Empirical assessment of a congestion and weather-responsive advisory variable speed limit system

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Engineering


Traffic congestion and safety along urban corridors have become major challenges for most highway agencies in the United States. Adverse weather conditions also present a considerable challenge, both in terms of safety and operations. All these problems along with the increasingly limited resources for infrastructure expansion have urged transportation agencies to investigate innovative traffic management approaches. One of these approaches is the use of Active Traffic Management (ATM) strategies. Within ATM, the practice of Variable Speed Limit (VSL) systems is well suited to improving safety and operations. These systems dynamically utilize real-time traffic and/or weather data to post appropriate speeds that are thought to improve safety and operations along a corridor. The overall aim of this thesis is to investigate the benefits of a recently installed advisory VSL system along OR-217 freeway in Portland, Oregon. This corridor is characterized by high traffic levels, severe congestion and unreliable travel times. The congestion of the freeway contribute to crash rates exceeding the statewide averages for this type of facility. Pacific Northwest's unpredictable climate presents another challenge that doubles the congestion and safety problems along the corridor. The effectiveness of this system was explored through an in-depth 'before and after' and 'on-and-off' analyses. The study was designed in a way that it encompasses both the safety and mobility benefits of the system. Besides, driver compliance with the system was also measured under different scenarios. The results indicated that the system had significant impacts on both mobility and safety. In terms of mobility it was found that system had lowered the average speeds along the corridor. The advisory VSL activation also resulted in reduced capacities. Safety assessment of the system suggested that, VSL has decreased crash rates and temporal and lateral variations of speed. Under certain scenarios, the system also decreased the longitudinal variations of speed. Further, it was also found that due to the advisory nature of the system, the majority of drivers do not comply with the system. However, VSL has resulted in reducing the percentage of aggressive drivers and have increased the number of drivers complying the static speed limit.




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