MAKING IT WORK
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RIGHT OF WAY CHIPS BEING TESTED
Conflicts over right of way are among the most challenging aspects of transportation policy, whether it is between bicycles and pedestrians and automobiles or drivers at four way stops who don't know who can go first.
Fortunately, automobile manufacturers are experimenting with new technologies that will add right-of-way determination to automobile computer systems. Right-of-way chips use sensors associated with GPS functions to scan intersections for other vehicles and tell the driver when s/he has the right to proceed. This avoids many conflicts, although there may need to be a retrofit program for older vehicles.
The technology for determining right-of-way is small enough that it can also be deployed for bicycle riders and pedestrians, so that ultimately everyone who approaches an intersection will be able to tell precisely when it is appropriate to go forward. These free flows based on computer determinations will likely prevent many conflicts.
A central concern, however, is whether people will comply with the instructions given by the chips. In order to manage this, some researchers have suggested that the chips be programmed to create a temporary record indicating whether the user is proceeding properly, which can be activated in the event of a collision and transmitted to the police. The chips can delete the record after proceeding safely through an intersection, thus addressing privacy concerns. Legislation will be needed to prohibit violating the priority designated by the chip.
The chips can be programmed to meet other social goals in managing traffic, such as giving priority consideration to certain vehicles based on their characteristics. The can allow queue jumps for low emission vehicles, vehicles that get better gas mileage, or vehicles with more than one occupant.
It goes without saying that bicycles and pedestrians would be favored in scenarios that give credit for low emissions or fuel efficiencies. However, there will be significant policy issues in determining the order in which vehicles will be ranked, and the extent of the benefit that will be given. How would priority be determined between a conventional vehicle carrying three people versus an electric car that generates no emissions? And what advantage would be given to the vehicle with the higher priority? Would they be allowed to jump a certain number of places in the queue, or to jump over any other vehicle that approached the intersection that ranked lower? These issues do not have technological solutions, but will require significant community and societal debate and ultimately legislative decisions.
A version of the "HOT lane" could also be inserted into the technology in order to provide funding for transportation improvements. Drivers could pay a fee to buy their way through intersections. The fee could be graduated, based on the number of places that the driver wants to jump. Drivers could pay a flat fee that allows priority over one, two, or three vehicles at an intersection, or there could be a dynamic system in which the driver would select the number of cars s/he will pay to get priority over upon actually reaching the intersection and observing traffic conditions. The computer calculations could be complex, but in a dynamic interactive environment in which each vehicle's computer is in communication via the internet with all of the other vehicles in the vicinity, the delay in determining priority would probably not be noticeable.
The ultimate vision for the "pay for priority" concept would allow drivers to actually engage in bidding with each other to determine who has the right-of-way. This could be done by presetting amounts that a driver would be prepared to pay for a particular time advantage into the computer (i.e., driver A might specify that s/he would pay up to $2 to gain 45 seconds, while driver B might specify that s/he would only pay $1 to gain 60 seconds, so driver A gets to proceed first). Or there could be a dynamic auction, in which each driver engages in online bidding and the one who bids the most gets to proceed. In order to ensure that social values are maintained, drivers of preferred vehicles (low emission or carpools) could be given a credit that would have to be outbid in order for them to be queue jumped. One concern over using the internet is the possibility of drivers deploying viruses in order to modify other vehicle's chip technology and give themselves bidding
The right-of-way chip is likely to truly transform the flow of traffic in the next few years. Technology will give us the ability to manage traffic at intersections smoothly and efficiently while meeting social values and providing funding for transportation improvements. The complex set of interactions that will need to be managed will be a tremendous boost for Seattle's technology sector, and is likely to be major factor in the next economy.
MAKING IT WORK April 1, 2012, Volume XIV, Special Edition
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