Improvements to Highway 4 Bottleneck Completed

Contra Costa County, Calif., Transportation Authority Executive Director Randy Iwasaki talks about the six year, $1.3 billion plan to improve Highway 4’s reputation as a bottleneck. Iwasaki serves on the GRIDSMART Board of Directors.

Originally appeared in California Patchcar_driving_generic_shutterstock_130196291-1469114594-4979

Improvements hoped to turn around state Highway 4’s reputation as a bottleneck to the growing eastern parts of Contra Costa County were ushered in by local leaders Wednesday morning at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The event, which was held in view of the highway in Antioch, marked the recent completion of projects that various county, state and federal agencies have been collaborating on over six years.

Randell Iwasaki, Contra Costa Transportation Authority’s executive director, offered the various stakeholders in attendance for the ceremony pins emblazoned with “I Heart Highway 4.” “There was an ‘I Hate Highway 4’ website and a license plate,” he explained, adding that his agency’s goal has long been to reverse that sentiment.

Iwasaki said the stretch of highway was among the nation’s worst commutes during peak hours but an additional two lanes in each direction, new connector ramps and a BART extension are changing that. The highway went from four to eight lanes from Loveridge Road in Pittsburg to just west of state Highway 160 in Antioch. Additionally, four lanes occupy a previous two-lane stretch of the highway between Lone Tree Way and Balfour Road in Brentwood. One of the projects to improve the highway also added missing connector ramps at the Highway 160 interchange, not far from where the ceremony took place.

Iwasaki said the projects have been the result of partnerships with Caltrans, BART, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the California Transportation Commission, Federal Highway Administration and others. Elected officials who spoke during the event were quick to credit the county’s voters as well. More than a quarter of the highway improvement, $362 million, was funded through Measure J, a half-cent sales tax reauthorized by voters in 2004, and through the previous tax.

“Getting to this day hasn’t been easy, it hasn’t been cheap and it hasn’t been quick,” Supervisor Federal Glover said, who explained that the improvements represent a combined investment of around $1.3 billion. Glover added, “The MVP in the partnership (behind the highway improvement) are the voters. … It’s no exaggeration that without their strong support we would not be here today.”

Part of the plan to enhance transportation in the region, the 10-mile extension of the BART system into eastern portions of the county, is not expected to be operational until winter 2017, Glover noted. The extension, which is adding stations along Highway 4 near Railroad Avenue in Pittsburg and Hillcrest Avenue in Antioch, has been referred to as eBART and will use new diesel-powered trains. “We went through an entire process trying to figure out how to get (a BART station) out here,” Pittsburg Mayor Ben Johnson said. “Hopefully they’ll change it (from eBART) to BART, because it’s one system.”

Joel Keller, a BART director, responded to the mayor’s remarks. “I think that’s probably appropriate,” he said. “We refer to it now as BART to Antioch and I think on the map you won’t be able to make a distinction.”

The trains along the extension will run on separate tracks past the Pittsburg/Bay Point station and will require that riders transfer at that station. But Keller said the transfer takes only 27 steps across the station
for a rider. Keller also commented that the Highway 4 improvements made it so even more extensions in the future remained a possibility. “(The projects) preserved the right of way to not only come here to Antioch, but to move farther east if we can ever find the financing, political support and ridership to justify it,” Keller said.

The improvements to the highway also came with a reconstruction of older infrastructure, including 21 bridges between Pittsburg and Brentwood. Iwasaki said the bridges were “built to last” using new materials, joking that if the infrastructure wasn’t still functional in 40 years that people should give him a call. In ending his remarks today, Iwasaki said he was confident the highway investments would have “a positive impact on the lives of our 250,000 neighbors in eastern Contra Costa County.”

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Mansoor Asif Remembrance

The GRIDSMART family lost one of our own on July 27th as Mansoor Asif of Waleed Associates in the Sultanate of Oman passed away.

Mansoor was an early adopter of GRIDSMART as he understood his business well and had a vision of how to take care of his customers. Much more important than that, he was a good man. Mansoor was one of those guys who just made you feel at ease anytime you were with him.

As a Westerner in the Middle East, there was a time or two when I felt out of place and a smile from Mansoor brought me back to a state of ease.  We were fortunate that he was able to join us in Knoxville for INTERSECT15. After seeing his world, we got to show him a bit of how we roll on Rocky Top. He had a good time here and told me so. I am glad we had the chance to host him, happy that he got to see our home. I am grateful I got the chance to know him. He was a very good man. Our thoughts and prayers are with our friends at Waleed and more meaningfully, with his family. We are sorry for your loss.

