Seeking local traffic, travel information in one place

Dear Street Smarts, Q: We are still waiting after three-plus years as to when electronic signs will be updated with pertinent information. Bob Zimway via the Street Smart Blog A: Right now, those signs are used to give information such as Amber Alerts, inform commuters about nasty traffic collisions up ahead and display safety messages. As for using them to provide travel times to destinations like the San Jose International Airport or the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, “Unfortunately, generating the travel time data that is sometimes used on changeable message signs in other areas is very resource intensive and is beyond the scope of what we are currently considering,” said Tegan Speiser, of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission. Meanwhile, Street Smarts received a similar email from a reader who wanted to know the status of a proposed 511 service for information on local travel conditions. That effort is full steam ahead, Speiser said. The RTC is working with the Transportation Agency for Monterey County on a 511 Traveler Information System. Armed with grant money, the two agencies looked at creating a 511 system like that in the Sacramento or San Francisco Bay areas, but with a $500,000 to $800,000 price tag to start such a system up and another $200,000 to $400,000 to maintain and operate, other options are being looked at. Right now, using Caltrans' Quickmap is looking like the better, cost effective alternative. Launched in July 2012, the Quickmap, which is accessible via computer or mobile device, provides all the features the original 511 systems spend millions of dollars to develop and maintain. Quickmap uses a Google basemap to provide color-coded information about traffic speeds on highways and some arterial streets, while also giving information about lane closures, CHP-reported incidents, message signs and images from live traffic cameras. The Quickmap gives a statewide picture, giving travelers seamless information without consulting various 511 systems to plan ahead. “It is now commonplace for large numbers of commuters to access traffic information and travel directions on their smart phones,” Speiser said. “Many commuters already access the RTC’s one-stop 'Traffic Conditions' webpage that has links to Quickmap, live traffic cameras, roadway resources and rideshare connections. “The problem is that there are numerous different locations to access the various types of traveler information,” she continued. “A local 511 system would build upon the RTC’s 'Traffic Conditions' webpage to bring traveler information for our region into one location by upgrading and expanding online offerings. It would also provide an obvious point of access to critical transportation information during emergencies.” And the resource could be online fairly soon. The project will be presented to both of the Monterey Bays transportation management agency boards this fall, with implementation being phased in soon after the details are finalized and approved.
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