Optimizing Traffic Data

April 1, 2023
How to make cities safer and more efficient

By Robert Le Sueur, Contributing Author

City streets and highways are a complex ecosystem, where approximately 1.35 million people die each year globally because of traffic incidents, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly half of those deaths involved the most vulnerable road users (VRUs): pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists.

Cities should measure road traffic and crossing patterns, highway incidents, and tunnel flows.

The more traffic data a city can collect, the more it can anticipate road use to ensure a smooth and efficient trip for all.

Tapping into this valuable data can reduce congestion and increase response times in moments of need. When officials invest in intelligent transportation systems (ITS) based on video image processing of advanced analytics, they are working towards creating a smarter city (and a smarter county if neighboring towns participate in the initiative).

ITS sensors can collect many types of data. With combined thermal visible sensor solutions, urban planners and traffic controllers can have insight into the number of vehicles and VRUs on the road around the clock, the speed they’re traveling, function abnormalities, road congestion, vehicle class, and traffic interruptions.

With video analytics, a camera will be positioned on a pole to monitor the road. The moment the image processor detects an incident, it triggers an event and an output that goes to a connected interface with the traffic signal controller.

Some cities collect this data to reference how many vehicles travel at a specific hour, what distance was between them, and how long it took to move from one intersection to the next. However, the real magic occurs when the data is used to optimize critical traffic points.

Some of the most valuable data collection and optimization points for traffic include the following:

Intersection Management: Intersections require a unique balance between traffic flow and pedestrian crossings. With ITS data, intersections become intelligent and make informed decisions to adapt red and green light signals depending on road busyness and crossing demand. Traffic sensors determine when vehicles are waiting at red lights and can maintain smooth traffic flows, even in the busiest conditions. They also protect our most vulnerable users and allow them to cross safely between the flow of traffic.

Highway Incident Detection: These incidents can cost lives, resources, and time. Highways see many users daily, so it’s critical to mitigate and respond to risk as swiftly as possible. When highway signals determine an abnormality in vehicles, such as slowdowns and pullovers, advanced systems include artificial intelligence to place bounding boxes upon the vehicles in question within the video footage, notifying operators of an incident. From there, the incident gets reported to someone in traffic management, who decides if the road needs closure or if firefighters and paramedics are needed on the scene. The goal is to assess the situation as the queuing of vehicles often leads to secondary accidents.

Wrong Way Highway Drivers: If someone drives up the onramp in the opposite direction, the sensor will notice the fault, notify operators, and quickly respond if needed. Like highway incident detection mentioned above, advanced camera systems with analytics capabilities will quickly single out the road users causing disorder to help avoid the situation from escalating.

Fire Detection in Tunnels: Tunnel incidents can be tricky, especially if a vehicle is blocking or preventing others from passing. If a vehicle stops, this will trigger an event with the system, as the thermal component notifies about heat and fire risk. From here, the tunnel can be shut down, with traffic rerouted, to ensure safe access and mitigation from fire departments and EMTs.

Reporting and Joining Forces

The best way to optimize traffic data is by linking with neighboring towns. Cities can work together for continuous road and traffic improvements.

There are three data collection and reporting solutions: onboard camera analytics, public application programming interfaces (APIs), and cloud-based data analytics tools.

Neighboring towns could invest in ITS sensors, connect on the cloud, and agree to share data. By sharing, we could increase safety while making the journey more efficient for the millions of citizens who travel our roads each day. R&B

Robert Le Sueur is the regional sales manager, east, for Teledyne FLIR.

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