Rest well my friend, from everyone at GRIDSMART.

Bill

mansoor

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Mansoor made the trip from Oman to Knoxville, Tennessee for INTERSECT in October 2015. The group enjoyed dinner at Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee. Mansoor is in middle of  the second row (behind Bill Malkes and wearing a black coat with a purple sweater and white shirt).

 

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ITS America 2016 Allows for Entrepreneurs and Innovation to Collide

Originally appeared on Fast Lane, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Transportation
by Regina Hopper, President & CEO, ITS America

its america

(L to R) Sabrina Sussman, ITS America, VP World Congress and a Strategic Forums; Quin Garcia, Autotech; Bill Malkes, GRIDSMART; Yale  Zhang, co-founder of SPLT (Splitting Fares); Chris Thomas, Fontinalis Partners; Duncan Williams, Greentech Capitol
Photo credit Bruce Boyajian

Are you an entrepreneur who lives and breathes innovation? Do you have the next big idea that will change the way we move people and goods across the country?  Or have you discovered the best way to use technology to more effectively manage traffic and improve our commutes to the office? Well, so do the competitors in ITS America’s “The Intelligent Pitch.”

All week ITS America 2016 San Jose has brought together the best of transportation, tech, innovation, the public and private sectors, research and academia.Today, the best and brightest innovators gathered for “The Intelligent Pitch,” transportation’s very own version of Shark Tank.

As part of “The Intelligent Pitch” entrepreneurs had the opportunity to earn their seat at the table in the new age of intelligent transportation. During this special session, four competing entrepreneurs and startups delivered a fast-paced business pitch to a panel of venture capitalist and investor judges, including Bill Malkes, CEO and Cofounder of Gridsmart; Chris Thomas, Co-founder and partner of Fontinalis; Duncan Williams, Partner at Greentech; and moderated by Quin Garcia, AutoTech.

Last year’s Intelligent Pitch winner, Eyes Only Systems, wowed the judges with a presentation of technology that enables cross-jurisdictional personnel management- built especially for crisis response. They painted a future where agencies can deploy resources and people together against a common goal- keeping our public safe.

This year, Yale Zhang, co-founder of SPLT (Splitting Fares) took home the grand prize. This winning proposal seeks to provide customers with a simple and easy alternative to normal commuting, by helping commuters easily find and arrange carpools.

As the U.S. Department of Transportation celebrates Innovation Month, I can think of no greater way to ensure that we continue to innovate in the transportation field than by fostering today’s entrepreneurs and intelligent transportation startups. This is critical to promoting safety, sustainability and the economic development of our country.

Congrats to all of the competitors and thank you to all those who came to San Jose for ITS America 2016. I look forward to the strides we will make in the creation of a next generation transportation network in 2017.

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Forward Momentum: What’s Next in Smart Transportation

Contra Costa County, Calif., Transportation Authority Executive Director Randy Iwasaki talks about the agency piloting first-of-their kind technologies that could signal what’s on the smart transportation horizon. Iwasaki serves on the GRIDSMART Board of Directors.

Originally appeared in Government Technology

BY NOELLE KNELL / JUNE 2, 2016

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Randy Iwasaki, executive director, Contra Costa County, Calif., Transportation Authority

Among public agency heads, Randy Iwasaki is in an enviable position. In the technology-rich and densely populated San Francisco Bay Area, voters twice (1988 and 2004) approved a half-cent sales tax earmarked for transportation, which funds the work of the Contra Costa County Transportation Authority (CCTA). Iwasaki has served as CCTA’s executive director since 2010. The most recent ballot measure is estimated to provide about $2 billion during its 30-year lifespan.

Those funds, coupled with significant support from the U.S. Department of Transportation, are being put to work to develop an autonomous vehicle test center, a smart corridor on Interstate 80 and other smart mobility projects aimed at maximizing the efficiency of Bay Area roadways. Iwasaki talked to Public CIO about his plans for a subscription-based autonomous transportation system, its role in a new 5G-based City 5.0 concept and the importance of data-driven transit programming.

Q: WHAT IS CITY 5.0?
Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, and Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles, coined the term “City 3.0,” a connected city using technology to reduce the cost of services that they provide their citizens. We’re all getting strapped for cash, and we’re trying to provide better service. There’s the old saying that instantaneous gratification isn’t soon enough now because of all the technology that we have at our fingertips. And so they’re trying to figure out ways to provide service through this connected city concept.

