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The 'Smart' in 'Smart Cities'

By Robert Galvin, CTO, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

Robert Galvin, CTO, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

Taking the ferry into lower Manhattan from Jersey City, NJ, I was musing how a person from the 1930s or 40s would recognize the transportation network today in New York and New Jersey: a streetcar (we call it light rail now) took me to the dock. The ferry connects me to subways (MTA and PATH). They can take me to regional rail (Amtrak), busses (NJ Transit, Greyhound, and others), and of course, I can also take a car.

"PerfectConnect will be able to predict and adapt ground transportation options to meet the demand in real time"

But, these modes now serve a much more demanding and larger metropolitan region than in the past. People expect safer, more reliable and resilient transport modes, with supply options able to adjust with demand: based upon weather, planned and special events, and disruptions. They also expect and deserve better options for people with mobility, vision and hearing restrictions, as well as the economically disadvantaged. In short, these ‘vintage’ transit modes are being reborn for the information age.

That’s where the ‘smart’ in ‘Smart Cities’ comes in: today’s city dwellers require better transportation demand and forecasting models, real-time schedule and performance data, quick payment systems, and physical and technical security for the realities of our world. They also require room for new modes of transport: self-powered skateboards, unicycles, and bicycles, as well as transport for infants and small children for families who more and more are choosing to raise their children in cities. Picture it as the reconciliation of Robert Moses (the infrastructure we inherited) with Jane Jacobs (the heroine who wrote in the Death and Life of Great American Cities “ frequent streets and short blocks are valuable because of the fabric of intricate cross-use that they permit among the users of a city neighborhood.”).

So, how do we bring these two very different views into balance? For the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, we’ve embarked on the largest 10-year capital investment program in our nearly 100-year history. It’s a $32 Billion, comprehensive plan to rebuild and enhance the complex network of infrastructure and assets that connect people and move freight throughout the New York and New Jersey region. It’s multi-modal that addresses Rail, Airports, Roads & Bridges, and Ports and everyone recognizes that important parts of this plan cannot succeed without technology innovations.

For rail, we’ve committed to adopting Positive Train Control (PTC) which is a technology that includes major safety improvements that enables on-board automated systems to prevent trains from crashing into each other (like the vehicle assisted braking on many new cars). Use of this technology is expected to increase our capacity on the PATH by 20 percent and reduce the headway time between trains from 6 minutes to 3 minutes, reducing wait times for people on train platforms.

For airports, we are working with airlines to build “PerfectConnect” to link passenger arrival data with ground transportation capacities to enable “just-in-time” transportation out of the airports. Between plan arrivals, heat maps of passenger flows through the terminals, checked baggage dwell time, “PerfectConnect” will be able to predict and adapt ground transportation options to meet the demand in real time.

For roads and bridges, our Operations Center (OC) connects multiple facilities and our regional transportation partners to manage the roads and bridges like a network: collecting information on traffic volume, speed, and conditions from all sources: Waze, Google and Apple maps, our own cameras and data collection nodes. The OC coordinates construction impacts and closures with our regional partner agencies and manages incidents daily, 24x7. Staffs in our OC have access to augmented maps of our roadways and crossings, taking in data from roadside sensors and traffic cameras so they can send out alerts to the hundreds of thousands of drivers as events unfold and roads, bridges, and tunnels are affected.

With full visibility into real-time traffic conditions, the OC also interacts with the infrastructure, updating signage to better control traffic flow and diverting traffic between upper and lower decks for the George Washington Bridge (for example).

In the future, driverless vehicles will significantly reduce crashes and the delays associated with them. Meanwhile, we’ve dedicated exclusive bus lanes (XBL) in the Lincoln Tunnel which already carry greater than 50 percent of all commuters through the tunnel between 6am – 10am. Future commuter demand will drive reduced following distances between busses to require adoption of some autonomous vehicle technology to avoid increased congestion.

As vehicles become more autonomous, they will talk to our infrastructure and predictive traffic management will go beyond informing a Wazer (a driver using Waze), and instead advise the vehicle on better route options. Deep machine learning will look at our traffic data, current events, and suggest changes to the transportation system: road or lane configuration changes, train schedule changes, or even preventative maintenance to avoid unplanned closures.

So, while our transportation infrastructure might be recognizable to someone from the 1930s, the capabilities and ‘smarts’ built into it today and in the coming decade will benefit everyone and everything using it in 2030.