ATLANTA--Short of getting vehicles to move automatically along a wired or smart expressway, one of the biggest steps toward an intelligent transportation system (ITS) is making the people who use the highways smarter. To do that, people need information.

The most comprehensive demonstration of traveler information technology will take place here through Sept. 30. Not coincidentally, during that time the Summer olympic Games will be stressing the city's highways and mass transit systems.

In addition to the olympics, Atlanta's 29% increase in traffic congestion from 1982 to '92 and 36% population growth from 1983 to '93 made the city a target for the $14 million federally funded Traveler Information Showcase (TIS).

Reader's Digest magazine's description of Atlanta's TIS is that it gathers and disseminates accurate and consistent real-time traffic and mass transportation information to in-vehicle navigation systems, personal computers and communications devices, television viewers, radio listeners and even pedestrians.

The unabridged version of the story reveals a rare cooperative effort between federal, state and local government agencies; government and business--big business and small business; and automotive and non-automotive companies. It also shows the "most fully integrated (traffic management and traveler information) system working in the U.S. today," says Shelley Lynch, engineering systems manager at the Federal Highway Administration's Atlanta office.

Information on the state of Atlanta's highways is gathered with 63 strategically placed color video cameras, 316 video cameras equipped with image processors known as Autoscopes and numerous radar sites. Spotters in the field also will call in reports. operators at the transportation management center (TMC) monitor the situation on several giant screens and alert emergency crews to situations requiring their attention. Some 63 miles of fiber optic cable has been laid to link these systems with the TMC.

TRW Inc.'s Integrated Engineering Div., which helped to develop the TMC traffic management system, extended its ITS experience by developing the interface between the TMC and the TIS.

The TMC information is instantly put into a feeder computer operated by the TIS, which also takes data on bus and train schedules from Atlanta's MARTA transportation authority as well as Yellow Pages-type information and makes it available to the public using many media.

The most dynamic ITS-type element of the TIS are the data picked up by the in-vehicle navigation device supplied by Siemens Automotive. Not only does the device give the driver turn-by-turn navigation, it also adds accident, road construction and other information in real-time.

Siemens' TetraStar satellite navigation system will be installed on more than 100 vehicles, most of which will be provided by Oldsmobile and BMW. Various Olympics officials and other dignitaries will have access to these vehicles during the games. Information from the TMS is transmitted to the in-car devices via an FM radio side band.

Motorola, SkyTel and Hewlett-Packard's contribution to the TIS are personal communications devices that can access route information, bus and train schedules, parking availability and destination information via wireless communications. Personal computer users with access to the Internet can access real-time transportation on the TIS web site.

Information from the TMC and the TIS server will be broadcast on cable television and hotel in-room interactive television.

Important regional traffic data will be broadcast on weak AM radio signals in the area affected by the news. Motorists will be advised to tune in by blinking roadside signs. An automated telephone line with frequently updated information also is available. Also, 130 information kiosks that offer the same information found on the other sources will be placed in high pedestrian traffic areas around Atlanta.

"We're trying to have smart travelers in the Atlanta area," says Jerry Pittinger, director of the program for Battelle, which won the contract to manage the TIS. "If the travelers are smart, they'll make better transportation decisions."

Aside from the cable TV, Internet and radio broadcasts, very few people will have access to the personal communications devices, in-vehicle navigation and other specialized elements of the TIS.

Ms. Lynch says that the true benefit of the system comes not as a result of the information alone but the integration of all information being used by the TMC. "There's an expectation that it'll be a help, but not a fix," she says. "We can move quickly, identify problems and respond, and that will help. But the value that people will see from clearing an accident more quickly is hard to quantify."

On the information side, Ms. Lynch says the biggest benefit to the public is that it will be offered several transportation choices. "They can select the best way for them to get around, and that reduces stress," she says.

Whether or not the results are quantifiable or actually improve the highways around Atlanta this summer, the Traveler Information Showcase is serving as a valuable ground for intelligent highways of the future.