Considerations for Creating Smart Traffic Intersections - Canadian Government Executive
DevelopmentE-governmentInnovationsPolicyService deliveryTransformation
March 9, 2018

Considerations for Creating Smart Traffic Intersections

According to a recent McKinsey study there is a potential for a $4 trillion to $11 trillion economic impact in the year 2025 derived from Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Within that report up to $1.7 trillion of the estimate focuses on cities which includes public safety and health, traffic control, and resource management.

In Canada there are numerous stories regarding the issue of traffic safety as there continues to be an issue with pedestrians killed or injured by drivers.  This is one of the most important areas where smart traffic control can deliver immediate value for cities.  As the Canadian government is funding a $75 million dollar 2018 national smart cities challenge, this will continue to be a foundational area of our future. With experience providing smart traffic monitoring solutions to 55 per cent of intersections in North America, our data shows that smarter intersection control results in 10x less traffic issues.

The Case for Smart Traffic Management

In our decade of experience collaborating with cities around the world to improve traffic, we have noticed commonalities for cities that have decided it is time to modernize infrastructure that is in a lot of cases decades old. Besides the antiquated infrastructure, there is the fact the technology is closed and cities haven’t had a real option to select vendors best suited to solve their unique needs. This has resulted in cities being locked in with their obsolete technology widening the gap between what citizens want and what traffic engineers can deliver. We are in an age where an electric car is flying in space, and this age of technology innovation is creating new frontiers for what citizens expect from their governments.

With this backdrop in mind, governments are starting to open up to vendors that have the capability to empower them to meet citizen expectations. For example, in early February Shared Services Canada that it will now offer public cloud computing services for the Government of Canada. On a city scale, you’ll need to educate your key stakeholders to properly fund the use of these advanced technologies.

Big Data analytics has opened the door for more intelligence into performance measures that make it easier for cities to fund new initiatives. This is specifically occurring in the civic planning space through sensor data from connected devices around cities.

These performance measures have become a mandatory component of how projects get selected, funded, and assessed at the government and citizen level. Without a data-driven technology perspective a city planner is at significant risk of not obtaining funding to advance a city.

Until recently, traffic teams relied upon data to unlock additional roadway capacity. The tide has turned and in order to adopt smart city technology those that have a vested interest in its adoption will need to adjust to a more data-based funding world. In fact, this data when shared publicly is a means to improve citizen trust and satisfaction with the government.

Once you receive the appropriate funding it will be important to communicate the immediate and long term benefits for the government and citizens by having a more performance-based approach to traffic management. In terms of the benefits you could use when securing funding, they include: safety, reduced congestion, better community accessibility, improved environmental quality, more strategic land use, and new opportunities for economic development.

After this stage ensure government commitment to share data with taxpayers about the success of the project. This will help support future smart city opportunities that may involve emerging technologies which can improve the daily quality of life. Also by sharing this data you are increasing citizen confidence in the government to responsibly use tax dollars.

Additionally, by putting in the work to create a performance-based management of traffic intersections you will be able to succeed in helping your government lay the perfect and least expensive foundation for a smart city.

Benefits for Citizens

While emerging smart cities are gaining wide attention in the media, our passion lies in using innovative technologies to improve the daily lives of citizens. The great thing about smart traffic networks is that cities can start one intersection at a time. This enables a government to have a tangible example to show senior government officials regarding the impact on traffic congestion and safety.

For example, a regional municipality in Canada was looking to improve the efficiency of responses to accident and maintenance incidents, along with improving traffic planning, while reducing operational costs.  It implemented Miovision TrafficLink—which connects and optimizes traffic signals in cities—along multiple traffic corridors, combining streaming video, sensor data, and analytics to achieve these improvements.

The cities in that region now receive real-time alerts when there are significant changes to traffic flow and can verify whether an incident has occurred using streaming video. Transit and emergency medical personnel are alerted to slowdowns, and technicians and responders can be deployed instantly. The traffic counts the cities rely on for planning, modeling, and signal evaluation—performed every three years prior to implementing TrafficLink—can now be collected at any time to support traffic improvements.

Smart intersections can make roads safer, help transit arrive on time, reduce congestion, improve freight mobility and emergency response time, and make streets friendlier for pedestrians and cyclists. Take commute times for instance: there are few things more frustrating to drivers than unpredictable commutes. When the trip to work varies greatly from day to day, citizens become frustrated, often leading to more dangerous driving. With smart intersections, traffic moves more efficiently and signal issues are resolved in days – not months. What results is a more reliable commute, and happier citizens who can more accurately predict how long their drive will take before they ever hit the road. There’s simply no other place in the city that offers the level of citizen impact than a smart intersection.

What is the technology behind a smart intersection?

For those considering building a smart city, traffic signals are a great place to start as all of the technology that controls them are easily accessible in the traffic cabinet. This means our Miovision TrafficLink solution can be installed in the cabinet to acquire and communicate data from each traffic device back to the Traffic Management Center (TMC). This is a major reason why our customers choose this route because you don’t have to rip out and replace legacy traffic infrastructure or lay expensive fiber optic cables to gain connectivity. Traffic signal data can be connected to cellular LTE communications in 20 minutes or less.

Besides the connectivity, the high visibility of traffic lights makes it optimal for attaching video cameras and sensors to the light or to traffic poles to enable optimal data collection. The location and simplicity of connection make traffic signals an ideal, inexpensive and simple foundation for data collection.

So what’s behind our solution? AI and IoT.

With increasing pressure for cities to solve transportation problems and to improve livability and mobility, these technologies will play a critical role. IoT connectivity enables better decisions by providing data to help solve complex problems, including traffic and parking. While IoT provides new types of data, we need AI to make sense of it. With this new intelligence, transportation professionals can choose to open up that data to other city departments, or to developer communities, creating endless opportunities for innovation.

To help governments transition to a smart cities model in Canada and around the globe, Miovision relies on Amazon Web Services (AWS). With AWS, we can focus on engineering smarter solutions rather than managing back-end IT infrastructure. Miovision relies on AWS IoT to connect and control its devices in the field. AWS IoT provides a robust and highly secure way to connect thousands of sophisticated hardware endpoints.

The scalability of the AWS platform is invaluable as each of our thousands of devices can generate 10 messages per second, often more than 100,000 messages a day. AWS IoT easily handles massive amounts of real-time data and scales automatically as we add customers.

The Path to a Smarter City

After securing funding approval, you can start on a small scale with one intersection at a time. Use the metrics and benefits that you see from the first intersection as momentum to expand to other intersections and within a short period of time there will be unparalleled intelligence into city functionality that will open the door for adoption of other emerging technologies related to AI or IoT.

Intersections collect a myriad of data points, including vehicle, bike and pedestrian counts, traffic speed, intersection approach volume, congestion reports, accident surveillance, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth MAC address identification, public transportation monitoring, and traffic signal timing to name but a few. Pooling this data in one accessible location enabled unlimited analysis, evaluation, and optimization. More data provides better insights, and new opportunities to build a smarter city.

Smarter traffic signals don’t just optimize traffic. Connectivity provides the opportunity to integrate with other data points. Signals can connect to vehicles through Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communications. In the future, smart signals and sensors will deliver data like weather, crash reports and road conditions. Think of your city as a network of arteries providing check-in points to help you navigate the city most efficiently. Once ‘smart’ traffic signals have been deployed, data integration points are only limited by the imagination.

About this author

Dave Bullock

Dave is a serial entrepreneur who has built successful companies in the mobile, gaming, and telecommunications industries. He joined Miovision in 2015 and spearheads Miovision’s Intelligent Transportation efforts.

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