George Washington Bridge Scandal- IT and Springsteen's 'And I Really Gotta Take a Leak'

By Peter Bernstein January 15, 2014

If you live in the U.S. where we have had 24/7 coverage of “Bridgegate” you are probably getting exhausted by all of the attention being given to the scandal. For those not in the U.S. and may be unaware of the hubbub, what has grabbed the headlines is the ongoing investigation of what appears to be an act of political retribution by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s staff who ordered the closing of important access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest bridge, for a problematic traffic study over a four day period in September 2013.  However, there are two interesting aspects of this you may not know or may have missed.

 Before getting to those two items, let me state that I have more than a passing interest in what is going on. I happen to be a New Jersey resident.  My home town of Ramsey also is the home of Bridget Anne Kelly whose email to David Wildstein, the Port Authority's director of interstate and capital project, who complied with the message from Ms. Kelly that it is, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." In fact, Ms. Kelly’s parents are neighbors and I have grown tired of the traffic problems now being caused by the press stakeout of her parents’ home as they wait to get a picture of Ms. Kelly who has been in seclusion.

With personal disclosure out of the way, and putting aside all of the political and legal wrangling about what is sure to be a long process, it seems appropriate to shine a light on those aspects of the scandal that are either informative for drawing conclusions about the affair or to be honest just fun.

Where IT fits—traffic studies the easy way

Much has been made of the still mysterious “traffic study” in terms of its timing, need and consequences.  What has struck me from the start has been why the lanes in question needed to be physically closed in the first place, assuming without going into the political motives there really is a need for a traffic study in the first place.  As noted in a well-documented article I saw posted on Computerworld, by Patrick Thibodeau, there is terrific simulation software that is considered best practice for doing such studies. In short, there was no need to bring traffic to a grinding halt.

As Thibodeau points out after talking with several traffic engineers, the tools of the trade, microscopic traffic simulations, can “create virtual environments that can model driver behavior to road changes with exacting detail.” In the case of the George Washington Bridge (GWB), which has some of the most sophisticated traffic monitoring and surveillance equipment on it for national security and general public safety issues, the amount of data that could be used for a very detailed simulation is impressive. It ranges from video to basic vehicle counting. And, such simulations can provide what are considered accurate long-term projections which are invaluable to engineers.

Indeed, for those who are not familiar with the GWB, the realities are when the bridge sneezes the entire region gets a severe cold. Gridlock caused by even a single lane closure in either direction can snarl traffic for hours and cause multi-mile backups.  Tracking traffic on the bridge has only been heightened over the years as a result of how inviting a target it is to terrorists in the wake of 9/11.

The facts are, as yet to be more fully flushed out, that Ft. Lee Development Zone 5, a 16 acre parcel of highly valued land that is being developed right at the access ramp that is at the center of issue, is in the process of being fully developed.  The pending development of an over $1 billion retail complex whose value obviously is directly tied to the convenience of bridge access would/could be reason enough for policy makers to take a hard look at the traffic consequences, i.e., do an extensive simulation. 

Again, without getting into the politics involved, it certainly seems like instead of using a screwdriver to pound a nail a good hammer would do the trick.  It is a case where IT can provide the right tools to address the situation. As Richard Dowling, a transportation engineer at Kittelson & Associates in California is quoted in the Computerworld article noted, "It's very unusual to use the public as a guinea pig."

Jimmy Fallon and Bruce Springsteen chime in  

On the second item relating to fun, while the Bridgegate is a serious matter, if you have not seen the clip of the now incredibly viral video from the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Show  it is a must view.  Comedian Fallon, dressed like world-famous singer and song writer Bruce Springsteen (“The Boss”) who joins him, has an amazing view of the bridge in a parody that employs Springsteen’s hit, “Born to Run” for the music.  Listen closely to the lyrics to get the headline reference.

Where would we be without YouTube to brighten our day?  

Edited by Cassandra Tucker
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