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Joining Forces And Technology Get sTraffic Moving

Joining Forces And Technology To Get Traffic Moving

Keeping Auckland’s traffic flowing is a huge task. Auckland's four city councils: North Shore City, Auckland City, Waitakere City and Manukau City and Transit New Zealand have formed a joint operation, the Traffic Management Unit, to manage congestion, improve information, travel times and safety on the city’s streets and motorways.

The initiative is part of a concerted effort to address the region’s transport challenges, said to be costing between $1 and $2 billion a year in lost time, access difficulties, fuel and stress. Around 660,000 cars, 93,000 trucks and approximately 3,000 buses were registered in Auckland last year. The resulting growth in traffic needs action if the city’s main roads are to be used with ease and efficiency.

The proposal to coordinate traffic flow management between councils was initiated in late 2000 as one of the projects under the Auckland Regional Shared Services initiative. The unit itself will be managed by Transit at an operational level, but for policy and direction, reports through to a Joint Executive Group made up of a representative from each of the five participants. The governance process is based not on proportional voting or mandating, but on resolving issues through mutual interest. Joseph Flanagan, chairperson of the Joint Executive Group, says keeping the city moving is critical to its economic health, especially when the regional population - about 1,3 million at present – is headed towards around 1,7 million by 20211. Looking to manage this growth and keep traffic moving, Auckland, Manukau, Waitakere and North Shore City Councils have formed a joint operation with Transit New Zealand.

“Our vision is for an innovative traffic management strategy that brings together a range of sophisticated traffic light, road management and web based information systems, overlaid with smart technology and staff to monitor and manage traffic flow,” explains Joseph Flanagan. “The City Councils and Transit have already formed partnerships with Police and are working to provide an integrated incident management process.”

"Our aim is to improve traffic management through partnerships and technology” says Paul Hambleton, manager of the new TMU. “We want to provide drivers with timely information to enable them to make informed choices and make the motorways and roads safer for everyone.”

Cooperation between the partners will see the motorway Advanced Traffic Management System (known as ATMS) and four separate SCATS (Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic Control System) traffic light systems linked for traffic flow optimisation and monitoring from one central location, the Traffic Management Centre (known by radio listeners as ATTOMS, Auckland’s Total Traffic Optimisation Management Service) at the New Zealand Police Harbour Bridge Head Quarters in Northcote.

From this centre, planned incidents such as roadworks and motorcades or unplanned incidents such as vehicle crashes and breakdowns will be monitored and managed by a team of 14 specialist operators and managers.

Transit’s ATMS pilot project, using tilt, pan and zoom cameras with images transmitted by fibre optic cable to the centre, has been covering parts of the Northern, Northwestern and Southern Motorways since late 1999. The dedicated team have acquired extensive experience of operating the cameras to get close up and wide view shots of traffic, shown on a bank of screens at the centre. The new initiative builds on Transit’s pilot project by combining four city SCATS systems, the ATMS technology and expert staff of all the partners.

“Our staff are watching the traffic 24/7 and making decisions based on what they see,” explains Paul Hambleton. “With the combined systems, they are able to monitor a much broader area. This enables them to make decisions that have more far-reaching outcomes in terms of the city’s traffic management.”

Scope of the challenge The objective of linking the systems is to optimise the safe and efficient movement of people, goods and services in the Auckland metropolitan area’s transport network in a way that is synchronized with regional and district strategies.

It’s no easy task when the traffic figures are considered: 200,000 vehicles a day use the country’s busiest section of road – Central Motorway (Spaghetti) Junction 150,000 vehicles cross the Harbour Bridge daily 113,000 vehicles travel along the Northwestern Motorway 81,000 vehicles use the Southwestern Motorway daily

"Our research has shown a key barrier to efficient transport in Auckland has been the fragmented and geographically dispersed nature of existing traffic monitoring services. We are moving towards solving that problem by bringing it together in one place at the Traffic Management Centre in Northcote, North Shore City. The union of the systems means local roads feeding into the main arterial roads and motorway corridors can be managed more efficiently,” explains Paul Hambleton. SCATS & ATMS systems There are 565 SCATS signals or traffic light intersections in the Auckland area shared between: Transit - 64 Auckland City - 286 Manukau - 120 North Shore City - 81 Waitakere - 52

SCATS: runs on five powerful Windows based server computers, while 10 networked PCs are used for the ATMS system. The system allows authorised staff to make rapid adjustments to light phasing time to expedite traffic flow.

covers a total of 35 kilometres of motorway from Central Motorway (Spaghetti) Junction to the Western Springs on-ramp, and on the Northern Motorway from Lonely Track Overpass down to SEART on-ramp on the Southern Motorway.

was designed for managing Sydney’s massive traffic flows. It has been used successfully by many authorities round the world and can be easily customised to meet local needs and adapts to changing traffic flows.

SCATS signals contain about 25,000 bulbs, changed every four, six, eight, twelve or twenty-four months depending on the bulb type.

