There are a number of intelligent traffic applications being progressively developed and introduced to better manage traffic and leading to the new era of smart traffic operations – what I am calling iTraffic 2.0, the next generation. (if Apple can have the iPhone and iPad!)
This traffic problem is expressed in the following equation:
Increasing traffic together with the inability to build enough new lanes will result in increasing traffic congestion and delays and reduced travel time reliability.
As there is a global move to road user charging, a new paradigm in managing traffic is needed. Road users will become direct customers who will expect greater attention to their needs and a higher level of service, or they will take their business to the nearest competitors’ toll road.
Traffic managers will need to adopt a suite of traffic applications (apps) in iTraffic 2.0, providing tools to improve customer service, improve safety, optimise the operation of motorways and ensure maximum return on investment of existing motorway infrastructure.
So let us explore some of the toolbox of hypothetical traffic apps that may well be available to help some day.
Maximising throughput – managing speed and flow
The first set of apps are designed to help optimising the use of the available traffic lanes.
iVelocity: actively manage critical sections of motorway balancing speed and flow through variable speed limit signs.
Automated variable speed limit signs are been progressively introduced around the world, as technology has become available, for example variable speed limit signs were introduced on the M25 Motorway in Britain in 1995.
The M25 controlled motorway concept has continued to be developed aimed at monitoring the speed – flow relationship and ensuring that flow breakdown doesn’t occur as traffic volumes build up in peak flow periods.
This system requires detectors to monitor speed and flow at frequent intervals (in time and space), at least every minute and say 500m intervals, analysing that information through a series of algorithms to select an appropriate speed to maintain optimum traffic flow and displaying the mandatory speed limit.
iEnforce: automated speed enforcement through speed monitoring, either point speeds or average speed over distance.
Speed monitoring devices at regular intervals on a motorway, say every 500 metres, and enforcement cameras using optical character read registration plate details ensure drivers comply with speed limits shown on variable speed limit signs and hence help maintain traffic flow. These types of devices are becoming more prevalent to improve safety, but also have a significant role for traffic efficiency.
This system provides a perception for users that speed limit compliance on the motorway is being continuously monitored, either with point enforcement by a camera at each gantry location or by average speed over a distance. Again this requires detectors and algorithms to determine speed of individual vehicles.
iTrafficam: streaming video of traffic flows across the motorway network.
Monitoring traffic flows and automatically detecting flow problems will be obtained using iVelocity, assisted through the use of iTrafficam, which will be able to identify and bring up the relevant camera vision of potential problem areas on video.
One aspect is automatically identifying and positioning camera vision based on an alert from iVelocity, but also using sophisticated video detection, could monitor all the camera vision directly and provide alerts for the traffic operator when potential problems are identified.
iTrafficinfo: real-time traffic information for improved operations.
Obtaining accurate reliable traffic information is vital for traffic operators to be able to make decisions on managing motorways. A graphical approach using a simple red-yellow-green colour coding for speed and/or flow on a system map, are already widely available in some motorway management systems. Combine this with alerts when new red areas appear can provide a ‘heads up’ of problems that the operator needs to address.
Some of these apps could be readily adapted to provide useful information direct to users as well, for example iTrafficinfo and iTrafficam could become iPhone apps, enabling users to look at traffic conditions for their proposed travel routes, or to find out what is causing the delay up ahead. Unexpected and unexplained delays are three to five times more of an issue to road users than expected delays.
This will result in customers having more access to how motorways are operating by being able to monitor traffic conditions and hence hold operators much more accountable for their performance in managing traffic networks.
A combination of emerging iTraffic 2.0 apps could well provide tools to improve customer service, improve safety, optimise traffic operations and ensure maximum return on investment of existing motorway infrastructure.