Taking The Guesswork Out Of Drive Time

Can't sleep easy until you've caught the weather forecast on the 11 o'clock news? Someday, you may also be able to find out the next day's traffic outlook as well. John D. Leonard, a civil engineer at Georgia Institute of Technology, is developing a computer-based model that he hopes will give commuters, delivery drivers, and anyone else navigating today's congested highways a prediction of the time it will take to get between two points within a city--and allow them to adjust their plans accordingly.

To build his forecasts, Leonard calculates the distances between major landmarks in a city and uses roadside cameras, sensors embedded in highways, weather forecasts, current accident reports, and other variables that can affect traffic, such as hotel occupancy levels, school schedules, and sporting events. With this data, Leonard builds a traffic map, using the same colored bands TV weather forecasters use to show temperature patterns. With each colored band representing 10 minutes, drivers simply count the number of colored bands to estimate their travel time.

Leonard's goal is to publish traffic forecasts via Web sites where users can click on the beginning and end points of their journey, and then get estimates of both current and future traffic conditions. Leonard has been using his hometown Atlanta as the test market (current forecasts can be viewed at http://traffic.ce.gatech.edu/trafficweather). Leonard says he could easily adapt his model to other cities, including Los Angeles and New York.

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