Traffic21 Projects

Completed Projects

With help from Traffic21 funding and under the leadership of Don Carter, Director of the Remaking Cities Institute at CMU, the “Innovation Oakland” report was completed in 2010, laying the groundwork for Oakland to be a demonstration area for deployment of smart transportation technology.


A demonstration way finding kiosk and app was built by Entertainment Technology Center students.

With modest Traffic21 seed funding, a graduate student team with the faculty advice of Dr. Art Boni, Director, Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship, completed “The Wireless Waterway” plan in 2010 for the Port of Pittsburgh Commission. The plan serves as a basis for financing and implementing a highly efficient integrated communication system for river traffic. The first phase of the Wireless Waterways is currently being deployed by the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.   

Where and when should the bus come? Smarter bus scheduling and stops

PROBLEM:  Each Port Authority bus is equipped with “boxes” which continuously record data on the location of the bus and other data. The data is downloaded each evening but nothing is currently done with it, leading the Port Authority CEO to lament, “I have all this data but no information.”

SOLUTION:  This problem intrigued Dr. Bill Eddy, John C. Warner Professor of Statistics and two term chair of the Committee on National Statistics. He assembled a team of PhD researchers that have analyzed the data to help the Port Authority make more informed scheduling decisions. Their analysis provided useful information on “dwell time”, i.e. how much time is spent at a particular bus stop, should be analyzed to help improve consistency with the schedule, and “bunching”, i.e. the arrival at a stop of several buses at a time. In addition, bus only lanes in the anticipated bus rapid transit corridor were compared with regular street access to determine the benefit of the former.

Active Projects

Where can I park?  Smart parking information for Downtown and Oakland

PROBLEM:  Drivers to downtown Pittsburgh for cultural events don’t know where to park and drive around looking for facilities that aren’t “full”, causing traffic congestion, blocking bus and other traffic, and discouraging attendance. The Cultural Trust wanted a system for informing patrons where they could expect to find a space available.

SOLUTION:  With the Cultural Trust as the lead, Traffic21helped put together a team including Dr. Robert Hampshire of CMU’s Heinz College; CMU spin-offs Deep Local and Numeritics; Alco Parking; and the Parking Authority. Traffic21 then provided seed funding along with the Benter Foundation and ParkPGH (see was born, providing real time information for the 2,500 parking spaces in the 9 garages near the Cultural District. Dr. Hampshire developed enhancements to predict how many spaces will be available in future time, giving Pittsburgh the world’s first predictive parking system.

NEXT STEPS:  Planning is underway for the app “go to scale” to include all downtown parking, significantly improving downtown circulation for drivers and transit riders.

When is my bus coming?  Smart transit rider information

PROBLEM:  People are discouraged from riding our transit system because they are unsure as to when the bus will arrive. Technology exists for centralized determination and dissemination of where a transit vehicle is. However, outfitting the entire Port Authority fleet is prohibitively expensive. The Port Authority wanted a no cost way to provide riders with information about vehicle arrival.

SOLUTION:  A team of CMU faculty including Dr. Aaron Steinfeld(Director, Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation),Dr. Anthony Tomasic (Director of the Carnegie Mellon University Masters of Science in Information Technology, Very Large Information Systems) and John Zimmerman (Associate Professor, Human Computer Interaction Institute) responded with the concept of using “crowd sourcing” to provide the information. With funding from Traffic21 supplementing funding of the Center which Aaron directs, the team has developed a smart phone application named “Tiramisu” (means “pick me up” in Italian). With Tiramisu, riders share GPS traces, observations of vehicle load, and problem reports via their mobile phones. The system processes incoming traces and generates real-time arrival time and load predictions for buses. While popular with all riders, Tiramisu supports specific information and reporting needs for riders with disabilities, thereby providing greater independent mobility around the community.

NEXT STEPS:  The team is planning to add dynamic messaging (agency-to-rider and rider-to-rider) for updates on specific buses and stops. They would also like to expand the crowdsourcing techniques to document transit infrastructure, both current and desired (e.g., which stops have bus shelters, sidewalks, etc). The team has created a spin-off of the University and if this “no cost” approach works, it is likely to go global.

When can I get the ACCESS van?  Smart scheduling

PROBLEM:  The ACCESS system is not as “accessible” as folks who rely upon it would like. A user must schedule a day ahead and often the time he/she estimates for the return trip is uncertain, causing long wait times on the part of either the rider or the driver, i.e. it’s inefficient.    

