Across the world, many urban road networks are already saturated. This causes long delays for drivers, increasing frustration and reducing productivity. It also creates major public health risks due to poor air quality. Together, the effects of excessive traffic negatively impact city dwellers’ quality of life and the sustainability of cities.
According to one study from INRIX, a leading provider of transport insights, Los Angeles commuters spent over 100 hours a year in traffic jams in 2017 – more than any other city in the world. Additionally, London traffic jams cost drivers the equivalent of £2,430 (USD$3,135) each, equal to more than £9.5 billion (USD$12.3 billion) across the city as a whole. 
A major headache for city authorities
Needless to say, traffic becomes a headache for city administrators, particularly in cities where rapid urbanisation and economic growth have led to increased ownership of vehicles.
To find long-term solutions, city authorities are looking into the root causes of traffic congestion. In Hong Kong, the city’s Transport Advisory Committee published a report identifying the top-three causes of excessive traffic. These are: “too many vehicles on roads”, “illegal parking”, and “too much road works” – factors that all contribute heavily to traffic jams in cities worldwide.
How technology can help
In many cities, building new road capacity is not an option – either because of available space, disruption to economic activities, or budgetary constraints. In these circumstances, city authorities are beginning to look to smart technologies to make people’s journeys faster and safer.
In the portfolio of available traffic easing technologies, latest-generation video technology is the star. In particular, innovations in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and deep learning have transformed standard video monitoring with features that alert operators about traffic issues in real time. This allows them to take immediate action to keep lanes clear and to keep traffic flowing.
Three solutions with intelligent video technology for free-flowing cities
Next generation video solutions are already helping city authorities to reduce congestion and deliver major time savings for drivers. Three examples are:
This kind of solution uses smart cameras installed at intersections to monitor and report on real-time traffic flow. It works by constantly observing the flow of traffic lanes, and by counting vehicles within defined areas of the road. Data is then sent to traffic management control centres where operators can see the build-up of traffic across the city.
Critically, this citywide view of traffic allows operators to take action in real time to reduce the root causes of congestion, such as misuse of bus lanes or illegal parking. In the event of a traffic incident, traffic guidance solutions are also great news for drivers. Congestion information is displayed for them at each intersection, helping them predict their arrival time and – if delays are serious or persistent – to choose alternative routes or travel options.
While video is a critical element of the solution, full integration with third-party systems and algorithms is also needed. In this way, traffic data can be visualised on city maps and transmitted effectively to the control centre, drivers, emergency services, and others.
Traffic signal control
Traffic signal control solutions allow traffic lights to be coordinated to keep traffic flowing as freely as possible. They consume traffic data from traffic guidance systems to understand where traffic is building up at an intersection. To do this, intelligent traffic cameras count vehicles that cross an intersection as well as detect the length of vehicle queues at an intersection. They simultaneously share the real-time data with the traffic signal system.
Based on this data, traffic lights can be coordinated automatically to even out the traffic flow, giving traffic more or less priority, as needed, by extending or reducing the time available to cross the intersection. This helps to speed up journeys, reduces drivers’ frustration and eliminates the need for manual intervention by traffic police when traffic builds up in one direction.
In many cases, traffic congestion is caused by illegal or irresponsible road use, such as illegal parking and use of bus lanes. With traffic enforcement video solutions such as wrong-way driving detection, illegal U-turns and illegal parking detection, these kinds of incidents can be identified in real time, allowing operators in traffic control centres to alert the authorities in immediately. This makes it faster to react to incidences of illegal or irresponsible driving and remove obstacles on urban roads, while also holding drivers accountable.
As well as helping to reduce traffic congestion, traffic enforcement video solutions can also help to improve public safety. They can be used, for example, to detect drivers who run red lights or otherwise drive dangerously, and to take action against them.
A better future for congested cities
With urban traffic management now topping the agenda for most city authorities, intelligent video technology is a beacon of hope. By monitoring traffic in real time, these kinds of solutions allow city authorities to take immediate action to ease bottlenecks – reducing drivers’ frustration, reducing lost productivity and improving urban air quality. Additionally, real-time incident detection helps to improve overall driving standards, which ultimately reduces the number of accidents and saves lives.
As more and more city authorities begin to see the huge value of latest-generation video solutions for traffic management, adoption is accelerating. This is especially the case where cities have been able to implement a suitable regulatory and funding structure to support the implement of these kinds of solutions.