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Forget ‘Bridgegate.’ Here Are Six Innovators Trying to Fix the Daily Commute

January 17, 2014
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Forget ‘Bridgegate.’ Here Are Six Innovators Trying to Fix the Daily Commute
Jay Westcott for NationSwell
Chris Christie's administration clogged the streets. So we went looking for some traffic trailblazers. From an Oregon startup to an MIT professor — these are the folks we should thank for keeping our roads moving.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has found himself embroiled in scandal after texts and emails linked members of his administration to politically motivated lane closings. “Bridgegate,” or revenge by traffic jam, has topped headlines. But we here at NationSwell wondered: Aren’t there people in America trying to help drivers, not hinder them? In an effort to spotlight the problem-solvers, we rounded up some of the best innovators who are working to fix our traffic woes:

1) The startup that wants to make sitting at red lights more bearable

Matt Ginsberg, CEO of the Oregon startup Green Driver, has created an app that may alleviate the stress of being stuck at a red light. Called EnLighten, it uses real-time traffic data to count down when the light will change from red to green. A few seconds before the light changes, a chime goes off, allowing drivers to refocus attention on the road. Another benefit? If the technology is integrated with the car’s computer, a hybrid could more efficiently choose between gas and battery, meaning lots of savings for drivers. The free app is available in nine towns and cities, and Ginsberg plans to expand nationwide.

MORE: 9 Surprising Infrastructure Innovations Happening Right Here in America

2) The governor who’s trying to fix his state’s transportation infrastructure

New Jersey, take note: Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and his administration have an ambitious plan that would substantially improve the state’s transportation system. Just last Friday, the governor unveiled a $12-billion, five-year transportation blueprint that called for an all-electronic tolling on the Massachusetts Turnpike, new buses and improved bus maintenance facilities, a seasonal train service between Boston and Cape Cod, and improvements to outdated bridges across the state.

3) The engineer who’s campaigning for more nighttime deliveries

Jose Holguin-Veras, a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., has been conducting research for a dozen years in the hopes that he can convince businesses in cities like New York to take overnight deliveries. One of his studies found that deliveries made between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. could cut costs by 30 percent and, with fewer trucks on the road, could alleviate traffic during the day. Holguin-Veras is leading a program in conjunction with the New York City Department of Transportation, called deliverEASE, which has already enlisted 150 restaurants, grocery stores and retailers — including Whole Foods, Just Salad and Sysco — to take overnight deliveries. A good start for a city that accepts more than 200,000 deliveries every day.

MORE: Can a Crime-Reduction Method Also Prevent Traffic Accidents?

4) The official who fought for public transit

Steve Meyer, chief capital development officer for the Utah Transit Authority, faced an uphill battle when convincing Utah residents to embrace a Salt Lake Valley light rail. But thanks to the UTA’s strategy to unite people and the cities up and down the Salt Lake Valley corridor, the TRAX system was completed in August 2013, two years ahead of schedule and $340 million under budget. The UTA estimates that TRAX ridership saves 29,000 trips per day — enough to free up two lanes on Interstate 15 every day.

5) The professor whose algorithm may prevent traffic waves

Berthold Horn, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has developed an algorithm that might prevent traffic by helping drivers maintain the optimal distance between cars both in front of and behind them. Using the same technology that powers adaptive cruise control — where cars gauge how fast nearby vehicles are going using radar sensors or digital cameras — Horn’s system would have cars maintaining a distance halfway between the car ahead and the car behind. Most drivers only think about the distance ahead, but by also considering the distance of the car behind, one car’s sudden braking is less likely to trigger a chain reaction that causes a jam.

6) The traffic-easing drones everyone is waiting for

Though it isn’t immediately clear when transportation authorities might use such technology, universities are examining the way that drones could make our roads more efficient. At the Michigan Tech Research Institute, part of the Michigan Technological University, researchers are constructing drones that might one day be used to monitor the condition of unpaved roads, understand traffic patterns and evaluate conditions inside culverts. Another project in Georgia recently received funding from the Federal Highway Administration to understand how drones could help workers maintain road safety.

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