We’re working on a subscription-based autonomous transportation system. And when you talk vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, you have to have a communication backbone. We’re developing a shared autonomous vehicle. It’s going to be connected to an operation center, hopefully within that 5G technology of 2020. That’s when 5G is promised, and the hallmark of this City 5.0 concept is that the connectivity may not be Wi-Fi — it may be your cellular service. We have great hopes for this new 5G wireless technology coming our way: lower latency, fewer dropped calls, wider coverage and hopefully lower costs.

When you take a subscription-based autonomous transportation system and overlay it within that connectivity of the city, you’re going to get better information. All these autonomous vehicles are connected to the infrastructure and are going to be giving you information as an owner. Any transportation system owner will tell you that if the money is drying up, you want to make better decisions with your money. And you need data to make well informed decisions; it just isn’t a guessing process.

Q: HOW DO YOU ENGAGE THE PUBLIC IN TRANSIT DECISIONS?
In the old days, we’d host a town hall at a library. We’d announce it in the newspaper, and we’d get 40 people that would come out to tell us what their transportation needs are. You haven’t talked to anybody else because that’s all that shows up. So what we’ve done now is we’ve used social media. When you log into our website, you engage your customer by giving them an allocation of 10 CoCo [Contra Costa] coins, and they make a budgetary decision on what they want to invest their 10 coins in. We aggregate all the taxpayers that have engaged in our process and determine if it is reflective of the direction that we’re headed. And then we also do telephone town halls where we robocall and live-call people to get into that telephone town hall, and then we answer questions from that live audience for over an hour.

Q: HOW IS CUSTOMER FEEDBACK INFLUENCING PROGRAMMING?
A lot of people are saying, “I would love to take a bus, but I just can’t get there. It’s too far away, I’m getting too old or I can’t walk that far. Or when I drive my car to take BART, the parking lots are full, so I have to drive to San Francisco.” What we’re trying to do is come up with a subscription-based shared autonomous vehicle feeder system. We just signed an exclusive agreement with a company for North America called EasyMile — it’s a joint venture between Ligier Motors and Robosoft, a software company. Ligier Motors makes the car. This EZ10 is being rolled out in five other countries, and we have the exclusive agreement for North America. We’re going to be the first to roll out a shared autonomous vehicle to provide that first- and last-mile connectivity.

Acura-RLX-at-GoMentum-Station

We’ve already ordered two vehicles, and hopefully we’re going to get them in July. Then we’ll start doing all the testing protocols for software/hardware, sensor interface, make sure the maps are correct and then run it throughout GoMentum Station [the autonomous vehicle test site in Concord, Calif., pictured at left] to make sure it follows the map, it knows where it is, it can work at night and it can work during the day. If the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration needs to approve the self-driving vehicle, we’ll have them do that, and then once we’re satisfied we’re going to roll it out at Bishop Ranch [a 585-acre business park in Contra Costa County] sometime early in 2017 if all goes well. And then we’ll run it in two parking lots.

Q: TELL ME ABOUT THE SMART CORRIDOR PROJECT ON INTERSTATE 80.
It’s the worst commute in the Bay Area, westbound, going to the Bay Bridge and San Francisco. It’s a mess. You can’t widen that roadway because you’ve got water on the right and big housing complexes on the left. So how do you make the traffic work better and how do you make the transportation system more effective? The idea was to put together a technology-based project to help provide enough information ahead of time to smooth out the roadway. It’s ultimately going to be metered onramps and gantries [overhead signage] across the roadways with big red X’s. If you’re in lane #2 and there’s an accident ahead, you’ll see a big red X, so you can get off the freeway or change lanes. People that decide to change lanes will merge over and go around the blockage. Or if you see two or three X’s, you try to get off the freeway. And then wayfinding signs on local roads tell you when to get back on I-80 to get around that incident. Signal lights will also change on local roads to help flush the traffic out and put it back on I-80 after the incident.

They are now testing those electronic signs — they call it the “burn-in period.” The turn-on date is July 2016. We like this idea so much, we made an application to the U.S. DOT and were one of 13 grantees in the U.S. for State Route 4, which is going to be the next smart corridor project in the Bay Area.

Q: HOW DID GOMENTUM STATION COME ABOUT?
When I first started at CCTA about five years ago, Assemblymember Susan Bonilla [she was supervisor at the time], asked me to go out and take a look at the Concord Naval Weapons Station to find a way to create smart jobs for the community when it was deeded over to the city of Concord. It’s got the infrastructure in place, it’s got a mini-city, it’s got a long straightaway where you can get up to higher speeds and test vehicles. And the only way I know how to create smart jobs is to create a test center.

