Winter weather only ups the ante.
Routine and gut instinct, plus a well-timed radio traffic report, used to be our guides.
Then the smartphone-turned-navigator came along, giving us real-time traffic updates with the tap of a touch screen. Apps like Waze and Google Maps highlight the fastest routes based on traffic data, while MnDOT's 511 app posts traffic and road conditions.
But computers aren't always the best co-pilots, especially in a
"It took me over an hour just to get to the basilica," she said. "It was just absurd how wrong it was."
So is our faith in such apps misplaced? Our hope for technology too high? Will we be stuck in traffic forever?
"[Apps] can tell you what may happen in the near future, assuming that nothing out of the ordinary takes place," said John Hourdos, director of the
Inside the apps
Construction updates, road conditions (reported by snowplow drivers), plus hazards or crashes reported by the State Patrol have long been available to traffic reporters and the general public by calling 511 or checking www.511mn.org.
That wealth of public data is often the basis for other navigation apps.
Google Maps, which displays real-time traffic flow with red, yellow and green lines, also draws data from the GPS coordinates of Android phone users who have opted to anonymously share their locations.
Waze, purchased by
Before setting out on snowy mornings,
She uses MnDOT for winter road conditions,
"It's been a little bit of a tossup. There have been a couple times where it's been great and I've ended up cutting off a good chunk of time," she said.
Yet even without a 100 percent success rate, Kulseth recommends Waze to friends. "The more people use it, the better it will get," she said.
Better than nothing
Waze had nearly 50 million users when
But sometimes people would just rather get their traffic updates from a real human.
"I receive tweets from people in bed. I receive tweets from people just leaving, especially in the afternoon," he said. "?'How's the drive in
He bases most of his tweets on the information provided by MnDOT, with occasional updates from people who report from the road.
While tech-fueled traffic updates aren't always accurate, they can help people adjust their expectations, said
"If it's going to be 15 or 30 minutes because of some incident and you can't change it, then you can notify people or feel much more comfortable about accepting it," Levinson said. "You feel better about the situation when you have more information about it."
But sometimes more information about one traffic jam can lead to another elsewhere. If a lot of drivers opt for the same alternate route -- suggested by
"The more people that you have listening to this information, the higher probability that they're all going to follow the suggestion of the computer and they're going to end up in the same place as everybody else and therefore creating [a new] problem," said Hourdos.
It's a Catch-22.
Still, he said, it's an improvement. Hourdos uses Waze when driving unfamiliar routes at rush hour. "Before, we were totally blind," he added.
But when the snow flies, Hourdos said, it's tough for an app to keep up: "Anything, especially anything with traffic lights, is not going to be a good choice -- no matter what Waze says."
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