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Software Platform for Traffic Control Centers of 2nd Generation

How are traffic problems in today’s world related to existing Traffic Control Centers?

Today’s cities, metropolitan areas and densely populated regions all face similar traffic problems:

  • Roads are under-capacitated, often multiply under-capacitated (millions of vehicles are travelling through network built for hundreds of thousand)
  • Cars are still the first choice for travelling for most of the people
  • Most of the people use main corridors as their primary options
  • Private vehicles, public transport and other modes of transportation are not sufficiently coordinated
  • Traffic Control Centers (TCC) are not efficient enough and they do not have sufficient precise and detailed information about traffic to successfully coordinate it

The roots of these problems are:

  • The road network and related infrastructure was not designed and built having in mind such exponential rise of population and demand for traffic
  • The development of alternative transportation modes does not follow this rise of demand
  • Traffic management systems are built individually
  • Separate system for traffic lights management
  • Separate systems for ITS Advanced Traffic Management
  • Separate Systems for tunnel management
  • Separate traffic counting, separate CCTV, etc
  • The newest technologies are not immediately applied in TCC’s

This all results with the fact that although TCC’s do exist, they are relatively inefficient because they are running non-integrated and non-coordinated systems based on insufficient and non-synthetized traffic data.

Traffic management strategies applied from such TCC’s are rudimentary, slow in implementation, and usually end with poor results.

Such TCC’s are inefficient.

Those are TCC’s, generation 1.0. They only accomplish, maybe, 10% of their potential.

Why actually are TCC’s established and what actually should they do?

Actually, TCC’s are established with the goal to:

  • Monitor traffic situation in the road network
  • Identify possibility of congestion in advance
  • Identify traffic incidents (and accidents) immediately as they happen
  • Timely activate right measures (traffic strategies) for resolving congestion, incidents and preventing secondary incidents by using ITS systems for informing travelers and engaging relevant services (police, emergency, 511, …)
  • Based on experience, constantly improve traffic management strategies

In short, TCC must establish and keep maximum traffic flow with minimum primary and secondary incidents.

Such TCC will justify its existence.

Why don’t Traffic Control Centers 1.0. justify their existence?

To fulfill such goals, traffic managers and traffic operators in TCC must have technological infrastructure to help them in performing their duties. This infrastructure is built out of two components:

  • Traffic equipment for collecting information about actual traffic (traffic counters, CCTV cameras, etc.) and traffic equipment for directing and informing (variable and dynamic message signs, traffic lights, etc.) – THIS ALREADY EXISTS FOR MOST OF THE TCC’s
  • Suitable software infrastructure – TCC Software Platform that will allow traffic managers and operators to accomplish their goals efficiently and ergonomic – THIS DOES NOT EXIST IN MOST OF THE TCC’s

Instead of software platform, TCC’s 1.0. operate with non-integrated, non-coordinated applications for management of individual subsystems.

This all results with poor outcome, and enormous stress of traffic managers and operators.

The solution is Traffic Control Center – generation 2.0

The solution for this problem are TCC’s of second generation – (TCC 2.0). TCC’s 2.0 are based on software platform that integrates all systems in TCC and is capable of:

  • Analyze and synthetize real-time and historical data collected form all sensors, information from vehicles connected to TCC network, and all information received from related services and stakeholders
  • Present to the operator in TCC such synthetized information in ergonomic view so that they comprehend intuitively and very fast overall traffic situation in the entire network (city)
  • Anticipate and detect congestion and incidents before or immediately as they start happening
  • Alarm operators about congestion and incidents, allowing them prompt confirmation through CCTV which is integrated in the platform
  • Suggest them optimum strategies for resolving, and simulate, faster than real-time, outcomes of such strategies, so that operators can choose the right ones
  • Activate the strategies after operator’s approval by:
    • Sending commands for implementation of chosen strategy to relevant ITS devices (DMS, traffic lights, etc.)
    • Sending personalized instructions synthetized in TCC, to all vehicles using Connected Vehicles App
    • Informing all potential travelers through TCC web portal
    • Sending commands to relevant services and other related transportation modes
    • Supervise execution of all active strategies

Traffic Control Center 2.0 – modern traffic management technology and benefits for society

 Traffic Control Centers 2.0. are base and necessary precondition for implementing modern traffic management concepts known under different names such as Integrated Corridor Management (ICM), Smart Cities Traffic Management, etc.

