Technology

Traffic with the Weather

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Morning newscasters give a fairly accurate prediction of the day's weather. Wouldn't it be nice if they could also give forecasts of traffic jams? Civil engineer John Leonard of the Georgia Institute of Technology has created a set of computer programs to do just that.

Leonard collects car speeds from automated roadway cameras and feeds the numbers into the program, which turns them into color-coded maps showing how long it takes to travel from a given starting point to more than 5,000 destinations. He has also created a database summarizing the past two years of traffic speeds. When this database is combined with information on current happenings, such as special events in town or holidays, Leonard can anticipate what commuters should prepare for.

Leonard expresses traffic on a numerical scale. An open interstate would rate a 30, while heavy congestion might rate a 100. Many people could leave for work 15 minutes earlier, if they knew they were facing a messy drive. That small change, he says, could decrease congestion and frustration.

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