Technology on the Move
Thanks to Mohamad Talas and his team at the New York City Department of Transportation (NY DOT), 8 million New York city natives and 5 million commuters are starting to breathe cleaner air and spend significantly less time stuck in traffic each day as a result of the
Midtown in Motion project.
Midtown in Motion uses the latest breakthroughs in wireless communications technology?the same concept operating behind modern cell phones? to turn normal traffic signals into “smart” traffic signals. The signals use “Active Traffic Management” to detect the presence, distance, and speed of vehicles in real time, and can sense the pace and flow of traffic. Communicating with a central transportation control hub, the timing of all the traffic signals in the area is adjusted to optimize traffic flow. As a result, congestion is reduced by 10% or more, according to current estimates. The reduced congestion also means reduced idling time, which leads to a noticeable decrease in air pollution.
“We have run preliminary reports on the impacts on the environment and the reduction in the environmental elements in our project ? and have proven that we have made a difference in this area,” said Talas.
Midtown in Motion has been in the making for more than a decade, since Talas and his colleagues at NY DOT were asked by city government to aggressively expand New York’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) program. New York has more intersections than any other city in the world?12,500 to be exact?and the goal was to computerize each intersection to create the wireless communications network that eventually made Active Traffic Management, and thus Midtown in Motion, possible. Talas said that since 2010, NYC has modernized over 10,000 intersections. And New Yorkers are starting to see the impacts of Active Traffic Management in the form of reduced traffic congestion and cleaner air. Midtown in Motion has been successfully tested on over 100 blocks in Manhattan, and is about to expand east, west, and south to over 550 intersections during the final testing phase. ?
For Talas, Midtown in Motion has been about making a difference in the quality of life of millions of New Yorkers who travel throughout the city every day. Reduced travel time means the opportunity for increased productivity and more time to spend with family and friends. And reduced pollution has obvious benefits for all.
"In New York City, we have approximately one million vehicles that enter on a daily basis and leave, and that?s enormous for our transportation network," Talas said. "And so as a traffic engineer and an ITS engineer I am able every day, every project I get involved in, to make a difference for the public. And that's what it?s all about. It’s not only about coming to work and making salary. It’s something to enjoy ? something that matches what you have dreamt about as a young student, and you see it happening.”
Talas said he knew he wanted to be an engineer from a young age. At the time, his parents were strongly urging him to become a medical doctor. But he knew that he could only be truly happy and successful in engineering, which sparked his interests and curiosity. He chuckled as he recalled the following story from his childhood:
"My parents ... like any young man, they were pushing me for what they think is more practical and probably more rewarding. But I told them: if I choose what I like, I will take the responsibility of my choice and I will make sure I don’t fail. But if I choose something I don’t like, I’m gonna’ blame you."
His parents must have believed him, because after earning high marks in science during high school, Talas went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He began working on traffic projects for the New York Department of Transportation, and earned his Ph.D. in transportation in 2010. Throughout his career with NY DOT, he began to work on bigger and more impactful projects, gaining more and more knowledge and experience. Eventually, in a large way it was his own engineering research that made Midtown in Motion possible.
Talas said that being part of an amazing team of engineers and administrators at NY DOT was one of the keys to his success and that of the project.
"DOT is my second family," he said. "I am one of the team. We have a division here that takes all of the credit for what was done, starting with our mayor and our commissioner and our executive engineer. I am glad to be and honored to be part of the team here at DOT,” he said.
Talas's second passion is education. In the evenings, he is a professor for the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. He credits his own educators, from when he was in elementary school to the time he earned his Ph.D., for helping him to succeed in his life and career. As an educator and someone with a great passion for learning, Talas offered the following advice for middle and high school students who are on their way to finding and pursuing their own careers:
“The best advice is to choose something that you like and try to be the best at it,” he said. “Continue to compete, continue to educate yourself to make sure you’re achieving what you want. Whether you are looking for a science area or you are looking for a literature area. ... And if you need extra help you can always go to your teacher early in the morning or late, and do the work. ... There is always a way to do it. Look at it as an enjoyment ? and if you look it is that way, you will succeed.”
To learn more about the Midtown in Motion project, you can visit the New York Department of Transportation website. You can also obtain some fascinating information on Advanced Traffic Management by visiting the FHWA's Office of International Programs.