Manuel Medina has real solutions for traffic congestion in San Antonio

Manuel Medina will be the transportation mayor of San Antonio (Medina For Mayor)

 

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TransGuide online provides citizens with real time traffic map. (Transguide)

Blazing trails have been a strength of San Antonio history since the days when cattle drives were ingrained in our culture. The Alamo City has the opportunity to lead the way again when it comes to managing traffic congestion and transportation.

When TransGuide, the city’s Advanced Transportation Management System, went online in July 1995, it was the first system of its kind in the nation. Today it is semi-operational on over 100 miles of freeway and continues to be a leader in Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technology.  It may be a key reason San Antonio traffic is not as bad as Houston, Dallas and Austin.

Somewhere along the way the city halted some of the maintenance and traffic control capabilities of TransGuide. The Lane Control System has been shut off since 2009. There are numerous traffic sensor losses which prevents the system from monitoring traffic in some locations. The San Antonio-Austin corridor is in dire need of programming. There should be continuing coordination and improvements with TransGuide and the San Antonio Police and Fire Departments.

The numerous traffic sensor losses which prevents the system from monitoring traffic in some locations.

City leaders were warned as early as January 2013 more congestion and traffic jams were inevitable if action wasn’t taken. Four years later, the words of Carolyn Bonifas Kelly with the national transportation research organization TRIP, hold especially true today.

“Your roads are costing Texas drivers lost time and increased vehicle maintenance, and sometimes their lives,” she cautioned. “If San Antonio continues to grow economically and prosper, then the city and the region itself are going to have to find a way to tackle these transportation issues and at this point the more congested the less attracted the area becomes to new businesses.”

San Antonio Police patrol downtown traffic. (Jack Dennis)

A March 9, 2017 Express and News article by Gilbert Garcia reported that “Manuel Medina wants to be our transportation mayor. To be more precise, he aspires to be this city’s traffic-congestion-reduction czar.”

Despite Medina being the only candidate to put a line in the sand and commit to an actual number of reduction, the newspaper downplayed his pledge. He was described as “perpetually giddy” and has made some “fanciful promises,” but “none more rosy” than a goal of reducing drive times by 10 percent on the city’s top 50 corridors.

Medina has built a reputation for building futures that are not currently possible in the eyes of  cynics, opposing politicians and their agenda driven media.

“As we’ve gone forward in this technology age, more people are working from home,” Medina told the newspaper. “But if we could talk with our major employers here in town and incentivize them to have more people work from home, it makes sense.”

The reporter termed it as “hardly the long-term solution for a city that is projected to grow by more than a million people over the next 25 years” and continued with examples of why it might not work.  What the Express and News failed to report was how Medina has built a reputation for building futures that are not currently possible in the eyes of cynics, opposing politicians and their agenda driven media.

Medina knows that what is needed is the cultural and political willingness to accept the knowledge of technologies and systems. Those who back him realize Medina will act upon it – while also coming to grips with the reality that the plans of the current city council and leadership is not getting the job done. They don’t see those qualities in incumbent mayor Ivy Taylor or the other candidates.

San Antonio Police Sgt. Tobias talking with reporters at scene of injury accident. (Photo by Jack Dennis)

“Waiting and playing politics is not going to help us take advantage of the opportunities that are available,” Medina said. “They’re out there, but we need leadership to make certain we don’t lose them.”

During his February 28, 2017 address to both Houses of Congress, President Donald Trump noted that Dwight D. Eisenhower “initiated the last truly great national infrastructure program — the building of the Interstate Highway System.  The time has come for a new program of national rebuilding. America has spent approximately $6 trillion in the Middle East — all the while our infrastructure at home is crumbling.  With this $6 trillion, we could have rebuilt our country twice, and maybe even three times if we had people who had the ability to negotiate.”

“I will be asking Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure of the United States” President Donald Trump, Feb. 28, 2017

“To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure of the United States — financed through both public and private capital — creating millions of new jobs,” Trump continued. “This effort will be guided by two core principles:  buy American and hire American.”

Funding will soon be more likely than ever. Medina understands leading San Antonio into a 10 percent fast reduction in traffic waiting times will take far more than what was portrayed in the Express-News article.

One solution is to make better use of the roads we have.  “Intelligent Transport Systems” (ITS) could complement TransGuide and existing city engineering to move toward more efficient “smart city” systems.   Embedded sensors and adjustable traffic signals that change the timing or divert people into alternative routes are the way of the future.

Medina has done his homework and can explain the common sense and high tech approaches that are successful around the world. Freeway traffic can be helped by also paying attention to the road jams caused by intersections with poor signal timing, lane merging improvements, accident prevention and other constrictions. One prominent analysis showed that up to 40% of congestion is caused by “bottlenecks,” about 25% by “traffic incidents,” and 10% by “work zones.”

A pedestrian is killed every 2 hours in the United States.

There are some places in the city were traffic improvement can be relieved from “Traffic Calming” (using a variety of techniques to slow cars to a desired speed) and Complete Streets” (giving equal priority to facilities for transit vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians as well as cars and trucks).  A pedestrian is killed every 2 hours in the U.S. Medina sees this as a moral outrage and we should begin to take it seriously.

Skeptics say no, but real life application and studies prove the skeptics wrong in urban settings. As San Antonio creates more protected bike lanes the city also creates space for left-turn pockets. In New York they found that turning cars no longer block the through lanes and traffic flow has actually improved despite the loss of a lane.

TransGuide traffic

In places where creating left-turn lanes isn’t possible, improving safety usually helps. By making non-car modes safer and more attractive, there are reductions in car traffic. This frees up parking.

In some communities, especially where there is a mix of new residents, people desire opportunities to walk or bike rather than drive.  The fewer miles people drive the fewer people get hurt.  While San Antonio has discovered that when it comes to bicycle riding, increasing number lowers the rate of injury and public health benefits increase.

Medina wants to take a second look at how San Antonio manages HOV lanes. The key to traffic efficiency is throughput, the total number of cars that can get through a particular distance in a set amount of time. The old saying “slow and steady wins the race” at certain times and conditions.

In 2016 traffic time in San Antonio increased 20%.

Breaking it down by time peaks can provide helpful information.

Morning Peak    35%

Evening Peak     50%

Highways             11%

Non-highways   27%

Success in other cities include replacing old-fashioned, pre-timed traffic signals with new technologies. It’s now possible to detect the presence of cars and adjust the green time accordingly. Many use electromagnetic loops in the pavement. When cars drive over the loops, they activate sensors, prompting the light to stay on for a certain period. Instead of having a traffic engineer set and reset a signal’s timing in a control room, there are now “adaptive” systems figure out how much traffic is coming their way and adapt automatically to change their timing.

Traffic Center (TransGuide)

According to the TOMTOM Index, in 2016 traffic time in San Antonio increased 20% in overall travel time when compared to ‘Free Flow,’ or uncongested conditions. This is a 2% increase over the previous year. This represents 26 minutes extra each day, or 101 additional hours annually, for the average driver.

Breaking it down by time peaks can provide helpful information.

Morning Peak    35%

Evening Peak     50%

Highways             11%

Non-highways   27%

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