In particular, TCC’s 2.0 bring following benefits to the society:

  • Successful and efficient traffic management of cities and bigger road networks, to the satisfaction of all users
  • Higher safety in traffic
  • Reduction in costs of congestion, incidents and pollution
  • Higher quality of living

topXviewTM is traffic management software platform which is designed and developed for TCC 2.0.

Integrated Corridor Management – Behind The Scenes

The Need For Integrated Corridor Management

The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has published a research in 2014 stating that in year 2013 the losses that American citizens suffered, related to traffic congestion, were $124 billion ($78 billion resulted from time and fuel wasted in traffic and $45 billion were indirect losses). This number will rise to $186 billion in 2030.

Integrated Corridor Management is organizational and technological measure envisioned by Federal Highway Administration and Department of Transportation for fighting these losses.

The US Department of Transportation (US DOT) defines Integrated Corridor Management (ICM) as „an approach to improving transportation by taking all elements in a corridor, including highways, arterial roads, and transit systems into account. ICM is the operational coordination of multiple transportation networks and cross network connections comprising a corridor and the institutional coordination of those agencies and entities responsible for corridor mobility. It will transform the way transportation networks are managed within a corridor, enabling agencies to see the overall impact of multimodal transportation network management decisions and to optimize the movement of people and goods within the corridor instead of just on individual networks. “

How Users See It?

ICM is a complex concept with numerous stakeholders. The stakeholders, users of the system, translate their needs and expectations from ICM system into Concept of Operations (ConOps) and System Requirements (SRS). The experience says that this level of concept and specifications is well defined at user level. In other words, user requirements are transparently defined.

Materialization of the Concept

ConOps and SRS are materialized through ICM software system (ICMSS). ICMSS is used by the users’ operating personnel to keep traffic on the corridor as efficient and harmonized as possible. They do it by supervising the conditions through graphical user interface that represents corridor network, and responding to events and incidents on the corridor by choosing, simulating and implementing suitable management strategies and response plans for incident/event management.

The main part of ICMSS is Decision Support System (DSS). DSS assists operators in choosing right strategies, simulates their outcome in real-time and transfers operating commands to different sub-systems on the corridor, handled by different agencies, such as Advanced Traffic Management Systems (ATMS), Traffic Signal Systems (TSS), etc.

So far, ICM systems have been implemented as Pilot projects and technological implementation of ICMSS is still not standardized. Only couple of implemented pilot projects so far, each of them with different lessons learned, are still too little to get clear picture about technological options for implementing ICMSS. Therefore, new pilot projects are still being conducted for that purpose.

Users know what they want to achieve with ICM, but they still don’t know what is the optimum technology to make ICM operating efficiently, in real-time, in simplest and most uniform way.

Technological Hurdles

The main purpose of ICMSS is to “give life” to a complex concept for integrated traffic management on a corridor. The implementation of that concept is linked to various communication and organizational challenges. DSS must help in solving all those challenges.

