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360 L. Mussone: l16. Jg.(1999),H.

6 ~,~~i]

A review of feedforward neural networks

in transportation research
L. Mussone ~

The paper reports applications of neural networks in transportation research and

shows the author's specific experience and applications of neural networks for many
fields concerning transport and traffic theory. By using the interpolation capability of
neural networks it is possible to extract relationships present in data according to
particular conditions and to the features of used variables. A comparison between
applications anda discussion about problems and difficulties arising with the use of
feedforward neural networks are carried out. The aim is to underline that some
results are obtainable exactly by using neural network capabilities and can be trans-
lated to other fields without great difficulties.
Keywords: neural networks; feedforward NN; MLP; transport; traffic flow; accidents

• ª vorausfª neurale Netzwerke in der Fortbewegungsforschung.

Dieser Bericht bezieht sich auf Wendungen neuraler Netzwerke auf dem Gebiet der
Verkehrsforschung und zeigt die spezifische Erfahrung des Autors und Anwendun-
gen neuraler Netzwerke auf vielen Gebieten, die sich mit Transport- und Verkehrs-
theorie besch~iftigen. Durch Verwendung der Interpolationskapazit~it neuraler Netz-
werke ist es m6glich, bestimmten Bedingungen und den Kennzeichen verwendeter
Variabler entsprechende Datenbeziehungen zu extrahieren. Es wird ein Vergleich
zwischen Anwendungen angestellt, und es findet eine Diskussion ª Probleme und
Schwierigkeiten statt, die mit der Verwendung vorw~irtsgerichteter neuraler Netz-
werke verbunden sind. Ziel dabei ist die Unterstreichung der Tatsache, dass einige
Ergebnisse genau durch die Verwendung neuraler Netzwerkskapazit~iten gezeitigt
werden und ohne grolAe Schwierigkeiten auf andere Gebiete ª werden k6n-
Schlª neurale Netzwerke; vorausfª neurale Netzwerke; MLP;
Fortbewegung; Verkehrsfluss; Unf~ille

1. A p p l i c a t i o n s to t r a n s p o r t recognition of samples, recognition of signs, analysis

and recognition of the voice, making decisions, map-
The term neural networks refers to a very wide cat- ping. Some years later Dougherty [11] listed a wider
egory of neural network structures, of learning algo- range of applications to transport and other appli-
rithms and paradigms and of neural activation func- cations are reported in a special issue of Transportation
tions; their performance are very different: their flexi- Research C [12].
bility in learning very complex processes is ah interest- Neural networks may also be used as an integrative or
ing issue especially with regard to their possibility of substantial support to other techniques, such as expert
computing parallelism. systems or fuzzy logic [37]. The potential of neural
In a first overview [4], neural networks have been networks in the field of non-linear dynamic systems,
regarded as ah altemative to traditional methods, such statistical analyses, and modelling in general, has been
as linear programming, discrete optimization, statisti- investigated by several authors [42], for example. A
cal discriminant analysis, regression and cluster analy- preliminary review of the advantages connected with
sis. The application fields are several and multifaceted: the use of neural networks is in [26].
The transportation sectors in which artificial neural
Lorenzo Mussone, DSTM, Politecnico di Milano, Pza L. Da networks (AAN) have been successfully applied are
Vinci 32, 1-20133, Italy, E-mail: the following:
'~,'~)~i 116.Jg. (1999),H. 6 A review of feedforward neural networks in transportation research 361

-- identification of driver behaviour with advanced iour [36]; user behaviour in transport modal choice
traveller information systems [9, 45], [1],
-- freeway incident detection [39, 40, 47], prediction of flow data in a traffic network [27].
-- recognition of images to detecting flow [2],
-- prediction and recognition of urban traffic condi-
tion [8, 10, 3], 3. Results
-- prediction of freeway flow data [7] and prediction
of flow state [46], Results are grouped by application type. For each type
-- evaluation of gap (area of dilemma) at signalized of problem, difficulties arisen in working out models
intersections [38], are described; in some cases particular properties of
-- transportation/Land use [41, 14], the application and comparisons with other techniques
-- prediction of atmospheric and acoustic pollution are proposed.
3.1 M a p p i n g

