Frisco is paving the way for innovation in the Dallas-Fort Worth area by testing and integrating new technology into its transportation system.
The city is working on several projects to improve traffic flow, and private companies have begun to look to Frisco as a testing ground for new technological advances.
These companies, including Audi, Traffic Technology Services, Uber and Google, are helping implement these new projects.
“I want Frisco to be a model for cities across the country as far as how we use innovative tools and technologies to get our traffic flowing,” Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney said. “As we continue to grow, [we will need] these technologies to maximize efficiencies throughout every department in the city.”
The city is working on projects such as traffic signal data sharing, measuring traffic signal operations and improving navigation. On the private front, Uber and Hillwood Properties have partnered on a project in Frisco to develop flying vehicles.
Brian Moen, Frisco assistant director of transportation, said the city has spent the past five years researching these innovative ideas. The city began implementing some of the ideas in the past year, and it will continue throughout the next several years.
One of the city’s priorities has been to implement technology to improve traffic signals.
Frisco City Council approved an agreement last fall with Oregon-based company Traffic Technology Services to launch a service that would connect the city’s traffic signals with certain vehicles.
TTS collects data from all 115 traffic signals in Frisco and makes it available in real time for its automotive industry partners. The information is then communicated back to individual vehicles, and the results are shown on the driver’s dashboard display. Displays include a traffic light symbol along with a digital counter that indicates how long the driver has before the light turns green.
The current TTS partner is Audi, which is the only automaker offering this traffic signal information technology in its newest vehicles. Plans also are in the works for BMW to start adopting this technology next year.
Moen said the city is now in the process of expanding the signal data-sharing program by applying for a grant that would allow the city to purchase the software.
“As it sits right now, TTS paid for the software, so they have exclusive data,” Moen said. “We would like to have the software for ourselves, and that will allow us to maintain the data and send it to not only TTS, but also other researchers.”
A second initiative the city has begun working on is automated signal performance measures, a project that will show real-time and historical performance quickly and efficiently at traffic signals, Moen said.
“We traditionally would do a study maybe once a year, but this new technology will allow us to get constant measures all the time,” Moen said.
The city has only just started using this technology at some intersections along Preston Road including at Warren and Gaylord parkways on a limited basis.
A third city technology initiative is a pilot program that will begin later this year to conduct adaptive signal control. This technology adjusts the timing of red, yellow and green lights to accommodate changing traffic patterns. This program is expected to ease traffic flow, especially along Preston Road, Moen said.
The city partners with navigation apps such as Google Traffic and Waze to allow the city to share information regarding road closures and detours around the city. The partnership provides drivers with real-time updates during events at Frisco venues.
This is a tool the city used in early April when the Dallas North Tollway was closed for a weekend and several events were taking place in the city, such as EdgeFest, Arts in the Square and Texas Tech’s spring football game at The Star in Frisco.
Moen said the city is also looking to incorporate bicycle/pedestrian apps in the traffic signal software to detect cyclists and pedestrians on the roadways. The city will also look into using autonomous vehicles for transit systems, such as driverless shuttles similar to what the city of Arlington will pilot later this year, Moen said.
Hillwood Properties and Uber’s flying vehicle project includes adding a vertiport—or a takeoff and landing zone—at Frisco Station. The flying vehicles are being developed to take passengers from Frisco to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
Initial flight demonstrations are expected to take place in 2020 with a full-scale operation launch by 2023, according to Hillwood.
“The transportation landscape is going to change drastically starting from now,” said Maher Maso, former Frisco mayor and board member of the Regional Transportation Council. “It’s going to move rapidly, and it will require us to embrace some major changes. You have to set the stage for the experts out there where they can see that we are a community that gets it done.”
Because it is a relatively new city and one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, Frisco is ripe for implementation of new transportation and infrastructure technology, said Peter DeNagy, partner at FutureCities, a nonprofit organization focused on educating the Dallas-Fort Worth community on smart cities.
“Whenever you have new infrastructure, you can always much more easily implement the latest technology because you can leapfrog old technology to new technology,” DeNagy said.
DeNagy said cities that are built out and have older infrastructure can find it difficult and costly to implement new technology.
Anand Puppala, associate dean of research at the College of Engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington, said addressing transportation needs is vital for a community with a growing population.
“People will always need to go to work and school, and the more people you have the more important transportation innovation will become,” Puppala said.
Kiel Ova, TTS chief marketing officer, said the company is active in the top 30 metropolitan areas in the United States, and Frisco was an appealing partner because of its growing population.
“Where you have the most population, [you] will have the most vehicles,” Ova said. “So we can provide the most benefit by implementing this technology in those areas.”
Russell Laughlin, executive vice president of Hillwood Properties, said North Texas, especially Frisco, was the right place for Uber to test out the company’s concept of flying vehicles.
“North Texas has a huge and long history of innovation in aviation, transportation, infrastructure [and] transportation; so there’s a lot of good reasons to be here,” Laughlin said. “Frisco is recognized as a forward-thinking community, pro-business, interested in next-generation and innovative technology in just about any kind of business.”
The city of Frisco is in the process of finishing its first ever Intelligence Transportation System master plan that will look to the future in technology and how the city can be prepared for future needs.
The master plan is expected to be completed by this fall, Moen said.
“We will need to update the plan every few years, but it will be a road map going forward,” Moen said. “The key thing about the master plan will be communication between all of these devices.”
Moen said Frisco is starting to supplement fiber optic cables throughout the city that will allow the new devices to communicate with one another.
“If all your devices can talk to each other, that would make it a lot easier to implement these technologies as they are released and things change,” Moen said.
Maso said the implementation of the new technology has taken a considerable amount of work from the engineering department and the city manager’s office.
“It takes a lot of effort to position your community to be the trendsetters, visionaries, and the reason that’s important is because of the city’s role to ensure to the best quality of life and building a sustainable community,” Maso said.