The city’s newest traffic gadget may not be the panacea that magically eviscerates all gridlock in the Seaport District, but it’s pretty cool.
At a Wednesday press conference where local city and state leaders floated ideas on how to alleviate the traffic plaguing the burgeoning business district, Mayor Thomas M. Menino debuted one solution: An LED traffic sign that shows people the quickest way to find an exit to the highway.
Thomas J. Tinlin, the city’s transportation commissioner, provided more details. It’s the best-kept secret in the Seaport District: Many motorists assume that the closest on-ramp to Interstate 93 is Atlantic Avenue in the Financial District. Those drivers, Tinlin said, overlook the fact that you can also reach I-93 through the I-90 on-ramp at Congress Street and B Street in the Seaport. If transportation officials could point more drivers in that direction, it would save motorists time — and would decrease the back-up delaying drivers from getting across Seaport Boulevard’s Evelyn Moakley Bridge.
Enter the city’s new “time to destination” signs. The LED boards will be posted at the exits of high-volume parking garages, providing drivers with real-time driving estimates to help them make more educated decisions — and to help them get the heck out of Dodge as quickly as possible.
Three of the signs are set to appear in November. Pretty soon, Tinlin said, the information will also be available on the Web, so commuters can check their optimum routes on their desktops before leaving the office for the day. Tinlin said city transportation staff have also been in contact with building managers to discuss installing a smaller version of the information signs in office building elevators.
How does the technology work? Mark Coupland is northeast territory manager for All Traffic Solutions, the company that manufactured the signs, and he provided an explanation: The signs do not use on-the-ground sensors. Instead, the company uses satellite technology to detect all of the cellphone and GPS signals that ping out into the stratosphere every second from a particular spot on the globe. Those signals help provide time-to-destination estimates that refresh once per minute.
Boston will be the first city in the world to get these signs, Coupland said. As he showed off a prototype of the sign in the Seaport District on Wednesday, he said that bypassing the need for on-the-ground sensors allows the technology to be nimble enough to be used at any spot in the city — or, in fact, in the world.
“If you wanted, right now, I could have this sign show you the time it would take to get on the expressway from a parking lot in Sydney, Australia,” Coupland said.Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.