Tips on Traffic, With a Personal Touch
Saturday, May 20, 2006
First came personal shoppers, trainers, even dog groomers. Now, Larry Greenfield wants to be your personal traffic consultant.
Greenfield founded TrafficFlex, a fledgling phone service based in Northern Virginia that commuters dial to find the fastest way to and from work each day. It works like a conference call, with Greenfield as the live host.
Backup at the bypass around Leesburg? Greenfield will steer you along Dry Mill Road. Accident on the Dulles Toll Road near Wiehle Avenue in Reston? Greenfield will tell you Leesburg Pike is probably your better bet today.
TrafficFlex, which is free, is not unlike the radio updates that thousands tune into to learn where the region's traffic tie-ups are. But Greenfield, a former telecommunications marketing executive, said he offers a more personal, immediate service. He's there at the other end of the line, telling commuter Mike to be careful as he steers past an accident, reminding Art to call back to report how the toll plaza looks, even asking Jim how soccer coaching is going. (This Jim doesn't coach. Oops, wrong Jim.)
Greenfield has conceived a product built for the region's high-stress commuting class. He provides information and companionship, sure. But the real commodity here is more illusory than knowing where the next slowdown starts; it's the idea that drivers can control their destinies. In a world in which the reverse is generally true -- in which three lanes of brake lights can instantly obliterate our freedom to move -- who doesn't want that?
"We have a new caller. Can I get your first name, please?" Greenfield asked on a recent morning. The caller was passing through Reston.
"It's Shane, coming up onto Hunter Mill Road."
"Okay, Shane, we've got Jim right ahead of you. It opened up quickly, didn't it, Jim?"
"Yes. There's a little slowdown up until Beulah Road."
"And just looking down toward the Beltway, it's lighter than usual," Greenfield added, concluding: "You're looking good, Shane."
Greenfield sounds a lot like a radio talk show host: smooth, conversational, friendly. He greets his callers, asks them where they are and tells them what he knows about what lies ahead. He also asks them to help him by telling him what they see. He consults Web cams and highway alerts as he talks from his home office in Great Falls, but he relies foremost on callers' reports from the road.
Such as this: "I'm on the Beltway and moving freely."