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Stop! Look! And listen to how tech is tackling traffic
If you were travelling into London in the early 18th century you would have seen three policemen standing on London Bridge directing traffic into the city – one on each side to control numbers, and one in the middle making sure everyone stayed on the correct side. Thankfully, the officers were only directing a small number of horse-drawn coaches and wagons.
Today, London and many other European cities are facing serious traffic pressures on both roads and train lines. Congestion is bad for our health, bad for the economy, and bad for our blood pressure.
So how do we unclog our cities? The answer is smart traffic tech.
On the road
The UK capital has roughly 2.6 million registered vehicles which, due to heavy congestion, creep through the city at an average speed of just 8.3mph. The situation has been blamed on a range of things, including delivery vehicles, poor road planning and population increases.
In response, London is implementing the Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique (SCOOT) system – a network of sensors to manage traffic lights. Sensors watch traffic and automatically tweak signals to reduce congestion. The system, which uses 15,000 detectors, has been so successful that delays have been reduced by 13%.
But smart traffic tech isn’t only focused on vehicles. Managing pedestrians is an important part of keeping a city moving. London has expanded the SCOOT system to include cameras and electromagnetic footplates under the pavement to measure volumes of people waiting to cross in busy places. When a large enough crowd has built up, the traffic light automatically changes to green for pedestrians to cross. Managed crossings keep the traffic flowing and keep people safe.
On the rails
Train delays are frustrating for travellers and incredibly costly for economies – research suggests that cancelled trains in the north of England cost businesses nearly £38 million in the summer of 2018.
Although some delays cannot be helped – trees will always find a way to fall across tracks – systematic issues such as signalling can be designed out of the system. To help do that, Hitachi Information Control Systems Europe Ltd has a software product called dessan. The only specialist design software created exclusively for rail, dessan allows rail signallers to experiment, plan and test entire networks before they are built. Designers can simulate options for infrastructure and signalling layouts meaning all options can be assessed before committing to a final design. For example, a simulation could show that adding a rail bridge into a network would significantly reduce train congestion coming into a busy station. Without the software the bridge wouldn’t be built because of the associated test of trailing it.
Both on our roads and on the rails, the problem of congestion is getting worse. The backlogs are impacting economies, health and happiness. Smart solutions, like SCOOT and dessan, are helping to get us moving again.