Unclogging urban streets with intelligent transportation systems

Unclogging urban streets with intelligent transportation systems
With urbanization on the rise globally, urban streets are becoming increasingly congested, causing stress and frustration among drivers. By deploying an intelligent transportation system (ITS) drivers could reduce their time on the road, not only making daily commutes less of a hassle but also decongesting streets and reducing the negative environmental impact.

Based on the 2016 INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard, traffic congestion is getting worse every year, with it costing US drivers nearly US$300 billion in 2016, an average of $1,400 per driver. Topping the global list of urban cities with the worst traffic congestion was Los Angeles, California, where the average driver spent 104 hours stuck in traffic jams during peak congestion hours in 2016.

“This contributed to congestion costing drivers in Los Angeles $2,408 each and the city as a whole $9.6 billion from direct and indirect costs. Direct costs relate to the value of fuel and time wasted, and indirect costs refer to freight and business fees from company vehicles idling in traffic, which are passed on to households through higher prices,” stated the report.

As a result of increased traffic congestion in urban areas, the demand for ITS is significantly on the rise. In fact, the global ITS market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 7.9 percent during the period 2017 to 2022, according to a report by BIS Research. The report also noted that growing demand has also led to the need for more sophisticated infrastructure and advanced systems to manage traffic and space scarcity.
 

Challenges of combating congestion

There are several challenges when addressing urban traffic congestion. “Some of them — data collection and processing — can be solved by HERE. Others — resources allocation, prioritization and implementation — lie in the hands of the public authorities. HERE supports them in the first and last steps of the process,” said Alexandra Teachout, Product Marketing Manager at HERE Technologies.

Among some of the more restrictive challenges is cost. “Traditional traffic detection such as inductive loops are expensive to maintain. When vehicles stop and go at an intersection, the wear and tear of the road surface causes loops to break and malfunction starting as soon as only several years after installation,” said Michael Deruytter, Director of Innovation at FLIR Intelligent Transportation Systems. “Above ground detection is a more economical alternative and is easier to install. A sensor is installed on existing infrastructure and covers multiple lanes from a single point of view. FLIR’s detection sensors are built to withstand harsh environmental conditions and have a high mean time between failures (MTBF) resulting in lower maintenance costs.”

FLIR has developed a broadband-over-powerline communication technology (BPL), which could help reduce installation costs for cabling of sensors. “Installing a FLIR ITS sensor does not require additional cabling as any existing cables can be re-used thanks to BPL technology incorporated in the sensor,” Deruytter said.

Integration is another challenge. Florian Matusek, Co-Founder of KiwiSecurity, explained, “Many city and urban centers have installed multiple systems over the years (many legacy, many new), and have to pay expensive fees for integrations that have to be updated frequently as new cameras and software systems are introduced into the infrastructure. But unified systems that don’t have to be put together, prove to be much easier to manage and to add new technologies like video analytics tools.”
 

Leveraging existing cameras

Matusek pointed out how deploying their software could reduce the need for expensive road works by also leveraging existing video surveillance cameras. “Using KiwiSecurity video analytics, expensive road-works (e.g., for installing inductive loops in the ground) are not necessary. Further, existing video surveillance cameras can be leveraged. These measures significantly reduce the cost of infrastructure of such systems, compared to traditional traffic management solutions,” he said.

Leveraging existing cameras, however, poses another challenge in itself. Matusek added, “Making sure the cameras are functioning is a challenge. At most times, 20 percent of video surveillance cameras have technical issues brought on by bad weather, electrical supply, firmware updates not coming through or the management system not ‘knowing’ that the camera is offline, due to communication and ‘health monitoring.’ With a unified backend security platform, much of these issues can be monitored, addressed and enhanced with KiwiSecurity video analytics.”

Regardless of any challenges, the advantages of using intelligent cameras in ITS become more obvious when pulling up video streams in the traffic management center.

“For example, when certain occupancy thresholds levels are reached, or when the average delay time at an intersection is getting too high, an operator can pull up a video feed for immediate feedback of the situation at an intersection and help decide on different traffic management scenarios or strategies and also monitor the impact of this change,” explained Deruytter. “Traffic can be diverted to different routes when an operator is alarmed by the system and video feeds reveal a traffic jam caused by an accident. The same video feed is monitored until the situation is resolved and then traffic is reverted to normal operation.”
 

