In the same way that researchers at energy producers are seeking to create "smart grids" researchers trying to solve traffic problems need to develop smarter solutions. For example, global positioning systems (GPS), traffic cameras, satellite observation, and traffic flow detectors must be used to advise fuel and logistics firms of the best times to efficiently move large trucks. Besides saving fuel this would decrease the chances of accidents involving hazardous materials or large trucks.
Public and private partnerships must encourage the use of smart traffic grids to help any business that operates 24 hours a day. Government and private workers must be given financial incentives to use these smart grids. Dial an 800 number and learn the best times and route to make your commute to work. Get a small bonus if you do this and actually use the knowledge gained. We could program GPS navigation systems to calculate the fuel and time costs of driving to work at 6AM versus 9AM. People willing to participate would get gas cards or credits for driving to work during the most efficient commuting hours.
Urban planners need to be provided with the best information so they can locate any new offices or government buildings where the traffic flows more freely. Urban renewal projects need to be completed where the roads and public transport systems will best serve the residents. It may make sense to offer tax incentives to encourage businesses to relocate, rather than building more roads.
London, Hong Kong and other cities already use tolls and wireless systems to financially coerce commuters to use public transportation. A more interesting way to accomplish the same goals is to provide economic incentives to cooperative employers and employees. Change workers hours or provide metrocards, like agencies in Washington, DC already do. Encourage at least some or even more telecommuting among those employees that prove they will responsibly work from home. Reward commuters for avoiding traffic jams.
When van pools or other park and ride systems are given the technology to avoid traffic jams more people might see the value in using them. Feedback through this same technology would allow urban planners to determine the best places to create HOV lanes. While it may sound complicated logistics providers and airlines already employ skilled professionals that accomplish much of the same in their heads. Hold a conference for airline and trucking traffic managers and use the knowledge gained to develop software and hardware solutions commuters can easily use.
The latest smartphones including Blackberries, iPhones, and Google's G1 permit relatively easy development of software that use electronic maps and GPS. The next logical step is to initiate development of applications that not only encourage the use of smart traffic grid information but provide financial incentives for doing so. Download and use a new application that helps you get to work faster and receive a discount the next time you go to fuel up. It is likely that computer, telecommunications, and energy firms would be more than willing to go along with such programs if only to be a part of the publicity they would receive in return.
Follow-up article about Smartphone applications designed to relieve traffic congestion