Changing the Ways of Selfish Driving

in Research
January 1st, 2021

Salomón Wollenstein-Betech (PhD candidate, SE)  develops dynamic, data-driven tools to estimate and optimize congested roadways

Boston has the worst traffic in the nation, according to a new study released this week. As city traffic thickens, the quintessential need for a resolution to this problem arises.

Boston University PhD candidate (Systems Engineering) Salomón Wollenstein-Betech has created a visual interactive data-driven platform that tracks annual traffic conditions in the Eastern Massachusetts (EMA) area. Titled Congestion Maps, the tool proves to be a well-needed analysis to inform urban planners, policy makers, researchers, and the general public the conditions of a transportation network over time. This knowledge will help to focus on where to optimize the transportation network by identifying bottlenecks and the most affected areas.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

Originally from Mexico City, ranked the third the most traffic-congested city on the planet, Wollenstein-Betech fully appreciates the challenges associated with heavy urban traffic. “The complexity of living in one of the biggest cities in the world, such as Mexico City, makes it interesting to solve problems involved with traffic congestion, water management, and electricity,” says Wollenstein-Betech. “As city population increases, the amount of problems to tackle does as well.”

Wollenstein-Betech arrived at the BU Center for Information and Systems Engineering (CISE) in 2017 after receiving his B.S. in Industrial Engineering from the Tecnológico de Monterrey, a private research university in Mexico. Centering his research efforts alongside his advisors, Professors Christos Cassandras and Yannis Paschalidis, he is primarily interested in systems engineering at the intersection of operations research, engineering, optimization, and society. He draws inspiration on tackling complex social problems by the use of optimization and machine learning from his academic studies, his post-college professional experience, and by growing up in Mexico City, a highly dynamic metropolis.

With the emergence of self-driving cars and smart cities, analyzing traffic data is becoming fundamental for making smarter decisions,” says Wollenstein-Betech.

As ride-sharing apps increase in popularity and autonomous vehicles are soon to be introduced, Wollenstein-Betech sees them “changing the dynamics of the streets and modifying the way humans and vehicles interact with the city resources.” He also mentions that “instead of driving selfishly, we want to route individuals jointly in order to minimize their aggregated travelling time and maximize the network efficiency.” Research shows that traffic routing apps, like Waze, Google Maps, and Apple Maps are not optimizing the overall network as they optimize each driver selfishly, and can even worsen traffic conditions. Wollenstein-Betech aims to change that.

His visualization tool is different than current mapping technologies because it estimates the traffic congestion on a road network, rather than reporting road speed as Google Maps does. He describes it as a first step to figure out the larger problem of traffic congestion and transportation.

Wollenstein-Betech uses speed data that was made available by the Central Transportation Planning Staff (CTPS) of the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization to pinpoint specific locations where traffic condition deterioration is at its worst. This allows users to compare travel time and congestion in the EMA network in 2012 and 2015 by road segment and zip code. The data gives researchers, like Wollenstein-Betech, an opportunity to inform policy makers to consider specific strategies when targeting more congested areas in the network.

“There’s a lot that could be done with this information,” says Wollenstein-Betech. “It lends itself to new avenues relating to ride-sharing, smart parking, congestion tolling, and lane reversal.” Wollenstein-Betech is excited to see where this research will take him next.

In his free time, Wollenstein-Betech avoids traffic by spending time outside and away from the busy roads. He enjoys outdoor adventures and loves the four seasons of New England. “Winter is too long though in Boston,” he says with a laugh. “But it’s interesting to live in such a dynamic place in terms of weather.”

By Allie Antonevich, CISE Staff