Somerville will be a testing ground for networked traffic management and self-parking cars

A facility devoted to parking space management is planned for Somerville's Assembly Row by Audi.
A facility devoted to parking space management is planned for Somerville's Assembly Row by Audi. –Audi Urban Future Initiative

The City of Somerville and Audi have teamed up to allow the German automaker to test self-parking car technology and a traffic management system in the city.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone and Audi CEO Rupert Stadler recently signed a “memorandum of understanding’’ in Barcelona.

In a press release, Audi said Somerville is an ideal testing ground because, according to Audi’s research, about 60 million Americans live in a city about the same size.

“The car will always be part of our mobility. At the same time, due to congestion and parking problems, today it shows us the limits to mobility,’’ said Mayor Curtatone in a statement. “With technologies from Audi we expect to be able to use the available urban space more efficiently. This enhances the quality of urban life.’’

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Traffic light information

Somerville’s Union Square neighborhood, which is currently undergoing a $1 billion revitalization, will become a testing ground for Audi’s traffic management solution.

As the development of Union Square moves forward, its traffic and mobility challenges are bound to increase. Audi claims about 30 percent of traffic volume at peak times is caused by drivers looking for a parking space.

To help manage the added volume of vehicles and pedestrians, Audi plans to implement its “traffic-light information online’’ system, allowing Audi’s connected vehicles to network with the city’s traffic lights.

The company predicts this effort could improve the flow of traffic by 20 to 50 percent by reducing the number of cars looking for parking spaces and showing drivers the ideal speed to reach a green light in time.

Eventually, Audi also believes about 20 percent of Somerville’s roads could be reduced in size or dedicated strictly to pedestrian, bicycle, or public transportation use.

Self-parking cars

In one of its more futuristic endeavors, Audi plans to test its “intelligent’’ parking system at Somerville’s Assembly Row.

Audi estimates a parking garage with a fleet of its devoted self-parking cars can reduce the area of Assembly Row dedicated to parking by about 62 percent and save about $100 million. This is because the cars can be parked in rows one behind another. With this arrangement, parking spaces could be reduced by two square meters per car, lanes could become narrower, and staircases and elevators could be eliminated.

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Residents can use one of Audi’s self-driving cars to get picked up from home and delivered to the front door of their office. The self-piloted car can then be told to go park itself in the specially-designated garage.

Making better usage of cars during all hours of the day is another benefit Audi is pushing. The automaker points out that on average cars are used about five percent of the time, while they spend the other 95 percent parked.

A statement released by Audi indicates the company may offer Somerville residents access to the Audi Shared Fleet. These cars can be used by private residents during the morning and evening commutes while businesses can make use of the vehicles during the day.

When could these changes come to Somerville? According to Mashable, implementation of this technology is “two to three’’ years away.

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