Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Tour of Vancouver's Traffic Control Division

My engineering association offered a tour of the control room in Vancouver City Hall that controls the 750 traffic lights around throughout the city. It was very interesting. About 15 engineers and engineering studentsattended. I rarely miss these because I'm fascinated with technology and how it is applied to improve processes. I also love to see the internal workings of any operation.

I learned several things from the presentation and subequent question & answer session:

  • The city has 11 cameras located in strategic areas to monitor the traffic patterns.

  • The images being observed at City Hall are specifically shown less sharp than they could be in order to maintain the privacy of those vehicles being shown.
  • No record of the images is being stored.
  • They can theoretically control every traffic light from that control room, but don't.
  • The introduction of sophisticated algorithms to improve traffic flow is being considered but has not as of yet.
  • City Hall employee observations of the traffic control room at Turino during the recent Olympics revealed that any tinkering had little to no positive effect. It may just be that the number of cars on the roads during such events is so far beyond the tipping point, that congestion is unavoidable.
  • Some major traffic intersections in Vancouver have both a sensor for the first car in the left turn lane, as well as the third car. If only two cars are lined up then they will not get the early free left turn. So some astute drivers have taken to pulling up where the third car normally is to beat the system. The traffic engineer giving us the presentation was intrigued by this and may implement some extra logic to stop it!

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