Search Malamalama

Jan. 2002, Vol. 27 No. 1
Read more from this issue

UH road remedies offer drivers some relief

Tweaking Traffic with Technology

by Neal Iwamoto

In his 21 years as an O'ahu taxi driver, John Parker has endured his share of traffic jams. Particularly frustrating has been transporting passengers who need to be at the airport 10 minutes ago. But that was before Parker discovered a cooperative government Web site that lets him navigate O'ahu’s crowded roadways. With a Sony laptop in his 1987 Chevrolet Caprice station wagon, Parker uses his wireless internet connection to access a traffic camera site that allows him to view real-time traffic conditions on all of O'ahu’s major roadways.

“If there is a jam I can see it ahead of time and not blindly go onto the freeway and become part of the problem,” Parker says. “I can view the alternatives and choose the route that ultimately makes a difference for a person who has got to catch a flight.”

The site has helped thousands of island drivers like Parker since it was developed more that five years ago by UH Professor of Civil Engineering C. S. Papacostas. It’s one of the ways that UH Manoa professors are using today’s technology in the battle for better traffic flow.

Traffic on Hawaiāi roadways began a century ago when the first car was brought to the islands by Henry Baldwin in 1899. Fifteen years later, the first comprehensive traffic ordinance was passed by the territorial Legislature.

“Congestion has been around for a long while and will continue to be around,” Papacostas asserts. His goal is to stop it from getting much worse. His Web site doesn’t provide a cure-all to traffic problems—it won’t clear gridlock caused by a multiple-car accident or watermain break—but it does give people, at the very least, the power of information.

“Psychologically, people believe that they are gaining control,” Papacostas notes. “If people know that they will be heading into traffic they’ll take it easier than if they were surprised.”

The City and County of Honolulu put up cameras six years ago to identify traffic incidents and to monitor signals. It was Papacostas who suggested giving the information directly to the public. Since he launched his site in 1996, the number of cameras has grown from 8 to nearly 100. The site receives about a quarter-million hits per week, although a fair share comes from visitors abroad trying to get a glimpse of the “tropical paradise.” Papacostas has also created a similar site for the H-3 freeway.

The U.S. Postal Service and commercial bus companies have relied on the site to keep things running on schedule. Downtown workers log on to help plan their commute home. Visitors also monitor weather conditions; the site is a handy tool for motorcycle enthusiasts who want to rev up their bikes for a weekend ride.

Papacostas maintains a traffic information page on the Web, which links to the city’s cameras and traffic cams operated by the state Department of Transportation (DOT) along H-3. His latest project is another Web site that tells city bus patrons when their ride is coming. Via a Global Positioning System and modem, his new site tracks the city bus throughout its entire route. His Transit AVL (automatic vehicle location) system is being tested with the Route B city express bus that runs between Middle Street and Waikiki.

Two men stand at a railign overlooking traffic

Colleague Panos Prevedouros (left, above with Papacostas) also uses traffic cams and the latest computer technology in a search for ways to alleviate traffic, particularly on H-1. The associate professor of civil engineering enters hours of footage from traffic cams along the freeway into Autoscope, a vision device that measures the volume and speed of cars. Gone are the days of manually counting cars in the field. With Autoscope, Prevedouros and his researchers can accurately identify the bottlenecks on H-1 during peak traffic hours.

Prevedouros then transfers the data into a computer simulation program. “We can look at all types of solutions—cheap solutions, expensive solutions—without going out and building anything at all,” Prevedouros says. “We can see it all from the computer played in real time.”

He likens his work to spot surgery, “adding a short lane here or an auxiliary stretch there. These are small treatments but they have the potential to give considerable benefit.”

For the last five years, Prevedouros has been studying freeway traffic flow between Koko Head Avenue and Middle Street under a DOT contract. His simulations analyze the potential effects of ramp closures, identifying which closures yield benefits to freeway flow without being detrimental to the flow on adjacent streets.