2. Applications experienced The reconstruction of flow-density and flow-speed

curves is one the most innovative result. What is more
The author applied ANNs in many fields of transpor- interesting is the possibility to see how this curve
tation research. The feature which links all those appli- changes with parameters such as clearance or visibil-
cations together is the use of feedforward multi-layer ity, percentage of heavy vehicles, brightness, weather
perceptron (MLP) networks, even though different conditions and obviously with flow, density and speed;
learning techniques and descent algorithms were these variations are not linear like supposed or
adopted to improve minimisation of error. MLPs accepted till now by theory (Fig. 1).
showed to be more adapt to many fields in which a non
linear regression with many parameters is needed. Effect of
1 Clearance meters [m]
Many theorems state that feedforward multi-layered
perceptron networks (with at least one hidden layer), l 0.8 10
by using neuron transfer functions of a sigmoidal type 0.7
and linear input combinations, can approximate any ...... 50
continuous function, or more precisely which belongs 0.5 200
to L 2 (the Lebesgue two space) with a small margin of 0.4
error [6, 20, 19, 21, 22]. 0.3 >52
Many authors, such as [44, 43, 24] underline, on the 0.2
other hand, the difficulties of training, and in particular 7., 0.1 ]
the problems of overfitting or overtraining which o
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 9 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 2 0 1 3 0 1 4 0 1 5 0
adversely affect the performance of a neural network.
Many techniques to ah optimum exploitation of data Density [veh./km]
must be kept into account: cross-validation, Jacknife
and Bootstrap [13, 44]. Fig. 1. Exampleof flow-densityrelationship reconstruction by
changing clearance [16]
Many learning techniques are proposed and applied
both to improve the search of absolute minimum in the
A first practical application of these approaches is used
error function and to reduce computing time: the most
to calculate the PCU (passenger car unit) equivalent
famous, other than backpropagation, are the Gauss-
values [35, 36] by analysing difference in flow-density
Newton method or its derived Levenberg-Marquardt
relationships for different percentage of heavy
technique [43] and the radial basis function (RBF)
vehicles. The difficulties encountered with this appli-
cations concern data extraction to obtain a good data
The carried out applications are: uniform distribution. For this reason and because it is
-- mapping from a R" to R 2 for reconstruction of necessary that the neural network learns any real situ-
vehicular flow-density and speed-density relation- ation with the same frequency, an extraction rule must
ship [15, 16, 35]; lane occupation models [17]; rec- be defined both for the training and test set.
ognition of the state of traffic flow [15], Another application concerns reconstruction of percen-
-- time series prediction [15, 27, 5, 30], tage of motorway lane occupation by changing both
-- function approximation for accident risk evalu- parameters as the above mentioned application and
ation [31, 33, 34, 28], number of violations at sig- others affecting driver behaviour such as presence or not
nalised intersections [32], analysis of saturation of VMS (variable message signs) (Fig. 2). Its basic con-
flow at signalized intersections [23]; driver behav- cept is the same as the previous one but models are more
362 L. Mussone: 116. Jg.(1999),H. 6 .~~

1 .........Fast weight set) and comparison with ARIMA (with and

__~,o~d; n without missing data) are carried out with positive
results. Data used were collected on the M25 motor-
0.6 way in England. The effect of missing data is not deter-
minant on performance of neural networks while for
8 0.4
ARIMA models can be a crucial handicap; normalised
~'~ 0.2 RMSE (root mean square error) produced by using dif-
/ Standard without VMS
ferent initial weight sets has a variance less than 0.001.
10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 Highway and rural traffic prediction was experienced
De nsity [veh/km] with good results both for short and long term horizon
[27], Fig. 3 shows an example of rural traffic prediction
Fig. 2. Examplesof lane occupationfor a percentage of heavy on 6 minutes basis.
vehicles of 40 % withpresence of VMS [18]
Applications to predict urban traffic were experienced
robust with respect to data extraction probably because by other researchers with a lesser success probably
relationships between variables are simpler. because of uncontrollable and variable delays in flow
due to local congestions: this fact makes traffic flow
Also reconstruction of the user choice of transport
non linear but also non continuous. It must be
mode was built up and choice mechanisms can be
remarked that multilayer feedforward can approximate
studied by the NN model [1].
only continuous functions.