So we worked with the U.S. Navy and the city, as well as Stantec, our consultant, and got a license and agreement to test autonomous and connected vehicles at the Naval Weapons Station. We have a license to test on 2,100 of the 5,000 acres. There are twin tunnels that are 1,400 feet long, 16 feet in diameter, you’ve got under crossings, bridges, guardrail, signs, curved gutter sidewalk, buildings — a perfect place to test. We signed Honda as our first car manufacturer partner, and we also have agreements with a couple other car manufacturers. There’s a lot of other vendors that also want to start testing their signal lights, controllers and car-to-infrastructure communication.

Bay-Area-Future-Transportation-Map

Q: HOW DIFFERENT WILL OUR ROADWAYS AND TRANSIT SYSTEMS LOOK IN THE FUTURE?
It depends on how autonomous vehicle technology matures. The way I look at the infrastructure, the roadways will be the same. You may be using shoulders; you may be using more of the pavement than you used to or you may have dedicated lanes for autonomous vehicles.

You’ll have better, more consistent striping because that’s one of the things that autonomous vehicles guide off of. In California we use Botts’ dots, the raised pavement markers. In Kansas where it snows, they can’t have raised pavement markers because the snowplows will knock those right off after the first snow.

The maps may be smarter, meaning that speed zones are embedded in the maps so the vehicle knows how fast it’s supposed to go, like when you come to a curve warning, where you have the yellow signs that say 45 mph when you come off the off-ramp. Autonomous vehicles have base maps, and they use GPS to coordinate where they are in the world with that base map — it would have speed zones and signing in it, so you won’t have to sign that off-ramp. The car knows that it’s a 45 mph off-ramp and it’s going to go that fast, but there’s no sign to knock down. So the owners are saving money, there’s not all this tort because the sign is down and somebody didn’t see it and they went 55 and got in an accident. All those kinds of things may get cleaned up with autonomous vehicles.

I also see fewer tolling gantries because you can provide information using wireless communication through your infotainment system or navigation unit in your car.

Q: WHY ALL THE ATTENTION ON AND INVESTMENT IN SMARTER TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE?
About 41,000 people were killed on our roadways and highways in the U.S. in 2015, and about 60,000 people died in the Vietnam War over a decade and people used to protest that war. In a year and a half, you lose more people on the roadways and highways in this country than you did in the Vietnam War. We have to do something, and as cars get more automated, you can eliminate about 80 to 90 percent of the causes of accidents — human error. If you could automate that using technology, just the safety piece of it alone would help guarantee that your friends and family get home safely to have dinner with you. That’s really what gets to folks in my business, because everybody in transportation, their top priority is safety, saving people’s lives.

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Vision Zero Demo at ITS America San Jose

GRIDSMART Technologies, Inc. and Wave Mobile Solutions will host a DSRC V2X Vision Zero demo during ITS America San Jose 2016. Vision Zero will demonstrate how intelligent technology can be utilized to prevent traffic incidents, improve safety for vehicles and pedestrians, and identify problematic locations. 

The GRIDSMART iconic Bell Camera and a Wave Mobile Solutions FiberWire 8011 DSRC RSU will be installed at the corner of San Carlos and Market, directly in front of the Marriott Hotel. The GRIDSMART Bell Camera delivers a horizon to horizon view and utilizes novel tracking algorithms to track vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. The Wave Mobile Solutions FiberWire 8011 DSRC Road Side Unit (RSU) is based on the latest DSRC security standards and supports a higher capacity turbo mode for applications such as video transmission. 

Vision Zero will utilize the San Jose VTA Lightrail. As the light rail approaches Market Street, upon detection of any of the following events by the GRIDSMART camera, the Wave Mobile Solutions DSRC RSU will send out DSRC basic safety messages, alerting the Wave Mobile Solutions DSRC OBU equipped light rail and DSRC OBU equipped vehicles of:

   pedestrians or bicycles in the cross walk

   vehicle in left hand turn lane next to approaching light rail

   bikes in the bike lane

Vision Zero will be held at the following times:

Monday, June 13: 12, 2, 4, 6 pm

Tuesday, June 14: 12, 2, 4 pm

Wednesday, June 15: 10 am, 12, 1:45 pm

To participate in Vision Zero, please meet at the GRIDSMART booth (507) 15 minutes prior to the scheduled time or email lauren.jochum@gridsmart.com.

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