Currently, technical specifications for ICMSS and DSS are still being developed. There are technological hurdles to overcome. Here are some examples:

  • The quality of data. What data should be available to DSS and what is the minimum quality level for this data, so that real-time simulations done with this set of data could be considered plausible. Considering that data is collected at ATMS and TSS level, and DSS performs online simulation with this data, DSS must be able to compensate the difference between available data from ATMS and TSS level and minimum required data for simulation.
  • How to implement and track execution of initiated strategy through multi-hierarchical, multi-jurisdictional set of ATMS and TSS systems of different agencies throughout the corridor? The strategies are initiated at the ICM level that does not have jurisdiction over executive elements of local ATMS and TSS. The technological question is how to implement and operationalize it with ICMSS.
  • Efficient and effective dissemination of traffic information and rerouting towards travelers. How to persuade travelers to follow rerouting guidance as it is one of the basic measures for solving incident situations on Corridor? For some strategies that use multi-rerouting (traffic from main direction is rerouted on multiple rerouting directions) it is very important to redirect travelers to different directions with controllable ratios. How to achieve this most efficiently with available technology?

The Importance of ICM Software for ICM concept

The success of ICM concept will be proportional to the level of determination of all stakeholders, the quality of incident management strategies, and efficiency of ICMSS implementation, especially DSS.

Having in mind that integrated corridor management is happening in real time, the speed, precision and synchronization of reactions between all institutional and technological components of the system will determine the difference between success or failure of ICM concept.

ICM DSS is the technological component that defines that speed, precision and synchronization.

The Difference Between ICM Software and ATMS Software

The ATMS Software is focused on control of executive elements of road traffic management system (traffic detectors, DMS, meteo sensors, traffic lights, etc). On the other hand, besides ATMS functionalities, ICMSS also must support:

  • Integration of all transportation modes (private vehicles, public transport, light railway, etc) related to movement of travelers on a certain corridor
  • Operational relation between different services and institutions involved in traffic management processes (511, police, road patrol, first responders, fire department, etc)

 

All this must be orchestrated through ICM software system that supports complex operational processes that are happening during execution of management strategies defined in ICM ConsOps.

In other words, the purpose of ATMS software is operating only traffic management systems, while the purpose of ICMSS is managing multiple parallel complex processes – and this is the foundation of Integrated Corridor Management.

Some of ICMSS functions, such as process management in multi-hierarchical and multi-jurisdictional environment, interactive rule-based traffic irregularities detector and real-time simulation evaluator are completely new categories in traffic management technologies, not used in ATMS.

Conclusion

Integrated Corridor Management is a concept that has better potential to most effectively utilize ITS infrastructure and have most efficient impact on traffic flow, than any other known management concept in ITS.

The operational efficiency of ICM will depend on the level of involvement of all stakeholders, the quality of the design of the system, but at the end it will all be translated to the ICM Software System, which is the tool that stakeholders use to operationalize the concept. The heart of this system is Decision Support System, a true technical realization of ICM concept.

The software platform, on which ICMSS and DSS are built, must be adapted to operational processes of all involved stakeholders (traffic management, emergency actions, informing public, dissemination toward travelers, etc).

It is obvious that efficiency of ICMSS and DSS have direct impact on successful realization of ICM concept. Therefore, a great attention should be paid to the choice of software platform on which the system will be built. Having in mind that financial budgets and time limits of a single project are not enough to successfully build this complex software platform from the scratch, the implementation of such software system should be based on existing software platforms, validated on similar hierarchical traffic management systems concepts.

Blurred Lines: Managing Traffic in a Multi-Jurisdictional Environment

Cities are becoming more and more crowded today. Although, in most areas, there is a clear division between Department of Transportation (DOT) and City/County traffic responsibilities, with city congestion reaching new highs, the responsibility lines are getting blurry. Traditionally, the DOTs have mostly been responsible for traffic on highways, while cities/counties have mostly been responsible for traffic on arterials and city streets. But almost every day we are witnessing congested highways causing the traffic to spill over the ramps into the city streets, causing major gridlocks. The only way to alleviate traffic in such environment is coordination among supervising agencies (DOTs, cities, counties, etc.).

The New Operational Concept

The notion of various agencies collaborating and coordinating traffic gave rise to the Integrated Corridor Management (ICM). Although a great idea in theory, ICM may not be efficient in real life if there is no Institutional, Operational, and Technological Integration between all stakeholders, and all levels of their systems. These three fundamental levels of integration can’t exist if there isn’t an Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) software platform capable of physically integrating elements of ATMS, handling processes of all agencies involved, and implementing them in a multi-hierarchy and multi-jurisdictional context.