3.2 Recognition
3.4 Function approximation
By using a definition of flow status (stable/critical/
Many fields can be investigated by using non linear
unstable) based on analysis of flow curve (for example
regression capability: the proposed papers are limited
worked out by models obtained with the previous
in respect of possible applications. In the field of acci-
application) a model, capable of identifying the state of
dent evaluation they show good results and the more
flow, was carried out. Only flow data (combined with
complete available data the better the applications are.
stability information) are used to learn the network
without any explicit information about the flow-den- In Fig. 4 an example of accident index calculation is
sity or flow-speed relationships. Results are very shown. Both urban and motorway/extra-urban environ-
encouraging and show a very low error. Extrapolation ments are considered with interesting results. They
to cases never seen is very good and error in density concern mainly the importance a variable assumes in
value is about 2-3 veh/km. This application is particu- increasing the accident index. Previous studies based,
larly suitable for real time control of traffic where it is on linear or non linear regression of disjoint variables,
important to know immediately the flow status for dif- were not capable of explaining the very complicated
ferent flow and weather conditions. relations existing in accident data. Main difficulties
consist instead in good quality of data themselves
3.3 Time series prediction which sometimes do not include all variables necess-
ary to explain the process: for example the flow when
This field is very promising: advantages of neural net- the accident occurred it is rather difficult to collect.
works are flexibility and robustness; especially in the This leads to an intrinsic uncertainty during the model
paper [5] a special investigation on robustness (initial work out; without any other information it is difficult

Normalised Output One step - 6 minutes Prediction

Congested Flow
Vector state

0.8 l i ; ,
r IV state



,' 'I' '[' …



0 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 Time [h]

Fig. 3. Predictionfor congestedflowconditions [27]

~~ 116.Jg. (1999),H.6 A review of feedforward neural networks in transportation research 363

D a y - Veh.B Flow = 250 veh./h

1 - - Veh. A Flow
0.9- [veh./h]

0.8 - [] 25

0.7- [] 50
9 100
~ 0.6-
,x 250
~ o.5-
,x 500
9~ 0.4
9 1000
"~ 0.3
o 1500
o 2000
9 3000
I + 9 + I I i
20(1 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000
A r e a o f t h e I n t e r s e c t i o n [ m 2]

Fig. 4. Accident Index calculation in an urban environment: rear-side accident in a "give way" intersection with a dry road bed and
calm weather [29]

09 ~ 1 lane 2 lanes 3 lane S
~o.~ ~
--- 07
~ = 0.6
0.8 ~e__~e!!!~

~ o.4 ~ th

~~,. o.2 J

~ 0.1
0 . . . . . . . . . .
16 24 32 40 48 56 64 72 16 24 32 40 48 56 64 72 16 24 32 40 48 56 64 72

Green phase length [s]

Fig. 5. Saturationflow [veh/min] by varying green phase length and queue length [23]

to ascribe the error to the model or to the data and translated to other fields without a great difficulty
therefore it is more difficult to single out the best net- being significant the concept of the application itself.
work (in the sense of performance).
Models worked out by the author are feedforward type
Fig. 5 shows the relationship between saturation flow so as to use their capability of approximating any con-
and not only with green time and the number of lanes tinuous function.
(for the latter an analogy with the HCM utilisation fac-
Main properties and advantages encountered by using
tor can exist) but also with the length of the queue.
When the queue increases, maintaining equal the these models are:
length of green time, the saturation flow increases the -- no analytical model of process must be defined;
smaller the green time is. this is particularly useful when relationships
The interest of this result, though it is limited to only one between variables are very complex and not linear;
network of urban traffic and requires further research, - the NN model is a powerful tool to investigate real-
consists in charging to the driver behaviour the differences ity, and to discover the most important relation-
(or fluctuations) in saturation flow. Till now the drive ships so as to improve data set, training and test
behaviour has been considered only in planning prob- extraction for a further improvement, if necessary,
lems, such as route choice, but nothing prevents extending of an analytical model and theory;
this approach also to microscopic driving choices -- non linearity of variables and their combination
(more or less systematic) induced by traffic conditions. can be obtained by other different methods with
great difficulty,
4. Conclusions
- interpolation capability of feedforward neural net-
works is irreplaceable particularly in time series
The paper presents several applications of neural net- prediction when a lot of missing data can be pres-
works in the transportation field. Some of them can be ent.
364 L. Mussone: 116. Jg. (1999), H. O ~ , ~

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