Traffic regulation

Digital tech can curb traffic issues

One of the worst aspects of urbanisation is the traffic it usually brings to an area. Without proper planning, cities become home to too many vehicles in narrow, busy roads — but the answer to traffic may lie in innovative technology. Check out how digital tech could improve traffic around the world.

Managing traffic in New York city

Heavy traffic isn’t new in The City That Never Sleeps, especially in Manhattan. This is a densely populated area with so much foot and car traffic. After all, the borough is home to numerous commercial and financial establishments. Not to mention, its cultural value cannot be denied as a tourist attraction.

But while cars won’t ever likely go away in Manhattan, there are ways to ease traffic. Midtown in Motion is the New York City Department of Transportation’s answer to traffic woes. It’s a million-dollar initiative that aims to manage traffic as it happens — all with the help of specialised sensors and cameras.

In particular, the traffic management system has a hundred sensors along with more than 30 video cameras. These devices are located at nearly two dozen intersections and are accompanied by E-ZPass Readers. All in all, Midtown in Motion covers areas from Fourth Avenue to 50th Street Manhattan.

Transparency and active traffic management

With all these devices, operators and engineers at the control center of the Midtown in Motion project can see not only the state of traffic but also how congested each intersection is in real-time. They can collect statistical information about when and for how long cars go around Midtown Manhattan on a weekly or daily basis, which may help in the development of better traffic management schemes.

What makes Midtown in Motion better than previous traffic management systems is that it adjusts to current traffic. Operators don’t just sit back and activate standard traffic signal patterns for a given day. Instead, they keep an open eye for choke points on the road and change signals to achieve a more equal distribution of traffic.

Another great aspect of the project is that real-time traffic information is not just given to operators — even drivers themselves can check it. They just have to check their phones to see which sections of Midtown Manhattan are experiencing heavy traffic at present.

People just have to use a secure connection to prevent hacking. They can use any virtual private network for their devices, including a VPN for conference purposes; this would still offer the same, reliable form of encryption and IP address masking.

SCATS in Sydney, Australia

SCATS is short for the Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System. Yet despite its name, SCATS is no longer limited for use in the New South Wales capital. Ever since its inception in the 1970s, the traffic management system has since been deployed to Iran, Ireland, Malaysia, Mexico, and Hong Kong.

One reason why SCATS become so successful is the fact that it was a product of programmers and traffic engineers. It wasn’t a mere project managed by politicians alone. There were experts who had a clear set of objectives, which then helped them devise the appropriate solutions.

Better for drivers and the environment

Similar to Midtown in Motion, SCATS uses several devices to track traffic in real time. But apart from cameras, this system also takes advantage of a sound system called an induction loop. The type used here is an inductive-loop traffic detector, which can sense when vehicles are approaching or leaving.

Once the system knows just how many vehicles are currently in an intersection, operators at the central data center can make appropriate changes to the traffic lights. And the project didn’t build its positive reputation by word-of-mouth alone; studies as well confirmed how better it was than other systems.

For one, SCATS was able to decrease overall travel time by more than 30 percent. Drivers had to make 20 percent fewer stops — and it was good for the environment too. There were notable reductions in both carbon dioxide and nitric oxide emissions.

Improving the traffic management system

SCATS doesn’t remain stale. There’s the Public Transport Information and Priority System (PTIPS), which uses computers to assess the state of public transport vehicles. It uses the SCATS interface and utilizes data provided by the government and other concerned organisations. With it, operators can check where buses are in real time and prioritise their navigation using traffic signals.

The system intends to develop better algorithms designed for traffic control — it even hopes to provide Windows support. Furthermore, developers want to integrate SCRAPS with GPS systems of drivers to help them avoid choke points and accident areas.

Heavy traffic won’t just fade away, especially in the future. A growing population along with an economic boom will entice more people into buying their own cars. But with the help of programmers and researchers, there will always be a variety of traffic management systems to ease the problem.