Simultaneous Event/Incident Management

City Traffic Management is very complex, and many traffic problems (including incidents) happen simultaneously. It is very important to focus on multiple simultaneous incidents during the planning phase, as this will dictate the system and control center architecture.  Successfully managing incidents means to promptly and effectively react to the incidents, and to dispatch the information to all required personnel and agencies. In such environment, it is important to have a management software platform that can handle executing responses to multiple incidents in parallel (simultaneously) and support multilevel situation management across multiple workstations and even multiple centers.

Building Blocks

The main component for building a truly Integrated traffic management and achieving all three levels of integration is a versatile and powerful ICM/ATMS software platform. It is the tool that bridges the gap between successfully designed traffic management system (for Integrated Corridor Management, Active Traffic Management, or some other concept), and effective implementation that brings real, measurable benefits to the stakeholders and the travelling public.

Integration platform has to be a software that simplifies traffic management. It has to provide the same efficiency and simplicity for managing a single object within a traffic network, as well as implementing fully automated centralized traffic management plans and strategies.

Integration – first component of ICM

The prerequisite for the above, and to implement a functional and efficient traffic management system, one must first bring all the data together to a central place, as opposed to each subsystem having its own workstation and interface. Bringing the data together opens the possibility for the system to interpret that data, and initiate various alarms if there are irregularities in traffic or within the system. These alarms could be programmable and easily edited to define different thresholds. They could also be triggered by input from a single subsystem, or a combination of inputs from various subsystems (i.e. lowering speed limit based on both traffic density and weather conditions on the road).

Step further – Decision Support System

Now that there are alarms, there could also be predefined reactions to these alarms, with implemented Decision Support System (DSS), that are executed by the system. It only makes sense these reactions, together with the alarms and DSS, are also in the same centralized place as the data.

 

In a city traffic environment, it often happens that the operators in control centers have to handle multiple situations with the same level of priority simultaneously. This requires traffic control center design with sufficient number of operator workstations. Situation management workflow has to be designed on the supervisor-operator base, supporting the multi-level execution structure.

Multilevel situation management will provide real operational integration by enabling:

  • Interactive execution of scenarios
  • Supervising active scenarios workflow
  • Developing new and editing existing scenarios in real-time
  • Management of multiple simultaneously running scenarios on same or different locations (confirming/checking/editing automatically initialized procedures)

Conclusion

Most of the time the role of ATMS software platform is neglected when contemplating modern traffic management concepts, especially in multi-jurisdictional environment. However, successful implementation of those concepts is very limited (maybe, simply impossible) without a suitable platform. The amount of data, events, and alarms happening in traffic is too large for humans to handle efficiently and systematically. The need for a capable software platform is very obvious when it comes to dealing with multiple incidents with different priorities and jurisdictions. That is when a computer is the only tool that can suggest optimal strategies based on some predefined rules.

What does the modern traffic control center do?

The cities are becoming more and more crowded with people and vehicles. The traffic infrastructure has its limits. The congestion will not disappear. The only way to challenge this growing problem is to use advanced Intelligent Transportation Systems and actively manage the traffic flow.

Active traffic management

When we think of „automated” or “active” traffic management, it very often reminds us on waiting in a queue in front of the traffic light, waiting for the green light to turn on, during which the question comes to our mind – “why isn’t this traffic light adjusted a little better”, because it seems to us that the „other direction“ flows much faster. Many times, it is just subjective evaluation that depends on our current mood, but very often, it is realistic evaluation.

Constant optimization of traffic management system is the most efficient technological solution for improving traffic flow. Although, if maximum capacity of the road/corridor is lower than what is really needed, it will not be sufficient, and in such cases only help can be expansion of the road. Nevertheless, in most of the cases, careful planning of traffic regulation strategies through integrated and active traffic management will contribute to better flow and satisfaction of the drivers.

