DSC_5467by Ray Hudson

Key to handling Surrey’s explosive traffic growth

Surrey’s new city hall is the location of the most advanced Traffic Management System (TMS) system in Canada, and likely North America. Under the direction Surrey Traffic Manager, Jamie Boan, and Sinisa Petrovic, Traffic Operations Manager, this ‘state of the art’ system allows for the monitoring and real-time management of traffic throughout the city of Surrey.

On entering the below grade room in city hall, one immediately sees an impressive display of 72 monitors. Facing that is a stepped floor with three workstations on each level. At the back of the centre, overlooking the monitors, is an additional boardroom-like facility with movable glass panels, which can become a coordination centre in the event of a disaster.

The system is currently using 175 cameras, with 252 to be operational by the end of December. The city is installing cameras in every one of its 350 signalized intersections, after which they will begin covering middle block locations, mall accesses and other areas, which have some traffic volume and safety issues. Over the next few years, the system will increase the to 500 cameras. All cameras are radio controlled eliminating the additional expense of being hard wired.

“We aren’t just monitoring traffic,” said Petrovic, “the staff is managing traffic real time. This is the first time this has been done in Canada, and probably North America. We have remote access to traffic signals and if anything happens our operators can view the intersection, access the signals and change light lengths as necessary.”

CR operator“The signal normally runs on a predetermined timing plan,” said operator Akshid Rezazadah, who was managing an accident at 152nd Street and 100th Ave, “but here, two lanes are completely blocked, and south-bound traffic now has to encroach into the northbound lane to move through safely. I extended the flashing green arrow to 40 seconds so the traffic can move safely southbound through the intersection. At the same time though, we have to manage the other directions so I reduced the through time of the east west flow – which is much lighter. I can monitor all the traffic approaching the intersection by switching to the other directional cameras at the intersetion, to see how each direction is being affected and balance accordingly.”

The system records all cameras in the system 24/7, and those data are held for 30 days which means that activity in any intersection can be recalled and viewed. A whole accident, including the situation of the lights at the time, can be reviewed which is huge advantage in terms of police and insurance investigations as well as traffic research. This is something rarely available previously.

Unable to monitor all of the cameras at once, the operators monitor twitter at their work-stations, which often provides the first notice of an accident. They also monitor traffic radio stations and “Google Traffic” for indications of problems. Then it’s simply a matter of bringing up the intersection in question. In future they would like to incorporate software that can detect crashes. When the computer sees no movement in an intersection for a period of time, two minutes for example, it will alert operators of a possible accident.

As part of the management of traffic, the city is introducing Coordinated Traffic Corridors in Surrey, where traffic flow is calibrated by the system’s computers, and lights all along a street (corridor) are operated based on the number and speed of vehicles. Currently the city has 30 such corridors in operation. Taking it to the next level, the city is now introducing Adaptive Coordinated Corridors. It’s the first city in North America to operate a real time adaptive system. The first of these systems is in operation along 72nd Avenue where, put simplistically, computers monitor traffic flow at each intersection along the corridor, in all four directions, then manage the flow to its optimum. It will be expanded as time goes on.

It’s an exciting development in the city that is actively pursuing innovation, but it does need drivers to ensure they are engaging the in-road sensors. Some drivers are stopping well short of stop lines at intersections, sometimes by as much as a full car length. This means vehicles are not engaging the road sensors so the system can’t properly assess the need for left turn signals or length of lights.

“You can see the sensors on the road,” said Rezazadah. “They are the black circles and occasionally rectangles, which contain the sensors, and when people don’t pull up to stop lines, where they’re located, the system can’t work it’s best.”

Petrovic said the centre is currently staffed by his Traffic Signal Group who are seven full time people that do regular traffic operations in the office as well as a 3 hour shift in the centre. Although all cameras are recording 24/7, the centre is staffed from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm. He said ultimately the TMC will be staffed around the clock and at that time they will likely go with a full time dedicated traffic centre staff.

And speaking of the future, when the Light Rail system goes into place, the system will also be able to manage the traffic around the movement of the trains to maximize intersection control along the LRT right of way, and contribute to a high level of safety along the train routes as well as for buses.

The investment in the TMC to date is about $2.7 million, which has made Surrey a leader in Canada because they are not just monitoring the traffic in Surrey, they are actively managing it.