Traffic apps like Waze save time but residential roads now becoming popular alternate routes

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- If time is money, it's obvious then why Google paid more than $1 billion to purchase Waze, the groundbreaking traffic app used by drivers across the country and in the Triangle.

Developed in Israel, Waze integrates real-time traffic data into GPS navigation to help people get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. The traffic data includes crashes, bottlenecks, detours, construction, road closures, flooding, or any other hazard that may be impeding free-flowing traffic.

"It usually takes me a different way than I've ever gone for the last six years," Jean Wydick, a Raleigh resident said of her use of Waze to visit her parents in Cary. "Sometimes it helps and sometimes it only saves me a minute or two."

The prevailing perspective of many Triangle commuters is that Waze - and other traffic apps like INRIX, Google Maps, TomTom and Bing - shave off valuable minutes and reduce time in cars and wear and tears on their vehicles. Still, there is growing concern among some residents who live in neighborhoods where their local streets are becoming oft-used alternative routes.

One of those routes, for instance, could be provoked by a major crash where NC-147 (Durham Freeway) meets I-40. By applying the crash data to its algorithm, a traffic app could reroute the driver off 147 at TW Alexander Drive to ACC Boulevard, then up Shady Grove Road to Leesville Road.

The driver may now be cruising into North Raleigh, but the new route is also in Sharon Anderson's backyard.

"They don't treat this as their own neighborhood like their own children are here," Anderson, who lives in a subdivision off Leesville Road in North Raleigh, told ABC11. "There's extra traffic, there's extra noise. It makes it more dangerous."

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Residents say traffic-navigating apps have pros and cons.

In a statement to ABC11, a spokesman for Waze said, "Waze is designed to thoughtfully and carefully reduce traffic by directing drivers away from places that are already congested - not to send everyone down the same route, which would make traffic worse. Our routing algorithm is a combination of machine learning and human refinement -- we take into account all the data we have and try to find the most efficient route, taking into account roads, historic and real-time speeds, incidents, road types, map quality, and multiple other inputs. The goal of the algorithm is to find the best balance between speed and safety."

The NC Department of Transportation, City of Raleigh and Town of Cary confirmed they all share traffic data with apps, and they have not received any citizen complaints about traffic apps directing traffic to alternate routes. They also said they don't tell the apps how to direct traffic.

"We have a robust Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) with 112 traffic cameras powered by over 100 miles of fiber-optic cable," Cary spokeswoman Carolyn Roman told ABC11. "ATMS -- not Waze-- is what our traffic engineers use to fine-tune signal timing and react to traffic crashes in order to help drivers move in Cary more efficiently and safely.

The Town of Cary, however, is one of 800 communities worldwide participating in Waze's Connected Citizens Program, a free two-way data-exchange program aimed at improving infrastructure.

Taruna Tayal, an engineering consultant, said the data from traffic apps about driver habits is a positive that far outweighs any negative from the emerging technology.

"Say there are 10,000 cars on a point on an interstate - you don't know how long they've been in that spot," Tayal told ABC11. "If you don't know the pattern of where they're coming from or where they're going, you cannot map them. You don't know the route they're going to take. You just know at this point on an interstate you have this much traffic."

Tayal's firm, VHB, is working with local governments up and down the eastern seaboard, including NCDOT. During the past several months, Tayal helped evaluate all roads in North Carolina's rural counties using data from traffic apps to identify problem spots. A generation ago, she said, road-improvement projects or new corridors were based on projections and vehicle counts, but now data is so much more specific.

"Just changing the movement within the roundabout, not adding anything, just changing how you can enter and exit might help congestion," Tayal said. "You don't need to improve the entire length of the corridor. You can improve certain spots, and that can solve your congestion problem."
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