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Let's give the traffic reporters some 21st century tools

I've always been a big fan of traffic reports on news radio stations.  When I lived in San Francisco, KGO freely promoted their phone number to call with traffic news. I was surprised when you did call, it was the on air reporter who took the call.  You'd think they'd be busy gathering info from all the resources they had to compile traffic information from.

I called so much, Lyn Durling in the morning used my full name while using everyone else's first name only, prompting my boss to ask if I was moonlighting for them.  Lyn asked me to call every morning when I passed over the 680 grade so he could get an accurate read on conditions.

It was surprising when I moved to DC that WTOP never says their phone number on air during the weekday.  I've caught it a couple times on weekends.  When I've called, they have been nice, and again it was the on air person who answers.

Stuck in really bad traffic the other day, I started to think how all the people stuck in the traffic didn't know they could call in with information.  And I thought of how inundated the traffic folks would be if people did call in.

I know there is technology now that looks at the GPS data of phones, and notes their location and speed.  From that, it can build a map of how fast various traffic arteries are flowing.

And more and more roads are covered with cameras.  But all those people in the traffic could be reporters.  They can see things when cameras can't.  They might be able to say, "The right late is blocked, but they are moving the car off the road now.   The road should be open in 5 minutes."

With all this high tech communication gear in our pockets, how can traffic reporters get this data, and assimilate what would be a mountain of data.

Twitter would be perfect in one sense.  The reporter could have Tweetdeck open and have a column searching for any tweet with tags like #dctraffic.

But there's that nagging issue of typing while driving being unsafe.

Maybe Google Voice would be a good tool.  The news station could freely promote their number.  People can call and leave a short voice mail.   While the transcriptions are not perfect, the transcription should be informative enough that the reporter watching them scroll by on a screen would get a gist of the trends people were reporting.  They could listen to a voice mail--even call a person back -- for more details.

I'm not sure how fast transcriptions reach you from Google Voice.  It may vary through the day.

Maybe this could be a custom service created by one of the traffic services that provide traffic reports to most of the radio stations.  Designed for a limited number of phone numbers, they could have expedited transcriptions and a TweetDeck type interface on the reporter's PC's.

And maybe the phone could even give out its GPS coordinates and vehicle speed.  The reporter could zoom in and see the recent reports for a given segment of highway.

That fire hose of data could be useful to commuters, reporters, law enforcement, traffic planners and infrastructure designers.

Update 11/6/2009 3:13 PM EST : Update via Twitter from @openczum, an iPhone app that does some of this.
Unfortunately, not everyone has an iPhone (like me).


  1. wuze is also another iPhone app that does this.


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