Traffic control centers (TCC) are established for that purpose. The data from all kinds of sensors and traffic devices are being integrated in TCC, where they are analyzed and evaluated – turned into the useful information about the traffic flow. Based on that information, TCC remotely, actively, coordinates traffic management system. Depending on the type of the network of objects being managed (tunnels, bridges, freeways, highways or urban roads), active traffic management systems (ATMS) usually consist of traffic lights, dynamic message signs and displays, broadcasting systems as web pages or radio systems etc. Relevant data about traffic conditions are collected from various sensors and measuring devices such as CCTV cameras, video automatic incident detection systems, traffic counters and classifiers, speed detectors, weather sensors, tunnel and bridge sensors, etc.

Traffic control centers

The physical configuration of TCC depends mostly on importance and size of the traffic network or object being controlled (single tunnel, single freeway, integrated corridor or state/agency wide control center). Generally it consists of central video wall and multiple operator’s workplaces where relevant information about current traffic situation is presented to operators. Workplaces are ergonomically located in front of the video wall so that each operator faces video wall. The basic ergonomic setup assumes that each operator has an overview of local situation he is handling on monitors in front of him, but in parallel has a clear overview of central video wall, unobstructed from the operators around him, or his/theirs workstation monitors.

The heart of TCC is software platform that integrates data collection functions, presents it as relevant information to the operators, supports operators in their decision making by suggesting them most appropriate strategies for resolving events and incidents, and transfers executional commands to active elements of the system.

Traffic management – reactive and proactive

Inevitably, in the near future, the majority of relevant traffic data will be collected directly from the “connected” vehicles. Someone might question the sole purpose of TCC then. In fact, he would be wrong, as TCC will continue to be an indispensable component in the realization of active traffic management as processing of data, selection of management strategies and dissemination of information to the “connected” vehicles will still remain under the jurisdiction of TCC.

Connected vehicles and active traffic management

To keep it simple – traffic management is a set of actions undertaken with the goal to influence the traffic flow. It can be divided in two basic sets – reactive actions and continuous (proactive) actions. Reactive traffic management is set of actions done as a reaction to sudden and significant disturbance of traffic (for example: traffic accident). Proactive (continuous) traffic management is set of actions that is continuously applied as a reaction to current traffic flow and its trends with a goal to keep it efficient.

The roles and duties of the operator in TCC

The actions undertaken in traffic control center can be partially or fully automated, depending on the situation and reliability of information based on which action should be undertaken.

The fact is that sensors and detection systems are not completely reliable and the information received from them cannot always be taken as absolutely accurate, truthful and reliable to allow fully automated traffic management process, with no interaction with the operator.

Because of that, no matter how sophisticated active traffic management system is used in control center, still, most of the initiatives and approvals (confirmations) for running automated actions in the system have to be done by the operators in the control center. Based on overview of video feeds from the location of detected incident or disturbance, or based on report from the field, operator has to decide about starting the procedure (ATMS reaction) which will effectively resolve incident, event or traffic disturbance.

In case of incidents (traffic accident or any other situation that can jeopardize lives or property), its handling always requires additional operator’s actions in order to undertake all necessary measures to prevent escalation of the incident and minimize casualties and damage.

The usual actions executed by the operator in traffic control center are: detection of traffic disturbances/incidents through video surveillance or through other detection systems, initiating ATMS reaction, information sharing with other relevant stakeholders (police, emergency services, 511, etc), information sharing with other operators and services in TCC, information sharing with public services, coordination with field crews, etc.

Depending on number of incidents and events, these all actions can be very stressful as decisions have to be done in short time frames.

All of these actions can be significantly supported (even automated) through software platform, which would make operator’s job less error-prone and less stressful.

Subsequent articles will discuss traffic management process from the operator’s perspective, what is going on in his head during incident, how software platform can relieve him from the stress and make his job easier.