Date of Award

Winter 2-2017

Embargo Period


Degree Type

Dissertation (CMU Access Only)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Civil and Environmental Engineering


Zhen (Sean) Qian


Traffic state estimation (TSE) aims to estimate the time-varying traffic characteristics (such as flow rate, flow speed, flow density, and occurrence of incidents) of all roads in traffic networks, provided with limited observations in sparse time and locations. TSE is critical to transportation planning, operation and infrastructure design. In this new era of “big data”, massive volumes of sensing data from a variety of source (such as cell phones, GPS, probe vehicles, and inductive loops, etc.) enable TSE in an efficient, timely and accurate manner. This research develops a Bayesian-based theoretical framework, along with statistical inference algorithms, to (1) capture the complex flow patterns in the urban traffic network consisting both highways and arterials; (2) incorporate heterogeneous data sources into the process of TSE; (3) enable both estimation and perdition of traffic states; and (4) demonstrate the scalability to large-scale urban traffic networks. To achieve those goals, a Hierarchical Bayesian probabilistic model is proposed to capture spatio-temporal traffic states. The propagation of traffic states are encapsulated through mesoscopic network flow models (namely the Link Queue Model) and equilibrated fundamental diagrams. Traffic states in the Hierarchical Bayesian model are inferred using the Expectation-Maximization Extended Kalman Filter (EM-EKF). To better estimate and predict states, infrastructure supply is also estimated as part of the TSE process. It is done by adopting a series of algorithms to translate Twitter data into traffic incident information. Finally, the proposed EM-EKF algorithm is implemented and examined on the road networks in Washington DC. The results show that the proposed methods can handle large-scale traffic state estimation, while achieving superior results comparing to traditional temporal and spatial smoothing methods.