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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 - Summer 1996

Atlanta to Showcase Its Traveler Information

by David F. Williams

Atlanta residents and visitors from across the country and around the world are receiving an introduction to advanced traveler information technologies and services that are designed to change the way Americans think about travel.

In fact, the first stop in the Atlanta metropolitan area for many travelers this summer is at an electronic information kiosk to pick up some information about the best way to get around town and beat the traffic.

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) set up 200 electronic information kiosks in public places throughout the metropolitan area, including 40 at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport, to provide real-time traffic and transit status reports and other useful information for travel planning and decision-making.

In addition to the kiosks, the Traveler Information Showcase (TIS) - a $14 million project funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and state and local agencies - is being demonstrated from June 1 to Sept. 30. TIS brings the fruit of developing "intelligent transportation systems" (ITS) to the traveling public. TIS is enabling some visitors and residents of Atlanta to use small hand-held computers, in-vehicle navigation units, on-line computer information services (Internet), cable television, and interactive television to obtain up-to-the-minute local travel information.

The menu of travel information services include real-time congestion reports, travel incidents by location, road maintenance sites, parking availability, transit bus and train schedules and routes, schedule of public events, and electronic yellow pages information.

The showcase was announced by Secretary of Transportation Federico Peña at the annual meeting of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) in Atlanta on April 18, 1994. The showcase concept came out of discussions held early in 1994. The point of the discussions was to find a way to make the leap from using ITS technologies and products solely as a tool for transportation management agencies to using ITS as a way of providing a direct service to the public.

The four-month showcase is a partnership of federal, state, and local agencies and the private sector to provide the most complex, integrated transportation management/travel information system yet attempted in this country. The showcase is expected to serve as a springboard for the development of similar systems across the nation.


A drawing of the Atlanta transportation management center.

Why Atlanta?

Atlanta was a natural choice for three reasons:

First, the city's roads are badly congested and are becoming more so as the economy grows. The respected Texas Transportation Institute congestion index ranked Atlanta as the tenth most congested city of 50 cities rated in 1992, the latest year for which figures are available.

From 1983 to 1993, the population of the Atlanta metropolitan area grew by 36 percent from 2.4 million to 3.3 million. Between 1980 and 1993, motor vehicle registration almost doubled, growing from 1.4 million to more than 2.7 million, and annual passenger traffic in and out of Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport rose from 40 million to 47.8 million.

Second, this spring, GDOT put the final touches on a major Advanced Transportation Management System (ATMS) for the Atlanta area. This ATMS puts the city in the forefront of ITS traffic data gathering, communications, analysis, and incident response activities. The $140 million project, financed mainly under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) ($58.1 million plus a 20-percent state match) and the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program ($53.9 million), is housed in an $11 million transportation management center that features state-of-the-art systems.

Third, for two weeks in late July and early August, Atlanta will host the Centennial Olympic Games, which will draw some 2 million visitors plus thousands of athletes, coaches, and officials from around the world. This will put an unprecedented strain on the city's transportation network and will provide an ideal opportunity for worldwide exposure of the benefits of ITS.

Program Description

The showcase is broken down into three major components: information collection, data processing and manipulation, and information distribution. Information Collection The information collection component uses automated video and radar surveillance equipment strategically placed around metropolitan Atlanta and throughout Georgia. As part of ATMS, sophisticated surveillance equipment was installed along some 101 kilometers of I-85 and I-75 within the "perimeter," delineated by the city's outer beltway. More than 350 devices, including pan, tilt, and zoom closed-circuit cameras and fixed video cameras with autoscopes, are being used.

The area covered by the showcase supplements the ATMS coverage and includes outlying venues and points of interest in Savannah, Columbus, and Athens, Ga. Through the use of dial-up phone lines, the showcase provides the surveillance information to ATMS for use by the traffic engineers as well as by showcase users. Coverage of areas that do not fall under ATMS or the showcase automated sites is provided by an independent traffic reporting service in the Atlanta area, using aircraft surveillance, helicopters, mobile units, and slow-scan cameras.

Data collected by the traffic management system and the showcase include accident and incident locations, range of speeds (consistent with those reported through ATMS), and road closure and maintenance information.

In addition, the transportation management center is linked to transportation control centers in the city of Atlanta and five surrounding counties - Clayton, Cobb, De Kalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett.

