Q&A with Charlotte DOT director, Liz Babson

Q&A with Charlotte DOT director, Liz Babson

Can you please talk about your goal of connecting Charlotte – why is that important for residents, and how do you think CDOT is doing?

Our goal is to maintain a commitment of sustaining, maintaining, and enhancing the city’s transportation infrastructure, including the driving, bicycling, and walking experiences. It’s important that our work provides a variety of transportation choices for residents and visitors. Some of the ways we are fulfilling this commitment is through programs such as Charlotte BIKES, Charlotte WALKS, and Vision Zero.

Charlotte is a Vision Zero city – what are some of the components of your VZ plan that are working well?

The city of Charlotte is committed to reducing crashes and eliminating traffic related deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Charlotte Vision Zero is constantly working to make our streets safer for residents and visitors. In 2020, Charlotte Vision Zero accomplished a number of goals, including reducing speed limits on hundreds of residential and most Uptown streets to 25 mph, identifying and prioritizing 93 segments for streetlighting improvements along the High Injury Network and developing a Safe Routes to School Toolkit.  We have identified a new vendor and electronic system to retain our historical and current crash data.  This new system provides more in-depth ways to analyze and visualize the crash data.  Additionally, we are working with a minority and women-owned small business enterprise (MWSBE) to assist with engagement and communications regarding Vision Zero in our community.

In what ways are you deploying technology to 1) improve safety and 2) help with connecting Charlotte?

There are several ways we are deploying technology to improve safety and connect Charlotte. Some projects include:

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Asset Management – This is a robust GIS system that documents ITS infrastructure including the city’s 350 miles of fiber optic cable, 482 traffic management cameras, ethernet equipment and other assets.

Signal Performance Measures- This provides high-resolution data needed to actively manage performance of traffic signals.

Continuous traffic camera upgrades – We worked closely with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) to upgrade 28 analog cameras to digital as part of their system.

Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) ITS Projects- CDOT advanced five ITS projects into construction to install fiber optic cable, traffic cameras, and ethernet communications equipment funded with a CMAQ grant.

Video Management Software (VMS) upgrades- We upgraded the VMS in the Real Time Crime Center in CMPD headquarters.  Some of CDOT traffic systems staff are co-located in the police headquarters’ “Real Time Crime Center.”  This location serves as a joint monitoring location that includes video walls to manage more than 800 cameras (400+ are CDOT and 400+ are CMPD). 

Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI)- CDOT is deploying the LPI in increasing numbers citywide to increase safety for pedestrians.  A LPI provides pedestrians about a three-second “head start” to enter the crosswalk at a signalized intersection prior to a corresponding green signal in the same direction of travel. CDOT developed one of the first LPI plus projects. The LPI signal operation works in concert with a blank-out sign and exclusive signal phase for heavy right turns to reduce conflicts with corresponding pedestrian movements.   

Transit/Emergency Signal Priority- This system creates minor timing adjustments of traffic signal cycles to reduce the amount of time an emergency or transit vehicle spends waiting at a red light.

Fiber Network Redundancy Project- We upgraded fiber terminations and jumpers in the Traffic Management Center (TMC) and re-spliced all existing ethernet systems to have a redundant path to 2nd core switch. This project created true redundancy and ensured a fault tolerant signals system network.  

Are there particular projects you are most excited about that you would like to highlight?

I would say the Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) and LPI Plus projects.  These improvements use technology to reduce pedestrian and ehicle conflict and are the first of their kind in the state. 

What are CDOT’s biggest opportunities in the next 1-2 years?

  • Finding ways to use technology to increase the mode split between single-occupant vehicles, transit, pedestrian, and bicycle travel. We cannot continue to build our way out of congestion, so we need to increase access to other modes of travel.  Technology can help bridge that gap in addition to building the basic physical infrastructure.
  • Preparing the transportation system to be ready for increase deployment of autonomous and connected vehicles.

ITS America is excited to hold our annual meeting in Charlotte in December – what should attendees be sure not to miss while we are in town?

Charlotte’s got a lot! Don’t miss an opportunity to ride along the CATS Goldline, a modern streetcar that travels three miles between our historic westside through Uptown to the Eastside’s Elizabeth community.  I encourage attendees to take the Blue Line light rail transit to the south to Charlotte’s South End district or north to experience the beautiful University City area.