East Valley cities using drivers' Wi-Fi to map traffic data

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

The public can now get real-time travel data in much of the East Valley thanks to 130 antennas that collect Wi-Fi signals from drivers at different intersections in Mesa, Tempe and Gilbert.

That data, uploaded to AZ511.gov, uses signals to track how long it takes for drivers to get from one sensor to the other. That allows traffic operations centers, such as the one in Mesa, to adjust accordingly.

“Prior we were just using that data internally to make changes and now we’re providing that data to the public so they can make informed decisions about what time they leave home and which route they choose,” said Tricia Boyer, Intelligent Transportation Systems engineer for Mesa.

Not only will it help drivers make smarter choices but it will help the operations center, which controls all of the traffic signals in the city, to get rid of the traffic faster.

“We can definitely see which corridors are being impacted the most either by development or increased volumes. Then that helps us elevate them in the priority of things that need to be re-timed,” said Boyer.

Smartphones and Google Maps now show traffic jams too. But Boyer says their system is precise, down to 1 mph.

“It’s very similar although Google doesn’t tell us exactly how they are getting their data. The theory is that it is mostly probe data. So it may be fleet vehicles,” she said.

The technical name for those signal-grabbing devices is “anonymous re-identification sensors” or ARID. When the device takes a Wi-Fi signal from a passing cell phone or computer, the MAC address is scrambled. The cities don’t collect any personal information.

Federal grants covered almost the entire cost of this project. See the results on AZ511.gov.

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