Data Processing and Manipulation

The processing and manipulation of showcase data are done in combination with ATMS. ATMS and the showcase's fixed-end server receive all traffic data and manipulate it into a format that can be used by the various devices available to visitors and residents.

The server is the heart of the showcase system. It has two roles. First, it provides the hardware and software components necessary for connectivity and required functionality to support a variety of showcase users. Second, it acts as a component client-server subsystem in ITS Atlanta Ä the coordinated effort of several ITS projects under way in the metropolitan area.

The server is one of several complex Advanced Traveler Information Systems (ATIS) that interact and operate within the ITS Atlanta architecture. The server supports data collection and data fusion, and it provides a single point for data repository and dissemination to the showcase users.

Although there are many similarities in the functional capabilities and interoperability between ATMS and the showcase server, significant differences exist in their mission, architecture, and interoperability. The ATMS system is designed to be used by traffic engineers, planners, and emergency response agencies. The showcase server, on the other hand, is designed to provide travel information to the public through various forms of communication and output devices.

Information Distribution

Two types of hand-held computers, or personal communication devices, are being used in the showcase.

Two types of hand-held computers, or personal communication devices, are being used in the showcase - one (left) uses the Hewlett-Packard HP200LX Palmtop as its platform and the other uses the Motorola Envoy
as the platform.

Hand-Held Computer

Hand-held computers - often referred to as Personal Communication Devices (PCDs) or "personal assistants" - perform a number of organizational and communication tasks, such as sending and receiving electronic mail and facsimiles and keeping track of appointments and telephone numbers. A PCD can be carried in a briefcase or purse.

During the showcase, two types of PCDs are being used for a variety of purposes, including easy navigation around the area and rapid access to useful information on transportation and other topics.

The selected users of the hand-held computers include traveling professionals and mobile workers such as executives, managers, salespersons, and consultants. In addition, tourists, visiting VIPs, and the media are being introduced to these devices as part of the showcase public relations program.

In-Vehicle Navigation Device

The in-vehicle navigation device is an onboard computer system. The system provides a driver with detailed route selection and navigation, using a combination of a small computer, route selection software, a digital map database, and such forms of location determination as global positioning satellites, inertial gyroscope, or map matching. The showcase system allows the driver to select a destination and then plan a route based on driver preferences, such as avoiding freeways, maximizing freeways, or minimizing time. Once the route is calculated, the system will guide the driver over it, giving turn-by-turn directions both graphically and orally.


The in-vehicle navigation device being used in the showcase will allow the driver to select a destination, will plan a route on parameters provided by the driver, and then will guide the driver by providing directions graphically and by voice.

Using an FM subcarrier broadcast signal, the in-vehicle devices also receive real-time traffic and congestion information. This information is displayed to the driver through icons. The driver can either accept a route that goes through an area with congestion or an accident, or the driver can plan an alternative route to avoid that area.

Showcase-provided, in-vehicle devices are available to business travelers and tourists who rent cars, visiting VIPs, media personnel, and commercial vehicle fleets, including limousine services, delivery and courier firms, and passenger vans run by local employers.

On-line Computer Information Services (Internet)

Anyone with a computer, modem, and Internet access can "call up" real time information for travel planning in the showcase area. The Internet on-line services developed for Atlanta present up-to-the-minute traffic incident, congestion, and travel speed information. In addition, the Internet user can access the yellow pages; route guidance; general information such as planned events, sporting activities, and the weather; and transit and travel information such as transit itinerary planning, transit bus and train schedules, and Amtrak and Greyhound Bus services.

A separate Internet web server, installed in the Traffic Management Center, connects the Internet and the fixed-end server. The web server provides three major services:

  • A real-time traffic map, displaying the traffic incident and congestion information. The real-time traffic and congestion maps are similar to those already on the Internet covering Los Angeles and San Diego, Calif.
  • A conduit to pass requests from the Internet to the fixed-end server for route guidance (including transit information and itinerary planning), yellow page listings, and other general information.
  • A showcase home page. Public relations materials placed on the home page are accessible to any user. The home page also provides an area for a description of the showcase program and all participants. Where appropriate, hypertext (or electronic point-and-click) links have been established to the home pages of each of the program participants.

The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) allows hypertext linking of the showcase home page to the ACOG Olympic home page. Users who access the showcase page can "click" on a request for Olympic information and be electronically transferred to the ACOG page. In addition, users who first access the ACOG page and request travel information are transferred to the showcase page.

