Right, let’s have a show of hands. Who’s been caught up, delayed or frustrated by the traffic in the last week, day, or even hour? That’s most of us then.

Traffic congestion is the blight of our times.

It doesn’t matter if it’s rush hour or the weekend, the bitter irony is that the more fast-paced our world becomes, the slower we actually move.

Autonomous vehicles seem tantalisingly close, but until they are a common sight on our streets alternative solutions to manage the movement of passengers and freight is a top priority.

Every large city, and those who have their sights set on becoming one, are putting their minds to the vexing problem of how to control and reduce traffic congestion and offer smart solutions to get people onto public transport. Beating gridlock by finding alternatives to car transportation and improving the journeys of those who do travel by car, is the global problem du jour. So much so that the global smart transportation sector is expected to be worth US$138 billion by 2020.  

Toronto held TrafficJam in 2015, a hackathon that invited entrepreneurs to come up with ideas for how to beat the gridlock. Out of this came Scout, a camera system that counts cars at intersections, automating the process of gathering traffic data which cities use when deciding the timing of traffic lights, now used in 60 countries. The US Federal Highway Administration estimates that it could reduce traffic by 10% if all the lights on the roads were properly adjusted. To similarly harness the smarts of entrepreneurs, Resilient Melbourne and its partners are using the Citymart platform to look for solutions to reduce transport congestion or make travel a more socially fulfilling experience.

Our cars themselves are becoming increasingly ‘connected’. For years your car ignition key has been able to tell the garage mechanic all the information on your car usage, and Elon Musk’s Tesla is essentially a data generator on wheels. Your car telemetry already has the capability to be used to facilitate better traffic flows wherever it goes, the reason it doesn’t is due to stringent data protection measures.

Bright lights on city roadsBut hang on, aren’t we supposed to be leaving our cars at home, or not owning one at all? Indeed there’s a very real drive, excuse the pun, to get cars off the road – with complementary efforts aimed at reducing vehicle use and enhancing public transport.

Traffic congestion charging is being applied in increasingly clever ways. If you choose to drive in central London during peak hours, the penalty is a big single cost congestion charge whereas in Tel Aviv, they have a toll lane that works on a ‘dynamic’ system, meaning it changes throughout the day based on real-time traffic congestion. The busier it is, the more expensive it becomes. In Singapore, substantial investments in a digital system with road sensors, phased traffic lights and smart parking vary prices based on traffic conditions, vehicle type, location and time.

Parking, or rather endless searching for elusive parking spots, has long added to traffic congestion in already busy areas. The Spanish city of Barcelona uses smart-city technology to reduce traffic, installing smart parking meter technology as well as smart streetlights and sensors for monitoring air quality and noise. By open-sourcing its data and making its Sentilo platform available on the Internet, they’re allowing city planners across the world to study their data and smart city projects and learn from them. And in the Sunshine Coast,  smart parking technology, EasyPark, will let drivers locate a parking spot, pay and top up through the app.

Public transport is also in the cross hairs of the smart city bods. Oslo, the Norwegian capital, plans to get all the cars out of the city centre by 2019. They’re investing heavily in public transport and will replace 35 miles of roads previously used by cars, in favour of bike lanes. London’s traffic lights respond in favour of buses to smooth the progression of traffic and Manchester’s CityVerve project will install smart bus stops letting drivers know when people are waiting. Porto in Portugal is the first city to trial the ‘internet of moving things,’ turning vehicles, starting with bin trucks and buses, into wi-fi hotspots using mesh networks. And to improve the quality of your commute, Wi-Fi is becoming more than a nice to have – after successful introduction on Brisbane’s CityCat and Sydney Ferries, many bus and train service providers are trialling Wi-Fi onboard.

There are also smart initiatives for those of us who prefer to cycle around town. A San Francisco startup developed a keyless lock, BitLock letting cyclists share access to their bike remotely through an app as well as geotagging bikes. In New York the publicly available data mined from the public bike share scheme has analysed 22 million bike rides and shows how bike share can be integrated with public transport for ticketing and journey planning. Mapping the most popular routes is easy with the constant data feed and with the right attachment the bikes can be a weather monitor, air quality detector, noise and vibration monitor telling the city exactly what’s happening real time at street level.

People on the moveWanna walk? Sure. Walk [Your City] in the US produces street signs telling you how long it will take to walk between popular destinations and anyone can order signs for their own city from the website. The QR codes on the signs bring up walking directions on Google maps and the signs can be attached to any lamppost. The Green Grid app in Sydney is an interactive app that delivers options to walk or cycle through an interconnected network of paths taking in parks, bushwalks, tree canopies and playgrounds depending on your route.  

And while mobility is the issue at hand, what about those who are less mobile? Wheelmap, an online map developed by a German NGO, enables people to share information about how accessible places are by wheelchair. Crowdsourcing data since 2010 has allowed mapping of over 500,000 locations across the world.

The simple fact is unless you’re lucky enough to be in walking distance of every single place you need to go, some form of transport is a necessity.

Complaining about the traffic is going to literally, get you nowhere. Across the globe many cities are doing great things, including our own right here in Australia, to envisage a future of transport that is more integrated, more accessible and more sustainable.

Let’s not grind to a halt, let’s go full speed ahead into finding smart solutions for moving our smart cities.

Here at BlueChilli, we’re excited about our portfolio startup BanjoMaps which is on a mission to transform the way public spaces can be navigated and information accessed – particularly by the visually impaired.

If you think you’ve got the tech smarts it takes to get people moving, apply for CityConnect with your idea before 22 August.