Edmonton’s Cutting Edge Traffic Management

The task was two-fold: create a video promoting Edmonton to an international audience of thousands, while at the same time explaining the most cutting-edge aspect of the City’s Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), to play repeatedly on a big screen at the 2011 ITS World Congress held in Orlando, Florida in September 2011.

The first part was easy. Edmonton is a unique metropolis, not just in Canada but in North America. We are the northernmost big city on the continent, built at a crossroads in the heart of Western Canada, covering a region the size of Puerto Rico. The strategic economic importance of this city in this province in this country at this point in history is hard to overstate.

The second part was more complex. Such is the nature of ITS. The video explains it best:

Here’s the gist:

  • Unlike any other city in the world, Edmonton is experimenting with software that creates predictive traffic modeling to offer real-time solutions to traffic congestion on Yellowhead Trail.

Here’s how the innovation works:

  • Cameras and sensors currently monitor traffic flow on the Yellowhead.
  • The new software takes the data feed from Yellowhead and automatically adjusts the traffic lights to maximize traffic flow based on a predictive algorithm (read: lots of complex math).
  • Whenever there is an incident causing a traffic jam (e.g. a collision or construction) the software does three things:
  1. Adjusts traffic lights on Yellowhead to improve flow, based on historic data.
  2. Posts information about the incident on the overhead Dynamic Message Signs to tell motorists of trouble ahead and suggest detour routes.
  3. Adjust traffic lights on the suggested detour routes to maximize their traffic flow.

All of which means a traffic jam can be cleared more quickly and efficiently.

Several mainstream media have covered Edmonton’s traffic technology. As the video mentions, the only other two cities in the world that are looking at this technology are London and Hong Kong, and both are interested in the results of the Edmonton pilot project.

So is BMW. The company is developing software for in-vehicle navigation systems that could tap into the predictive data feed and provide notifications to drivers more directly. Imagine driving a car that tells you: ‘Traffic jam ahead, take next turnoff to avoid.’

Over the long term, the City plans to build more grade-separated interchanges on Yellowhead Trail. But such projects are expensive, disruptive and decades away from completion. ITS offers medium-term solutions to traffic problems, and with its pilot project Edmonton is showing the world what is possible.