Underground electric cables (known as ‘loops’) every 500 metres measure vehicle speed so average traffic flow can be monitored. This information is relayed back to the centre via fibre optic cable.

CCTV 66 closed circuit television cameras and variable message signs (VMS) are operable from the traffic management centre through a fibre optic network.

The cameras come into their own when a close-up view is required of an incident or when a large overview of a traffic stream is needed. In each case, the camera can either zoom in for a close up, or the operator in the centre can synchronise a number of cameras for a wider scenario view.

Staff can monitor the entire network in real time following traffic on a massive bank of television screens. For example, if a container falls off a truck, the cameras allow the centre to see how the flow is affected and enables them to direct assistance to the incident quickly and safely.

Paul Hambleton explains that around-the-clock coverage of relevant sections of the regional motorway and arterial network will mean more efficient traffic management. Traffic can be controlled by monitoring the flow into intersections and changing the timing of traffic lights he says.

“Giving traffic in one direction five seconds longer on a green light, for example, frees up the routes either before or after the junction. Likewise, making traffic stop for longer on red will allow the traffic direction with the heaviest flow more time to pass through the intersection. At peak times, operators are able to tweak the Scats system at the entrance to the Southern and Northwestern motorways by making changes to the lighting phases as they observe the

flow. With integration of the systems in this way, potential problems can be spotted and avoided earlier.”

He uses another example to illustrate: “An unexpected incident (such as a collision) occurs on a road two kilometres from a major motorway exit. While the incident itself might be minor, it can have a huge impact on traffic if it occurs during peak hours, or takes longer than expected to rectify.”

Nothing on the roads happens in isolation, he says, so even if the incident is a broken down car on the side of the road, it will affect traffic because people will slow down to look. In a similar vein, if an exit road from the motorway is blocked, then an immediate concertina affect occurs as the traffic backs up onto the motorway. The Traffic Management Unit can now manage that better by pre-warning or redirecting motorists.

“We gain a greater throughput of vehicles (over 2,200 vehicles per lane per hour) when they all travel at the same speed in a range between 50 and around 80 km per hour. When cars travel at high speed, they tend to separate more, reducing the actual throughput. By gradually slowing traffic from 100 to 70 km per hour or less, before it reaches a partially blocked lane, flow through the constriction is actually improved, as motorists are able to merge more smoothly.”

Future Developments “We intend to extend the variable message signs (VMS) on the motorways to warn motorists and improve flow. We have been trialling portable message signs to direct motorists away from incidents,” says Joseph Flanagan.

Over the next few years, more CCTV cameras will be acquired so that we monitor more road and motorway intersections and improve accessibility. This includes access for pedestrians, giving buses priority, improving truck freight and commuter flows.
Also in the pipeline is a website which will show direct video images. A trial site will be launched to offer real time updates on traffic to all radio and television stations. This will supplement existing broadcasts to radio stations, giving the public more access to information on traffic conditions to allow motorists to plan their journeys more efficiently.

Communication The Traffic Management Unit will inform the media who in turn will broadcast to the public so drivers can plan a different route or delay travel until the incident is resolved. The unit is also able to contact agencies like the police for on-site traffic management or clean up teams if there is debris to remove.

The integrated computer system enables staff to post messages to the seven VMS on the Central and Northern motorways to advise drivers of road conditions. Messages of up to 54 characters can be displayed over three lines and changes can be made very quickly as traffic conditions alter. A code system prevents rogue messages from being posted.

The 84 lane control signals on 20 gantries located between Wellington Street in the south and over the Harbour Bridge to Esmonde Road are also managed from the centre.

Better traffic management improves predictability of travel times - something users want according to Joseph Flanagan: “Aucklanders tend to view travelling as a time rather than a distance issue and for individuals and businesses time is money.”
Productivity Joseph Flanagan says it makes sense for the councils and Transit to resolve traffic issues together. Cooperation will not only help ease some of the financial and social problems that arise from traffic congestion, but also allow easier access to and exit from the motorway system. With the systems unified there is now a regional overview offering seamless links between roads and motorway.

“If the system enables a truck carrying goods to get across town 10 minutes quicker, and if that is replicated for all goods vehicles across the city, there are productivity and profitability benefits to be had by all,” explains Joseph Flanagan . He says the extra five or 10 minutes saved an hour adds up over a day or week. All those involved in the transport chain become more efficient and experience less ‘downtime.’

“Making these savings available across the region means a huge saving. It also means a more strategic use of funding if smart thinking is applied to make better use of what exists already.

”We still need to construct more capacity to complete the network, but before this we can increase capacity on existing roads. “Our staff are watching the traffic and making decisions based on what they see,” he says. We are talking non-stop traffic surveillance with an immediate, real time reaction.

“It is integration between technology and people, using the information generated to manage any situation that arises to move Aucklanders - bus travellers, motorists and public transport around the city in a smarter, safer and quicker way.”

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