SOLUTION:  This problem attracted Dr. Steve Smith, a professor in robotics and Director of the Intelligent Coordination and Logistics Laboratory. Steve has great experience in the challenge of scheduling and logistics of air transport. His lab is bringing that expertise to developing and piloting a dynamic real time IT based scheduling system this summer to improve efficiency and service for one of the eight ACCESS service areas.

NEXT STEPS:  After the pilot is evaluated, the system will be ready to be deployed for the entire ACCESS service. From that scale, PennDOT is interested in sharing the system with all the other similar services in the state. It’s worth noting that the original development of the ACCESS system in the 1970’s was done at CMU for the Port Authority. Similar systems now exist not only in the state of Pennsylvania but around the globe.

What’s the safest and easiest route?  Smart cars learning driver preferences

PROBLEM:  The shortest route is not always the preferred route, especially for older drivers who want to avoid left hand turns, merging onto freeways, and other stressful driving maneuvers.  

SOLUTION:  Using some Traffic21 funding combined with other sources, Dr. Anind Dey, Associate Professor in the Human Computer Interaction Institute, and Dr. Drew Bagnell, Associate Professor in the Robotics Institute are teamed in developing technology that learns the preferences of drivers from digesting data from their actual driving behavior. Once learned, these preferences can be combined with GPS and real time traffic information to provide a driver with minimally stressful routes. (See Applications have been developed for both the Android and iPhone (iOS) platforms and are currently being tested.

NEXT STEPS:  Drivers will be recruited and the applications tested in a small pilot in Allegheny County. After the pilot, the hope is widespread deployment for all drivers who wish to utilize the applications.

Why won’t the light change?  Smart adaptive traffic signals

PROBLEM:  Downtown traffic is congested, tying up transit buses and vehicles alike. The patterns of congestion change by the hour and with special events. Yet the grid of traffic signals that govern the flow of traffic downtown does not adequately adapt their configurations with conditions.

SOLUTION:  This problem also attracted Dr. Steve Smith and his team. As a first step, they developed technology to allow the signals to communicate with each other and adapt to the traffic in real time. In the second step, they have developed a simulation model for downtown traffic. The model has demonstrated that adaptive signals are effective and if even only a few lights can be made to adapt their signal patterns to changing conditions, substantial reductions in congestion can be achieved. The team has laid the groundwork and is about to implement a pilot in East Liberty for a network of nine traffic intersections in the vicinity of the new Target store.

NEXT STEPS:  If the pilot is successful, the next step would be to scale up the pilot area to the east past Bakery Square.  

Where are the potholes that need to be fixed?  Smart road surface monitoring and reporting

PROBLEM:  Potholes need no explanation as a problem. The challenge is smart maintenance. Where are the potholes cropping up and how severe?  If the city, county and state maintenance teams knew on a real time basis, they could target their daily maintenance efforts.      

SOLUTION:  Dr. Christoph Mertz, Senior Project Scientist in the Robotics Institute is tackling this problem. He has demonstrated that by mounting laser and camera hardware on a pilot vehicle with GPS, you can readily detect the location and severity of potholes, capture the data and report it on a daily basis. Dr. Mertz is working with the City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works to integrate this data into the City’s traditional process of hand-entering this data.

NEXT STEPS:  Deploy a full pilot in the City of Pittsburgh and evaluate the feasibility and efficiencies of this real-time process compared to the existing process. Moreover, additional development has the potential to detect not only existing potholes, but the deterioration of pavement in fine enough detail that where potholes are likely to appear next can be predicted.

Where are the bridges that need to be fixed?  Smart bridge condition monitoring and reporting

PROBLEM:  Deteriorating bridges are in the news along with limited funding to fix them. Inspecting them to determine where the “must fix” situations occur is hugely expensive and cannot be done on a continuing basis.

SOLUTION:  Dr. Jim Garrett, Thomas Lord Professor and Head of Environmental and Civil Engineering (Jim is also Co-Director for the Center for Sensed Critical Infrastructure Research and the Pennsylvania Smart Infrastructure Incubator) and Dr. Jacobo Bielak, University Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, are developing technology that turns a vehicle into a bridge inspector.   Bridges vibrate when a vehicle passes over it. The idea is to digitally capture those vibrations from vehicles that regularly pass over the bridges (e.g. buses), effectively making the vehicle the sensor. The data is captured and analyzed to determine whether the bridge has a problem that requires early and priority attention. This will enable real time prioritization of bridge inspections, ultimately saving millions as well as dramatically reducing the risks of bridges collapsing. The team has demonstrated the feasibility through simulation and a working model.

NEXT STEPS:  The team is continuing laboratory testing. They are also working with PennDOT to field test the technology on a PennDOT bridge in the region.

