ITS in Action: A Look Inside the Tampa Connected Vehicle Pilot
October 10, 2017

Steve Novosad

It's no secret intelligent transportation systems will play a key role in the future of transportation. State and local governments around the US are preparing, and ITS remains prevalent in the media. But what does implementation look like, and will ITS improve safety and congestion in our cities?

To answer these questions, the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) is implementing the Tampa Connected Vehicle Pilot, which will test ITS applications throughout Tampa's downtown central business district. As one of three cities in the US Department of Transportation's Connected Vehicle Pilot Deployment Program, Tampa is one of the first cities in the US to implement ITS on a real-world transportation network.

THEA has sought 1,600 volunteer motorists to participate and 500 additional volunteers to download pedestrian-assistance smartphone applications. Motorists' vehicles, along with 10 streetcars and 10 buses, will be equipped with Onboard Units (OBUs) and Human Machine Interfaces, and 44 Roadside Units (RSUs) will be installed in existing infrastructure, primarily in traffic signal controllers.

Through several applications, OBUs and RSUs will send traffic alerts to motorists and some alerts to pedestrians. RSUs also will communicate with a traffic management center master server that collects and disseminates data. Installation on volunteer vehicles is scheduled to begin this month, and over 1,100 volunteer motorists have signed up so far.

THEA will test the technology in six “use cases” – areas facing challenges with transportation safety, mobility or congestion, or a combination of the three:

1. Morning backups

Traffic entering downtown on reversible express lanes often backs up significantly around a curve, obstructing visibility and increasing risk of rear-end collisions. Three applications will provide safety information to motorists: Forward Collision Warning, Emergency Electronic Brake Light Warning and End of Ramp Deceleration Warning, which calculates safe stopping speeds for approaching motorists.

2. Wrong-way entry

Traffic direction switches daily on the reversible express lanes, which can cause motorists to enter the wrong way. Motorists will be alerted if they are about to enter the wrong way, and if they do, they'll be alerted again and a warning will be sent to approaching drivers.

3. Pedestrian safety

Near Hillsborough County Courthouse, pedestrians must use a non-signalized crosswalk with poor visibility of oncoming traffic. Applications will alert motorists before an encounter with a pedestrian, and pedestrian participants' phones will track vehicle speed, position and location as they pass. Pedestrians won't be warned, however, due to issues with GPS accuracy.

4. Transit signal priority

Due to congestion, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority buses can run behind schedule and red lights cause further delays. OBUs will request signal priority while approaching RSU-equipped stoplights. If approved, the bus gets a faster or extended green. Additionally, a Pedestrian Transit Movement Warning application sends safety alerts to participants' phones about buses starting and stopping.

5. Streetcar conflicts

Motorists often make dangerous turns in front of TECO Line streetcars. OBU-equipped streetcars will receive alerts of such turns, and motorists will be warned when making one. Additionally, the Pedestrian Transit Movement Warning alerts pedestrian participants' phones when a streetcar starts and stops.

6. Traffic progression

On heavily traveled Meridian, North Nebraska and Florida avenues, OBU-equipped vehicles will communicate with traffic signals to improve traffic flow based on real-time demand. Drivers will also be warned when it's unsafe to enter an intersection.

To move this work forward, the pilot has been divided into three phases. Phase 1, the planning phase, finished in September 2016 and Phase 2, the design and implement phase, started immediately after Phase 1 and finishes in April. Phase 3, the operate and maintain phase, is planned to start this May and run through October 2019 and is when all this technology will be tested. During Phase 3, the pilot will gather data from all OBUs and RSUs, which will be analyzed by the pilot's performance measurement team to determine how effectively the system is improving safety, mobility and congestion.

THEA plans to expand the connected-vehicle deployment beyond the end of the pilot, working toward a long-term, viable system that makes a difference for the traveling public and pedestrians.

To help deliver this work, THEA has partnered with the Florida Department of Transportation District 7, the City of Tampa and HART.

The full benefit of the technologies these entities are implementing won't be realized overnight. But testing their capabilities in a real-world environment could lead to life-saving, community-enhancing discoveries that can provide benefits not only in Tampa, but in cities facing safety and congestion challenges across our nation.

Steve Novosad is Senior Project Manager at HNTB Corporation and System Engineering Lead for the Tampa Connected Vehicle Pilot