped with RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags.

The tremendous sources of data from interconnected systems can come together to enable cities to reduce congestion, keep travelers safe, improve mobility, protect the environment, connect underserved rural and urban communities, and support economic vitality. Smart cities and communities are emerging as a next-generation approach for city management.

To demonstrate the true power of such intelligent communities, USDOT launched its Smart City Challenge—a national competition to implement bold, data-driven ideas that demonstrate the use of advanced data systems and intelligent transportation systems to make transportation safer, easier, and more reliable. In the summer of 2016, Columbus, OH, won the Smart City Challenge, receiving $40 million from USDOT and $10 million from Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan, Inc. to demonstrate innovative ways to use technology to connect the city’s vehicles, infrastructure, and people. Columbus will work to reshape its transportation system to become part of a fully integrated community that harnesses the power and potential of data, technology, and creativity.

With USDOT’s support, Columbus will help define what it means to be the country’s first community to fully integrate innovative technologies—self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors—into its transportation system network.

The pilot in southern Wyoming is taking place along the State’s segments of I–80.

Applications in Deployment

The three pilot sites are deploying many applications with some overlap, attesting to the versatility and universal applicability of connected vehicle technology. Some of the overlapping applications include the following:

Emergency Electronic Brake Lights (New York City, Tampa) alert drivers if a vehicle ahead is hard braking, providing them with additional reaction time.

Intersection Movement Assist (New York City, Tampa) warns drivers when it is not safe to enter an intersection due to a high probability of a collision with other vehicles.

Pedestrian in Signalized Crosswalk Warning (New York City, Tampa) warns drivers when a pedestrian is walking within the crosswalk of a signalized intersection and is in the intended path of the vehicle.

Mobile Accessible Pedestrian Signal System (New York City, Tampa) allows for an automated call from the smartphone of a visually impaired pedestrian to a traffic signal, as well as provides audio cues to assist the pedestrian in safely navigating the crosswalk.

Forward Crash/Collision Warning (New York City, Tampa) alerts drivers if there is a direct and imminent threat of a collision ahead, helping them to avoid or mitigate the severity of rear-end crashes with the upstream vehicle.

Work Zone Warnings (New York City, Wyoming) provide approaching vehicles with information about work zone activities, such as travel lane obstructions, lane closures, lane shifts, speed reductions, or vehicles entering or exiting the work zone.

Vehicle Turning Right in Front of Bus Warning (New York City, Tampa) alerts transit vehicle drivers at stops when nearby vehicles are pulling in front of a transit vehicle in order to make a right turn.

Intelligent Traffic Signal System (New York City, Tampa) adjusts signal timing and grants priority and preemption to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety.

Automated low-speed shuttles will be deployed to support first mile/last mile (a phrase used to describe travel to and from public transportation hubs) connectivity to a new bus rapid transit system. A multimodal trip-planning application with a common payment system will deliver enhanced human services to residents and visitors. Real-time parking information will help drivers reduce time spent looking for parking, and smart streetlights equipped with free public Wi-Fi will improve safety and enable people living in underserved communities to have access to the Internet. The city expects to finish deployment by mid-2019.

The city plans to equip 200 traffic signals and 3,000 vehicles with connected vehicle technologies that will support a variety of mobility and safety applications. Finally, the city’s approach includes an integrated data exchange consisting of a set of data repositories that will be created to support data discovery, analytics, ad hoc investigations, and reporting.

The challenge will extend far beyond this one community. Columbus will provide a foundation that others can build on to develop their own smarter, safer, and more efficient communities.

USDOT is hoping to spur development of connected vehicle technology, and interested communities are getting help from Congress. The 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act established the Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Program to make competitive grants available for the development of model deployment sites for large-scale installation and operation of advanced transportation technologies to improve safety, efficiency, system performance, and infrastructure return on investment.

More Technology Deployment Grants

In addition, USDOT is building on the connected vehicle effort and expanding its scope to include a broader connectivity between research and pilot deployment. The recent award of grants under the Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment initiative provides an opportunity to expand the connected/automated vehicle environment to rural and urban communities across the country.

For example, Pittsburgh, PA, will receive nearly $11 million to execute elements of the vision it developed in its Smart City Challenge application, including deployment of smart traffic signal technology—which has been proven to reduce vehicle wait time at traffic lights by up to 40 percent—along major travel corridors. In addition, Denver, CO, will receive approximately $6 million to implement connected vehicle technology to help alleviate the congestion caused by the influx of 200,000 commuters each workday.

The grants will enable cities and rural communities to harness new technologies to reduce congestion, improve mobility, connect people to mass transit, and enhance safety.

“The Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment grant program will provide $300 million over 5 years to help communities deploy intelligent transportation systems around the Nation,” says Leonard, “and accelerate the deployment of life-saving and mobility-enhancing new technologies.”

Egan Smith, P.E., PTP, PTOE is managing director of the USDOT ITS JPO and has decades of professional experience in ITS, transportation program management, and transportation planning. Smith has a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering, a master of engineering in traffic engineering and operations research, and a master of science in technology management.

Kate Hartman has more than 15 years of experience at USDOT and serves as chief of research, evaluation, and management for the ITS JPO. She has worked in connected vehicle technology research for a number of years and currently manages the Connected Vehicle Pilot Deployment Program. She has a B.A. in economics, an M.B.A., and a Project Management Professional® certification.

For more information on USDOT’s connected vehicle deployment, visit Or contact Mike Pina at 202–366–3700 or