A full-scale, two-week ramp closure was tested in the fall of 1997, when the west-bound Lunalilo Street on-ramp was closed for a few hours during the morning peak period. The closure benefited commuters, Prevedouros found. While the state has yet to implement any regular closures, traffic laws were recently passed paving the way for it in the future.

Ultimately, Prevedouros searches for simple, efficient solutions. “Some say traffic congestion is a self-limiting problem,” Prevedouros says. “When congestion gets very bad people find a way around it. However, I believe that once you have a freeway system you have to learn how to operate and manage it.”

The growing population in Central and West O'ahu will call for special measures, including adding a lane near the downtown areas, he says. He is also concerned with current management of roads, paying close attention to accident conditions when lane closures turn traffic into a virtual standstill. “The street level of service is quite poor for our population size. That has a lot to do with our management of roads.”

Prevedouros is studying the suitability of installing traffic detectors along Hawai'i freeways, rural highways and arterial streets, an effort to improve road management funded by DOT and the Federal Highway Administration. Such detectors would provide data necessary for both long-term planning and real-time management of roadway traffic. Inexpensive acoustic, infrared, magnetic, radar, ultrasonic and video detectors can be used to automate collection of information, such as 15-minute averages of volume, speed and classification of vehicles. Prevedouros and his team select a handful of devices for field testing out of the more than 100 available. Based on actual performance in Hawai'i, they’ll identify the most suitable and cost-effective detector devices for different traffic conditions here.

“Ultimately, our effort will help DOT join the progressive group of transportation departments across the country that provide a multitude of traffic data over the Internet,” Prevedouros says. “These data can be accessed by state and county engineers and planners as well as private consultants and the public at large.”

Neal Iwamoto (BA ’98 Manoa) works in UH sports media relations.
toy cars

Avoiding traffic trauma

UH Professor of Psychology Leon James has testified before Congress and provided expert comment in more than 900 national and international media reports on the cultural phenomenon called road rage. He recently co-authored the book Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare with UH Associate Professor of Information Science Diane Nahl. In his surveys, close to 90 percent of drivers admit to driving with rage. Aggressive driving habits may be ingrained, but James says attitudes and habits can be altered. Here are his suggestions—

For more information visit Leon James’ Dr. Driving website.

Training keeps Hawai'i moving

by Heidi Sakuma

UH students are on the road, in the air and on the sea—learning to operate and maintain the vehicles that transport everyone, everyday.

Several programs help keep traffic flowing. The Leeward CC Office of Continuing Education and Training (OCET) certifies, evaluates and re-evaluates drivers for commercial vehicles including trucks and busses. Among the offerings are state-mandated evaluation and training for people who operate commercial vehicles over 1,000 pounds. (OCET also offers classes in forklift, backhoe and loader operation.)

Leeward also coordinates motorcycle training. The popular classes are held at the Leeward campus or Coast Guard Base Sand Island. Training is also available on Maui and the Big Island.

Hawai'i, Maui, Kaua'i and Honolulu Community Colleges teach the people who keep Hawai'i’s cars running. Automotive technology degrees and certifications vary by campus; instruction covers engine repair, electrical systems, suspension and steering, automatic transmission, manual transmission, heating and air conditioning and brakes. Hawai'i CC also offers diesel mechanics.

Want to learn how to fly? Honolulu CC has courses for those interested in pursuing a career as a professional pilot, as well as continuing educationopportunities and flight instructor training. The campus also offers certificate and associate degree programs in aviation maintenance and a transfer option for a four-year degree in airway science. The certificate prepares students to take the Federal Aviation Administration written examination on their way to federal certification as aviation maintenance technicians.

A two-year Honolulu program certifies students to build, repair and modify composite boats as well as maintain a variety of marine electrical and mechanical systems. The majority of the hands-on instruction takes place at the Marine Education and Training Center on Sand Island.

Heidi Sakuma is a UH student writer.