Friday, November 09, 2012

Wanted: Maps + a Time Machine

My wife and I left San Jose a little after 7 this evening, heading for Sacramento, where we are teaching at an SCA event tomorrow. In planning the trip—including stops going, coming, or both to visit my grandchildren in Berkeley and my sister's in Davis—one important question was when traffic would be heavy, what time rush hour starts and ends on the relevant highway on a Friday in November.

My Android phone shows me current traffic conditions, but the designers carelessly neglected to attach a time machine, so I did not have the option of seeing today's information yesterday or the day before. Someone should correct that omission. There is no way of knowing for certain what traffic will be like this Friday, but what traffic was like last Friday, and the Friday before, and the same time of year last year and the year before, are all public information. By combining information of that sort with sophisticated statistical analysis, it should be possible to make a pretty good prediction of future traffic a day, a week,  even a year in advance.

What I am imagining is a web page that looks very much like the Google Maps picture on my phone, with the traffic layer selected. The only addition would be the ability to set date and time.

Does it already exist somewhere?


Anonymous said...

The desktop browser Google Maps offers historical traffic data. I don't know how to get to that via the Android app, but you could check it out on the desktop before your trip.

Noah Carl said...

Once such information became widely available, wouldn't--to some extent at least--a kind of "efficient market" in traffic arise in which historic lulls were smoothed out as people attempted to get onto the roads at the least busy times? Under such circumstances,although traffic might be more evenly distributed over the day, it would be more difficult for any given individual to anticipate an unusually quiet periods unless you he possessed relevant private information.

Jadagul said...

Google used to do something very like what you're asking for. They stopped in 2011 because they didn't think their predictions were accurate enough to feel good about publishing them.!category-topic/maps/navigation-and-directions/pG7XSsd4eCk

Daniel A. Nagy said...

Don't know whether it works in the U.S., but Yandex Maps app has this feature for Russian cities for sure.

SB7 said...

I went to a talk ~2 years ago by a guy from MSFT Research. They're working on something just like that.

The results he showed for the Seattle area looked good. The caveat was that they needed location information recorded by their employees smart phones to build an accurate history. They didn't need to record your whole trip, just a small, intelligently chosen sample.

IIRC they biggest problem to expanding the program wasn't technical, it was convincing people to put aside their privacy concerns. Personally I would give up 5 minutes of location data each day in exchange for access to a good predictive traffic map.

Fred Mangels said...

Noah Carl has a point. If people actually had real time traffic data, the low traffic areas might cease to be low traffic as everyone diverted to those routes.

For those that aren't aware, CalTrans has a traffic cam system set up throughout most of the state. The ones for the Northern part of the state not perhaps as useful as the south because they're single frame pictures. The Southern part of the state actually has live video of a some areas.

Still, I've found the NorCal cams of some use as we travel from Eureka to San Francisco every few months. I can check before leaving and see if there's snow on at least one high area we travel through.

Hmmm...while trying to find a link for the traffic cams I found this CalTrans "Quickmap". Click the boxes in the left sidebar to specify what things you want to see on the map- lanes closures, CHP incidents and such- and it instantly shows you the latest data. Probably more useful than the traffic cams:

How timely the information is, it doesn't say.

jdgalt said...

CalTrans has live traffic cameras in several cities that you can watch live here. No time machine, though.

jimbino said...

We here in states from Arizona and Nevada to Colorado and Texas are working hard to keep information on our open roads hidden from Californians, lest they come here and bring along their craziness.

David W said...

It exists for Houston:

Don't know of any more general solution, though.

David Friedman said...

David W writes:

"It exists for Houston:"

I don't think so.

Looking at that page, what it shows is the same sort of information that my phone currently shows--current traffic speed. It's true that it has links to historical data, but the most detailed form of that shows, for various years, how, traffic conditions changed over the course of the day--averaged over the entire year.

It doesn't show what conditions were at a particular time of a particular day, let alone showing an estimate from such data of what they will be at a particular time of a particular day in the near future, which is what I want.