Smart Traffic Systems 101: Components, Benefits, and the Big Data Connection
Smart lights, sensors, and detectors embedded in infrastructure are not futuristic ideas, they are components of smart traffic systems used in many cities today. As city populations grow, efficient transportation becomes critical for quality of life, economic productivity and the environment. Smart traffic systems are an easy way to improve all of these, without requiring large investments in physical infrastructure.
In this page we’ll cover:
- Smart traffic management
- Smart traffic system components
- An in-depth look at smart traffic lights and signals
- How big data and IoT make traffic management even smarter
Smart traffic management is a system used to regulate city traffic. It uses sensors and traffic signals to monitor, control and respond to traffic conditions. These centrally managed sensors and traffic signals are found on the city’s main roads.
The aim of smart traffic management systems:
- Reduce day-to-day congestion by improving traffic flow
- Prioritize traffic according to real-time changes in traffic conditions
- Reduce pollution by limiting traffic jams
- Prioritize buses entering intersections and use phasing lights to ensure to flow of buses through the city
- Improve traffic incident response time by creating a more effective system to monitor and manage traffic incidents
Many cities still employ inefficient traffic signals that change at predetermined times. New responsive smart traffic systems acquire data and update signal lengths according to traffic demands.
Smart traffic control systems generally use three devices:
- A central control system
- Smart traffic lights
- Cameras and queue detectors
The cameras and queue detectors inform the control system of real-time traffic conditions on busy city roads. Every two seconds, the control system calculates whether it is necessary to adjust traffic light activity. A smart traffic control system immediately adapts and adjusts to improve punctuality of buses, reduce the number of queueing vehicles in slip lanes, and make other changes that can improve the efficiency of traffic and reduce pollution.
Smart traffic lights minimize inefficiencies such as traffic jams or vehicles waiting at empty intersections. A network of smart traffic lights can identify patterns in traffic conditions and update their signals in real time.
Smart traffic signals improve traffic flow by:
- Detecting congestion: Traffic lights and sensors collect information from infrastructure sensors and communicate with vehicles on the road, using this information to influence traffic patterns.
- Synchronizing activity between traffic lights: Sensors placed at intersections gather information about traffic conditions to synchronize traffic light activity.
- Updating traffic light timing in real time: Traffic lights adjust their timing according to real-time traffic conditions. Traffic lights are thus no longer limited to providing signals at predefined time intervals.
- Updating and informing drivers of ideal speeds: Some smart traffic lights help drivers by suggesting an optimal driving speed. Drivers who maintain this speed will always reach the next traffic light when it is green. This helps regulate traffic, and creates a concept of “always green traffic lights”.
- Prioritizing transportation flow: Traffic lights and signals prioritize public transportation over private vehicles; when buses, ambulances, taxis or cyclists approach a traffic light, they always receive preference over private cars in the intersecting road.
Smart traffic lights have several benefits:
- Reduce congestion and time spent on the road to improve efficiency
- Make the road safer, reducing the chance of accidents
- Provide data to further improve transportation
- Decrease pollution by reducing congestion
A city should leverage big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) as part of its smart traffic system. IoT, in the context of traffic management, refers to smart, connected devices like sensors, vehicle-mounted information systems, and even private mobile phones. These devices transfer information via the internet to a central system for analysis. Big data analysts are responsible for analyzing this data, and using it to improve traffic management and flow.
Smart cities have IoT devices, in the form of sensors and detectors spread throughout the city and embedded in infrastructure. IoT and big data can impact traffic management in the following ways:
- Smart traffic lights: Smart traffic lights need data to operate. IoT sensors mounted under roads, in traffic cameras, or in vehicles, collect data and feed it to a big data management center for analysis. As a result of the analysis, the management center can feed optimal lighting patterns back to traffic lights.
- Smart parking: IoT uses GPS and underground sensors to detect available parking spots. Consumers can access this information via apps or notifications.
- Smart roads: Sensors can be embedded in traditional asphalt roads, making them a part of the interconnected smart traffic system. Under-road sensors can detect the location and speed of a vehicle, which encourages drivers to adhere to traffic regulations. Sensors allow emergency teams to receive alerts when an accident has taken place and guide them to the site of the accident. They can also notify drivers of upcoming hazards.
- Smart data analytics: IoT devices with cameras can collect camera footage from new locations and vantage points. Officials, as well as AI-driven software, can analyze this footage to better manage congestion, and notify those responsible for accidents or hazards.
- Public transportation: Sensors collect data via IoT to ensure that public transport runs on time. Public transportation is slowed down by a variety of factors such as weather conditions or accidents that take place along a bus route. Real-time data can help officials identify issues and take measures to ensure the smooth flow of traffic.
In the twentieth century, the only way to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion was physical infrastructure. Adding or improving roads is a complex, expensive and disruptive effort, and offers only a partial solution.
Smart traffic systems are a revolution because they can have a dramatic effect on traffic flow and congestion at a small fraction of the cost of building a new road. More importantly, they address the root of the problem—regulating traffic patterns, improving public transport and effectively balancing private and public transportation.
Rather than just adding more capacity, while traffic volumes grow unchecked, smart traffic systems can actually reduce and contain the traffic problem. They can improve quality of life, reduce pollution, and even save lives, reducing the number of accidents by providing real-time information to drivers and helping cities regulate traffic on busy roads and intersections.