11/13/2015The TennesseanThe TennesseanExternal Author: JJ RosenOptimized Traffic Apps Reward Savvy Drivers
National

Last Saturday night, my wife and I decided last minute to head to a concert downtown. We jumped on I-40 just before flashing signs forced us to exit because the interstate was closed.

Fair enough.  After exiting onto Charlotte Avenue, we drove for about a mile, only to discover part of Charlotte was closed.

No problem. I cut through The Nations, then through a Walgreens parking lot, then made a quick jaunt down an alley to get to Church Street, where we sat for 15 minutes in a line of traffic.

Our next challenge: parking.

What has happened to the small-town conveniences with our big-town growth?

Complaining about Nashville traffic is a birthright. It’s always been in vogue. But over the past year I think all Nashvillians would agree: our traffic problems are legit.  Call it the price of progress.

This was a huge topic in the recent mayoral race. Solutions like better mass transit, widening roads and optimizing traffic lights have been suggested.   All great ideas — but expensive. And they would no doubt take a long time to implement.

In the meantime, it is up to us, the good (and not so good) drivers of Nashville to take control. Armed with mobile devices, social media and big data, we the people can solve our traffic problems.

Most everybody relies on those trusty GPS apps for directions around town, and the next generation of apps are becoming even smarter.  Innovative start-up companies are leading the charge to actually predict traffic patterns before you even start your car.  Using both historical data and real-time data from drivers themselves, GPS apps have the potential to act as a sort of "traffic controller" for thousands of drivers moving about town.

But predictive analytics and big data from drivers are just the beginning. The ideal these apps are striving for is to have a community of drivers all working together, reporting traffic conditions and following optimized departure times and routes with their smart GPS apps as their guides.

Imagine your GPS suggesting both the time of day and route for you to drive in order to avoid traffic and then rewarding you for following its directions. Other cities are already testing these concepts, incentivizing both drivers and businesses to be flexible on their routes and schedules in much the same way that airlines offer cash to travelers who agree to change their flight on an overbooked airplane.

Here are few "traffic optimization apps" that are beginning to catch on:

Metropia is live in Austin, Texas, and Tucson, Ariz. Its platform uses sophisticated algorithms to determine both the best route and time of day to travel between any two local destinations.  They have partnered with advertisers and businesses to award drivers points for following their recommendations, and these points can then be redeemed for gift cards or discounts. 
Waze is a community-based traffic navigation app that allows drivers to easily report traffic conditions to each other throughout a city.    Easy to use while driving, Waze relies on drivers themselves to report on everything from traffic jams to road closures and speed traps.
INRIX is an app that tracks current and historic traffic patterns, police activity, accidents and events in real-time to help you avoid slow-downs.

The key to these types of apps working for Nashville is mass adoption.  The more people that use these apps, the more effective they will be.

Until then ... drive safely (and if possible, please avoid driving on Charlotte during my rush-hour commute).