Using ITS to improve flow

In order for ITS to be effective in improving traffic flow and congestion, it is important to first understand what is happening on the streets. “Alleviating congestion means understanding how and when it happens to be able to react to it and to prevent it. In urban areas, congestion typically occurs around intersections, which all look very similar, but the traffic situation around them is influenced by many different variables,” Deruytter explained.

This is where ITS comes in. “With vehicle presence detection at intersections, traffic signal phases (which directions get green) and timings (how long do they get green) can be managed based upon actual demand and status on the road by feeding real-time detection information into advanced traffic signal controllers. With traffic adaptive, detection information is also used to adjust signal timings of adjacent intersections along the road network or arterial,” Deruytter said.

“For example, it defines how vehicles arrive at the intersection and cross it. This index optimally gives detailed information about stoppage and delay times within all four arms of intersections. The delay should not be higher than the cycle times that are chosen by the traffic adaptive system, this would indicate vehicles do not get through the intersection in one red/green cycle,” he explained.

Detecting vehicles is only one part of relieving urban congestion. Urban streets are often filled with pedestrians and cyclists, which contribute to traffic jams. Deruytter noted how using bicycle and pedestrian detection could help with traffic signal timings so that they are only adjusted when necessary, and not cause unnecessary delays for vehicle traffic.

“Bicycles can get a few seconds head start at the intersection and can get longer clearance times when needed. With pedestrian push buttons, many delays are introduced as 70 percent of people push the button and cross the road without waiting for actual green. By the time it turns green, the pedestrian is gone. With pedestrian detection, these unnecessary delays are taken away by monitoring the curbside. With on-crossing detection, clearance times can be adjusted dynamically to allow safe passage for pedestrians, again without unnecessary delays for vehicles,” he said.

The use of video analytics could also provide important data for traffic management. “Through detection of free parking spaces, citizens can be informed when and where parking spaces are free. This reduces the amount of time that drivers search for a parking space, leading to less congestion,” Matusek said.

Deploying license plate recognition (LPR) to monitor parking could also help reduce traffic. “By deploying LPR, parking can be automatically controlled at the entrance of parking spaces by checking for cars that are allowed to park. This can be done without requiring vehicles to come to a complete stop, thus reducing long lines at parking spaces,” he added.
 

More connectivity, less congestion

Nowadays everything is becoming wirelessly connected. The global wireless connectivity market, in terms of value, is expected to reach $24.7 billion by 2022, at a CAGR of 7.6 percent between 2016 and 2022, according to a report by MarketsandMarkets. Automotive and transportation are part of this growing market, which could help ease traffic congestion.

“Today, one in every two cars sold has a built-in internet connection. This increasing connectivity means more data can be shared across the road network,” Teachout explained.

“We’re working with several transport agencies around the world on a system which would enable vehicles to warn each other of hazards happening on the road. They would send a notification to our cloud, we would then process that info and then redistribute it back to cars on the road that need it. This solution is enabled via a cellular network, which are already widely deployed around the world and have strong built in security protocols. We are already showing in pilot projects what is possible through standard 3G and 4G networks. With 5G technology just a few years away, the prospects are very bright for this approach,” she added.

As part of this increase in connectivity, Matusek also pointed to traffic apps. “Cameras, analytics data and real-time feeds can be shared from the city to traffic apps like Google Maps, Waze, etc. They can give real-time data on traffic flow — best times to drive in the city, parts of the highways to avoid, etc. All of this data becomes possible by good ‘sensors’ and data management: cameras, backend systems, analytics and re-broadcast to media and apps,” he said.

Autonomous cars are also gaining in popularity. The global autonomous vehicles market is expected to reach $126.8 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 39.6 percent during the forecast period 2017 to 2027, according to Infoholic Research.

“Connected and autonomous vehicles are opening up new ways of traffic management,” Deruytter pointed out. And with the autonomous vehicle market growing, more opportunities for traffic management are on the horizon.

In the future, Deruytter said they are looking forward to combining the strengths of real-time detection with real-time vehicle-toeverything communication to provide systems that will be able to predict and prevent congestion by acting upon inputs from sensors and data processing algorithms.”
 

Less congestion for happier roads

With urbanization showing no signs of stopping, traffic congestion in urban areas will only continue to worsen. This will not only create for unhappy drivers, but also impact economies and the environment. As companies continue to find more ways to reduce the cost of ITS and improve technology, adoption and deployment of such systems will help reduce the negative effects of traffic congestion, and hopefully make driving to work a less frustrating endeavor.


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