How traffic sensors and cameras are transforming city streets

Authorities in the southeast of England are working with a subsidiary of infrastructure giant Ferrovial to trial sensors that will monitor and analyze traffic, in another sign of how tech is being used as a tool to inform decisions about how the towns and cities we live in function.

In a statement at the end of last week, Kent County Council explained its trial with Amey centered around the installation of 32 sensors that can identify who or what is using the road.

The technology, from a firm called Vivacity Labs, can distinguish between cars, bicycles, buses and pedestrians while recording their speeds and counting the number being used.

The sensors will be installed at a number of locations within the county, including the town center of Dover, a port and major transport and logistics hub which connects the U.K. to the European Union.

There, the sensors will be used to “monitor pedestrian, cycle, car, motorcycle, HGV and bus movements in and around the town of Dover, including the impacts of Brexit on port-related traffic.”

Elsewhere, “multiple sites” around the towns of Faversham and Tonbridge will use the sensors to check for compliance with a newly introduced speed limit of 20 miles per hour.

The trial in Kent is part of the two-year ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs program, which has received £22.9 million ($32.2 million) in funding from the U.K. government’s Department for Transport.

Of the new initiative in Kent, Amey’s account director for transport infrastructure, Sunita Dulai, said using the sensors would “help the local authority to make decisions that will improve road user safety, ease congestion and identify areas for transport infrastructure improvements.”

The information processed by the sensors will be anonymized to comply with data protection laws, with Vivacity Labs’ co-founder, Mark Nicholson, explaining that video imagery would be “deleted within one second of capture.”

“Very rarely, about 0.1% of the time, an image will be captured and sent to the server, but not before face blurring and number plate blurring has been applied to the image,” Nicholson added.

The use of innovative technologies related to urban mobility is not unique to Kent.

According to the Japanese government, intelligent transport systems (ITS) are “steadily expanding” in the country thanks to the popularization of electronic toll collection and vehicle information and communications systems.

Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) says intelligent transport systems — which are well-established there — have “been effective in allowing for better traffic flow by providing real-time information, eliminating congestion at toll gates and mitigating environmental impacts by offering differential toll discounts.”

With regards to traffic management, MLIT adds that tech including sensors, TV cameras, vehicle detectors and meteorological observation devices have been installed to gather accurate information on everything from traffic congestion and accidents to stationary vehicles.

As well as ensuring the smooth flow of traffic, technology is also being used to ensure drivers are following the law and using their vehicles in a safe manner.

In Australia, the government of New South Wales has rolled out cameras which can detect if people are using their cellphone whilst driving their vehicle.

The system uses fixed and mobile cameras that function day and night and software which “automatically reviews images and detects potential offending drivers.”

Images which show no offense being committed are “permanently and irretrievably deleted, typically within an hour.”

According to authorities, a pilot of the project detected more than 100,000 people using their phone illegally.

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