How can we use all that video information?  Smart cameras

PROBLEM:  Cameras as a tool for monitoring traffic and detecting accidents have proliferated. The number of cameras feeding into the PennDOT Traffic Management Center alone overwhelms the capacity of one or two human beings to monitor let along process into information about the overall state of the system.   On the other hand, the camera feeds are merely digital data and data can be captured, processed and turned into useful information.

SOLUTION:  Dr. Yang Cai, Senior Systems Scientist at CyLab and founder of the Visual Intelligence Studiois tackling this problem. Working with PennDOT camera feeds his team is developing technology for incident detection, traffic measurement and virtual driving experiences.

NEXT STEPS:  Working with high resolution data direct from the PennDOT cameras, Yang’s team would like to deploy the incident detection, real time traffic measurement and virtual driving experience applications, and link the information to the public through the Internet and the PennDOT 511 system and dynamic message signs currently on the highways.

How can vehicles avoid hitting pedestrians?  Smart vehicles

PROBLEM:  Pedestrians and vehicles do not interact well.

SOLUTION:  Equipping a vehicle with technology that will assist the driver in not only detecting pedestrians, but predicting whether they are about to step into the path of the vehicle could reduce pedestrian accidents dramatically. That’s the solution that Dr. Martial Hebert, Professor at the Robotics Institute, is working towards with a seed grant from Traffic21. His team has been addressing problems with interpreting the huge amount of data streaming from video sensors in sufficient detail to reliably interpret and predict the paths pedestrians will take.

NEXT STEPS:  There is obvious interest in ultimately incorporating this kind of technology into vehicles. At this point, much more research and testing needs to be done to refine the techniques to the point of a pilot application.

How do I navigate urban environments if I am blind? Smart navigation aids for blind travelers

PROBLEM:  People with visual impairments need practical, customizable, low-cost and easily-deployable mobility aids to help them safely navigate urban environments.

PROPOSED SOLUTION:  Dr. Bernardine Dias, Associate Research Professor in the Robotics Institute, and her TechBridgeWorld research team believe mobile and computing technology can enhance the navigation capability and thereby the independence and safety of visually impaired people. Based on valuable feedback from partners at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children in Oakland and the Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services in Homestead, TechBridgeWorld has developed a smartphone-based personalized navigation aid. This navigation aid currently offers users enhanced route-planning that can be customized to meet their sensory constraints. To determine a user’s location in GPS-denied environments, it utilizes WiFi signal strength mapping as well as the inertial measurement unit available on smartphones. Visually impaired users can interact with the tool’s interface through on-screen gestures, audio and vibration cues. A prototype of the tool has been tested with several users at the Carnegie Mellon University campus in Pittsburgh.

NEXT STEPS:  The research team plans to launch a website with indoor navigation information useful to visually impaired people for select buildings in Pittsburgh, extend the use of the tool’s on-screen gestures, conduct long-term mapping of WiFi signal strength which can be used for multiple purposes, test the tool’s interface and route planning components with visually impaired users from our partner sites, and conduct tests in a variety of relevant scenarios. In the long-term, the research team plans to extend this work to include a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor environments and also accommodate transit options via public transportation.

Why can’t we have a one stop shop for transportation information?  Smarter 511

PROBLEM:  Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland all have 511 traveler information systems serving parts of the greater Pittsburgh region (i.e. Power of 32 region). These systems can be vastly improved and potentially integrated to better serve intra-regional travelers.

PROPOSED SOLUTION:  Align other Traffic21 active and potential projects to provide input to the 511 system, e.g. video, bus passenger, ridesharing, weather sensing, etc. Also improve the user interface through better language dialogue (below under potential project)technology as well as the development of smart phone applications. Potentially integrate the four state systems into a regional system.

NEXT STEPS:  Traffic21 is organizing a charrette to bring international experts to the region to  discuss  the “state of the art” of traveler information systems and make recommendations appropriate and feasible for our region both immediate implementation and a longer range research, development and deployment agenda.

Where’s my kid’s school bus?  Smart school bus rider information

PROBLEM:  Many school children arrive to school in personal vehicles rather than taking a school bus which is proven safer and more energy efficient. Due to uncertainties caused by traffic and weather conditions, school bus riders often have to wait in adverse conditions, near dangerous streets, for long periods without knowledge of why the school bus is late and even whether it will arrive.

PROPOSED SOLUTION:  Professor John Zimmermanand the Tiramisu team are working with the Pittsburgh Public Schools in developing  a real time internet, phone, smart phone, enabled application which will track school busses and provide that information to parents, students and school officials.

NEXT STEPS:  The system is currently being developed and expected to be piloted in the fall of 2012.