However, due to Olympic rules regarding the protection of sponsors, a person accessing the showcase page from the ACOG page sees only the real-time traffic speed maps and incident maps; the user does not have access through the ACOG page to the other showcase information on the web and cannot go to other web sites.

Cable Television

The concept of providing showcase-related information on cable television is similar to the idea behind all-news or all-weather channels Ä the availability of useful traffic information whenever the traveler needs it. Travelers can obtain information on current traffic conditions - real-time travel speeds, incident location and nature, special traffic advisories, and live traffic surveillance video - to help them make better pre-trip decisions.

Real-time traffic information is received automatically from the showcase fixed-end server, and the programming automatically creates and assembles broadcast-quality programs using computer-generated map images and limited live highway surveillance video. The system operates automatically without an operator. However, it can be switched to a manual mode so an operator can pause the programming, add additional maps, and provide live voice narration to the programming during times of heavy traffic.

The programming is generated at the transportation management center and delivered to Georgia Public Television for broadcast statewide over its satellite distribution system. Any cable provider with the proper decoding equipment can receive this signal and distribute it over its cable station.

The on-line and cable television systems have the broadest reach of all of the showcase media. About 620,000 households in the Atlanta area receive cable television, an estimated 80,000 people in the area use the Internet at home, and an estimated 170,000 people can access the Internet at work.

Interactive Television (ITV)

Hotel guests at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia Hotel in Atlanta are able to use the television remote control in their rooms to request an array of travel-related information on incidents, congestion, transit information, yellow pages services, and route guidance. In addition to travel information, the user can access hotel information, weather reports, and other interactive services.

Using the same computer that generates the cable television programming, a workstation receives the real-time traffic data from the fixed-end server and transmits it to another computer (head-end server) installed at the hotel. This head-end server contains an information database and communicates with the cable box unit on top of the television set in 300 of the hotel's guest rooms.

The Legacy

The legacy of the Atlanta Traveler Information Showcase will be significant and long-lasting.

The most immediate beneficiaries are, of course, the people of Atlanta and Georgia. They are saving considerable time, energy, and aggravation during the summer while the showcase is in operation. And, by reducing travel times and wasteful idling, the showcase is cutting vehicular emissions, thus making a positive environmental contribution.

In addition, at the conclusion of the showcase, the Georgians keep the software, the communications, the surveillance devices, the Internet page, the cable television channel, and much of the other equipment left behind by the showcase.

In the longer term, the world of ITS - and by extension the traveling public - is the big beneficiary. The positive exposure that ITS is getting from the showcase will make it much easier to "sell" the concept to other metropolitan areas and cities.

And because many of the bugs have been worked out of the system by the showcase team, other communities will save countless hours in devising their own advanced solutions to their traffic management problems. Showcase technicians, for instance, have made much progress in harmonizing the divergent technologies developed by different firms and private groups, including such items as display icons and map features.

The showcase is also a textbook example of the way in which diverse jurisdictions can work together to solve transportation problems. In addition to the federal agencies and GDOT, other showcase and ATMS participants include the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA); Cobb Community Transit; Georgia Public Television; neighboring county transportation departments; local fire, police, and other emergency personnel; the Atlanta Regional Commission; and private companies such as Amtrak and Greyhound Bus Lines.

In addition, a number of state agencies will share the transportation management center, including the Emergency Management Agency, State Patrol, Department of Public Safety, State Defense Department, and the National Guard.

In January, Secretary Peña introduced "Operation TimeSaver," the first initiative toward the goal of building a national intelligent transportation infrastructure (ITI). Operation TimeSaver encourages state and local transportation officials to invest in ITI with the objective of shaving 15 percent from the daily travel time of most Americans by 2005. As a result of the showcase, Atlanta is an example and a leader among the metropolitan areas of the country in achieving the objective of Operation TimeSaver and in reaching the ITI goal.

David F. Williams is the deputy program manager for the Traveler Information Showcase in Atlanta, Ga., and is a principal research scientist for Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio. He has worked in Battelle's Transportation Division for the past 10 years in a variety of positions and projects for FHWA, FTA, and the Federal Aviation Administration. He is a graduate of Ohio State University with a bachelor's degree in industrial and systems engineering and a master's degree in business administration.