From Google Maps to Google Traffic

File this under: Cool but primitive. Google Maps is now displaying traffic congestion data for major thoroughfares. Zoom in on an Interstate highway, click on the “traffic” button, and Google displays red, yellow and green over the highway to show traffic conditions. I captured the image here, of the core Richmond region, around 8:40 this morning.

Although Google is famous for its easy, intuitive interface, the company stumbled a bit on this one. I can’t find anything that translates the color code. I presume that green stands for free-flowing conditions, yellow for mildly congested and red for severely congested. But what are the gray lines? Stretches of highway that have no camera or radar monitors? I expect that Google will improve the product with time.

Whatever the case, traffic-flow data is making it into the mainstream. This is an indispensable component for increasing the efficiency of our transportation system. This kind of information makes it easier for people to avoid congestion by adjusting their time schedules — I, for one, plan to make it a habit to check Google Maps before venturing into Northern Virginia! When Interstate 95 and the Washington Beltway offer congestion-priced HOT lanes, the info will arm consumers/drivers with information they can use when deciding which routes to take.

The inevitable next step is downloading the traffic-flow info to the navigation systems in cars so drivers can access the information while en route. Even better, we can hope that the Virginia Department of Transporation, and/or local governments, will expand the use of traffic monitors beyond the Interstates to other major thoroughfares.
To sound a familiar refrain, this innovation by itself won’t solve traffic congestion. But it is one piece of the puzzle that must fall into place.
(Hat tip: Lyle Solla-Yates.)

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10 responses to “From Google Maps to Google Traffic”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Before long, and I think it is happening now, traffic flow data will be inferred from cell phone GPS info, even if you are not talking.

    How’s that for scary.

    As for in dash info, all we need is something else to distract us.

    Reminds me of the pilot who came in with his landing gear up. The tower asked him why he didn’t hear their warning, and he said something about an alarm going off in his ear.


  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    there are different methods for providing auto nav GPS units with traffic status.

    Some of using radio broadcasts with encoded data that the GPS converts to a screen display very similar to the google map.

    Further..the GPS unit can find an alternative route if your intended route is “Red”.

    Think of this… “value added” Congestion Pricing.

    “Frequent Flyers” of the Toll roads will receive FREE traffic services to speed them on their way after they exit the toll road.. and the toll road.. will give them accurate status telling you what exit and connecting roads to use…

    see ..banks give away toasters and toll roads give away GPS units with traffic services..


    (I threw that in for RH).

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Why do I need a GPS to tell me that if I want to avoid congestion (and do my part in reducing it), that I should GO SOMEPACE ELSE?

    Now, If I had a GPS that could locate a high paying, or even a good job when I get there, then we would be on to something.


  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Gee, look at that map. On little red squiggle.

    Now look at the one for DC/Arlington/Alexandria/Tysons.

    I’d say the easiest quickest cheapest way to fix the problem is not to subsidize new HOT lanes, but to get more use out of the roads in Richmond, and less use out of the ones in Tysons.

    Rather than charge congestion fees to those that get the least useful use out of their roads, we should charge those that get exemplary service, and send the money to those that don’t.

    Isn’t that what we do with schools?


  5. Anonymous Avatar

    I have sailed the oceans with nothing but a sextant and a watch. I don’t need a GPS.

    But, the sextant costs more than a GPS, it takes fifteen minutes to get a fix, and I can only get three or four fixes a day.

    Which one has a higher ROI, good old historical and traditional sextant, or modern blinking GPS?


  6. Charles Avatar

    Not everybody knows about this, but virginia runs a traffic web site,

    which doesn’t use color codes but does have traffic alerts, which you can sent up for areas, and I think set up e-mail alerts as well but i’ve never used it for that.

    I do use it sometimes before I leave on a trip, but obviously if you don’t have internet in your car the data isn’t all that useful.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    This is, in my mind, something the private sector should be doing – and, in fact, they are – and VDOT’s service is not only redundant competing with private businesses.

    There is an issue of the sensors, the type, where they go (or not) and the integrating infrastructure.

    I’m opposed to VDOT doing any of this with the possible exception of leasing venues for the sensors.

    I think VDOT should get out of the SmartTag/EZPass business also, and in fact, any business that can be done by private industry.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    I think government has an obligation not to set up private businesses in operations that depend on what are really government monopoly assets. To the extent that this is necessary such businesses should be closely regulated such that they do not use government powers for their own gain. We should expect those companis to provide substantial “rent” for the public assets they require.

    As in Dominion’s power line proposal.


  9. brandini Avatar

    The gray areas are in fact uncovered areas that the city doesn’t monitor or doesn’t release data for (which is true we may never know). I had an idea since I use Google on my mobile phone to get from school to school for Henrico County. I have a Blackberry 8830 which uses GPS info for Google maps: I can search for pizza about 10 seconds after starting the application on my phone and it will plot the closest places around your current location. I would be interested for it to use data while I am traveling to send Google info on how fast and on what road I am traveling to get real world traffic data and to use that data when subsequent persons get directions. You do need some type of data plan (Sprint nicely includes phone data in picture messaging) to use this and coverage is needed for the maps (all true text for turns are predownloaded) but it’s saved me even on my old phone without the GPS functionality.

    Basically, use my ANONYMOUS gps data to generate traffic data and help make directions even faster.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “I think government has an obligation not to set up private businesses in operations that depend on what are really government monopoly assets.”

    weren’t you the one (among others) who felt that the government should allow private water/sewer?

    I guess the real question is the point that you make about government monopolies.

    Assets can be bought and sold – and are but what criteria would you say.. justifies the government being a monopoly provider?

    The government – can and does – provide electricity, phone and even cable in some locations while in other locations they step back and let private companies do it.

    so with traffic information…and GOOGLE and other services…

    who should build/maintain the traffic sensors? VDOT or private companies? and why.

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