Could round-abouts be smart solutions for some intersections? Smarter intersection design

PROBLEM:  Some complex intersections need alternative design to make them safer and more efficient.

PROPOSED SOLUTION:  Professor Al Biehler with appointments in the Heinz College and the College of Engineering and Don Carter who leads the Remaking Cities Institute are working with Penn DOT and the Pittsburgh Department of Public Works to explore the feasibility of installing a round-about in Schenley Park near Phipps Conservatory and the Schenley Visitor Center.  

NEXT STEPS:  If the design is found acceptable funding could be pursued for engineering and construction. Following the installation the safety and efficiency improvements could be evaluated.

How much could traffic be reduced with smarter traffic signals?  Signal timing improvement

PROBLEMCranberry Township is experiencing continuous shifts in traffic patterns due to economic growth.   

PROPOSED SOLUTION:  Green Design Institute’s Dr. Chris Hendrickson and PhD Student Yeganeh Mashayekh are currently utilizing a Traffic21 agreement to access real time traffic camera data to model and recommend smart signal timing plans and evaluate their impact on the traffic and the environment. They will also model the use of adaptive signal technology and analyze that impact and feasibility.  

NEXT STEPSEvaluate results and determine other areas in the region that could benefit from this type of study.

Potential Projects

What if I don’t use the internet?  Smarter telephones

PROBLEM:  Not everyone uses the Internet and smart phones to get information. Telephones remain an important instrument. Yet, providing transportation information to telephone callers can be very costly if a real person is conveying the information. On the other hand, it can be very frustrating if a spoken dialog system is doing so. This is especially true for people with accents or non-English speaking people.

PROPOSED SOLUTION:  Dr. Maxine Eskenazi and Dr. Alan Black of CMU’s Language Technology Institute have been developing cutting edge spoken dialogue systems and have demonstrated very successful pilots with the Port Authority of Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh’s 311 system. PennDOT has a statewide 511 system that provides transportation information for car, transit, rail and even ridesharing in the Pittsburgh region. See or call 511.   Based on discussions with PennDOT, we believe that with additional R&D, a much improved dialogue system can be developed and piloted.

How can we save money on line striping?  Smart painting

PROBLEM:  Essential for public safety, line striping is constantly deteriorating and in need of re-striping annually. It is a costly and sometimes inaccurate maintenance procedure for PennDOT and local government public works.

PROPOSED SOLUTION:  Building on technology developed at NavLab, Dr. Christoph Mertz believes he can significantly enhance the accuracy and reduce the cost of line striping.

Where should the bus stops and routes be Downtown?  Smart stops and routes

PROBLEM:  With a strong center to our region, virtually all bus routes pass through Downtown. The location of bus Downtown stops and routes must be optimized based on several different factors.

PROPOSED SOLUTION:  The work begun for Downtown traffic simulation by Dr. Steve Smith (see earlier project) could be expanded and combined with Dr. Bill Eddy’s route analysis to optimize Downtown bus circulation.  

How can I find a ride?  Smarter ridesharing

PROBLEM:  Huge capacity in the form of empty seats in private vehicles resides in our system. Promotion of ridesharing has fallen far short of utilizing that capacity.

PROPOSED SOLUTION:  The Internet and social media can be used to fill seats and reduce the number of passenger vehicles on our system. Dr. Jim Morris, Professor of Computer Science, would like to pilot the idea of “e-hitchhiking”, that is the matching on a real time basis of people needing a ride with people willing to provide one.  

How’s the weather going to affect my trip?  Smarter prediction

PROBLEM:  Pennsylvania has all four seasons. As referenced by PennDOT, the safety and state of congestion on roadways is highly influenced by the weather, but the public has too little information about the weather influenced state of the system. Currently in poor weather situations PennDOT relies on road crews subjectively evaluating road conditions and reporting that over the radio only every two hours.

PROPOSED SOLUTION:  The road surface monitoring technology developed by Dr. Christoph Mertz could be applied. Sensors can be outfitted to fleet vehicles (e.g. PennDOT maintenance vehicles) that could objectively analyze conditions on a real time basis and feed that information to the 511 system.

If transit service is cut, what can I do?  Smart options

PROBLEM:  Transit service has seen a series of reductions due to funding cuts. The funding outlook is still uncertain and additional cuts are expected. If they do, organizations like the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and the Oakland Transportation Management Agency wonder what responses can mitigate the impact on these activity and employment hubs.

PROPOSED SOLUTION:  Smart transportation solutions can focus on common destinations for implementing smarter use of transit, vehicle sharing, biking, walking and telecommuting. As a pilot we could provide smart transportation options to CMU commuters and then disseminate those successful ideas to other common destination communities.