Phone Data Could Speed Up Efforts to Slow Down Traffic

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Want to make an intersection safer for pedestrians or cyclists? The first slooooow step is typically conducting a count—either by a person sitting roadside or electronic tabulator—of everything happening there over days or weeks.

New research by civil and environmental engineering Assistant Research Professor Chenfeng Xiong could floor the accelerator on collecting this information by instead relying on anonymized mobile device data. It could also garner data from different locations in a flash, rather than require a highway department to dispatch workers to monitor intersections, subject to the limitations of personnel availability.

The new approach harnesses the analytical capabilities of UMD’s Maryland Transportation Institute, where Xiong is assistant director of transportation modeling research, and is supported in part by funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Maryland’s State Highway Administration.

Currently, accidents claim the lives of more than 100 Maryland pedestrians and bicyclists a year on average, comprising nearly one-fourth of all traffic fatalities in 2019.

“That’s a huge loss to society,” Xiong says. “We believe our tools and methods can help Maryland state agencies in determining where the problems are and better allocating resources to reduce fatalities and achieve the goal of zero deaths.”


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