I'm one of about six thousand people who live in the small town of Duvall, just north east of Redmond. Around six this evening, I was about to head out to Redmond for dinner. There are a total of four roads out of this town, the shortest route to Redmond being over Novelty Hill.

Just minutes before I was leaving, another 'softie on his way home from work sent a mail to a distribution list set up for us who live in this town. The mail said "Accident or car fire coming up the hill at bottom near WSV" and "the road up Novelty has been blocked."

I fire up the King County traffic camera pointed at this intersection*, and sure enough:

Novelty Hill Closed

I took another road out of town and made it to my restaurant without a hitch.

I think that's so cool. Not just that one of my neighbors happened to drive by at this time with a smartphone near at hand, so he could give some of the other locals a heads up. Not just that King County has put up a traffic camera at this intersection in the middle of nowhere, so I could double-check the situation. No, what's cool is that this completely ad-hoc traffic warning system is highly reliable.

Any time traffic is out of order - because of an accident, flood, snow & ice or something else - you can trust that some of the first commuters to suffer will let the rest of us know. It's not unusual to get play-by-plays of the commute, so you adjust your own route based on almost real-time information. And if you do try another route, whether it turns out to be better or worse, you can easily let the others know.

I think that the system works for three main reasons -

  • Clearly, everyone benefits from sharing accurate information - if the road is unusually congested, the more people who pick alternate routes or times, the better.
  • The technology required to share information efficiently is widespread - the town is about 60% Microsoft families, so the number of drivers with smartphones connected to Exchange is fairly high.
  • There is a very strong feeling of community within Microsoft in general as well as among Duvall residents, and where these two groups intersect you find a lot trust and willingness to help out.

Information Anywhere. Anytime. Any Device. It's starting to work for me. Now, if only people would focus more on their driving than on their texting, we'd be all set! :)

 * http://www.metrokc.gov/kcdot/mycommute/default.aspx?camid=46&region=2#maptop