IBM to Study Pittsburgh Transportation Systems

Sep 5, 2012

Pittsburgh has won a $350,000 grant from International Business Machines (IBM) that will come in the form of the company studying the city's various transportation systems.

City Council gave the grant preliminary approval on Wednesday, and a final vote is slated for next Tuesday.

After the grant is formally accepted, IBM employees will spend three weeks working out of the City-County Building from late September to mid-October. At the end of their stay, the researchers will present a list of transportation recommendations to the mayor and to the general public.

City Planning Director Noor Ismal said her agency is now working to gather information on Pittsburgh's roadways, bus lines, and other transportation modes in advance of IBM's arrival on September 24.

"We will act as a gatekeeper, bringing other entities forward -- authorities such as Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Port Authority [of Allegheny County] and so forth -- all agencies that have access to data," said Ismail. "From this data, [IBM] will build a roadmap for intelligent transportation for the city of Pittsburgh."

Ismail said IBM will likely provide recommendations in a broader sense, although the company may focus on specific roadways or problem areas. For example, she said one possible suggestion from IBM would be to improve the synchronization of traffic lights.

That prospect delighted Councilman Bill Peduto, who said he's glad that IBM will work with Carnegie Mellon University's "Traffic 21" initiative on the timing of traffic lights.

"By the use of cameras, [timing] can be automatically adjusted, gone through the same algorithms, and then traffic patterns could realize real-time data," said Peduto. "That's going to be pretty much standard practice in 20, 30 years worldwide, but Pittsburgh could be the leader in it now, and we could create an industry that would employ hundreds or thousands in exporting it."

The city has no obligation to follow IBM's recommendations, and there's no actual money exchanging hands in the grant process. Ismail described the partnership as a "technical grant" that simply allows IBM to use city office space as it conducts interviews and research for its free consultation services.