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Portsmouth uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to ease traffic woes

City council manages traffic flow and eases congestion with a wireless, Bluetooth IoT sensor network

Portsmouth Council has gained a new insight into how motor traffic flows through the city, has improved its forward planning and started to proactively manage jams and diversions after deploying a Bluetooth and Wi-Fi-enabled internet of things (IoT) sensor network around its most congested roads.

The council is nearly three years into a traffic monitoring project supported by Danish IoT specialist Blip Systems and local services provider Smart CCTV, to glean information on journey times and traffic patterns around Portsmouth.

Venture capital-backed Blip was set up in 2003 after an MBO of Ericsson’s Bluetooth business in Denmark. It has built up a substantial business around traffic and transportation collecting systems for data analysis.

Its BlipTrack technology is used in a number of other locations around the world, including the Port of Dover and Bristol and Manchester Airports in the UK, as well as numerous other airports and ports, stations, and even amusement parks and ski resorts.

Portsmouth City Council chose BlipTrack sensors to form the core of a new network covering one of the UK’s most densely populated urban areas.

With a population of more than 200,000, Portsmouth is also a major regional shopping centre and seaside resort, the embarkation point for ferry travellers heading to northern France, Spain and the Isle of Wight, and the location of a major naval base that also incorporates the city’s historic dockyard, home to HMS Victory and a number of other tourist attractions.

Portsmouth also hosts numerous important events, including the Great South Run, the Victorious Music Festival and the America’s Cup, which each attract well over 50,000 spectators, says council traffic engineer Lee Gilbert.

Portsmouth’s traffic problems have not been helped by the city’s unusual location on a coastal island surrounded by natural harbours and tidal flats, which presents some particular challenges because road traffic has only three access points to the city.

Sensor deployment

The council deployed a number of sensors on the roads linking 12 cross-city routes to the mainland – the M275, A3 and A2030 – as well as the M27/A27 east-west corridor, which runs to the north of the city.

The information collected is so far being used primarily within the council for strategic planning tasks, such as identifying problem areas, learning about the capacity of existing roads, and detecting changes in traffic patterns.

After adding further sensors, it has begun to log individual journeys, calculate average speeds, expose previously unknown ‘rat runs’ and short cuts, and identify parking problems. By factoring this data into its planning, the authority hopes to realise economic benefits through cutting commuting times, fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

Read more about smart transport

“We consider that the ease of extracting traffic data from the Blip Systems dashboard is significant to see how time savings are achieved,” says Gilbert. “Selecting the required route, date, time, and so on is very straightforward and simple to understand.

“Regarding cost savings, one of the biggest is made by triangulating three or more data units, allowing multiple routes to be monitored.

“The majority of Portsmouth residents are not aware how a system like this benefits them to date, which is unfortunate. But the reality is that close monitoring of travel times allow engineers to review routes where slower-than-expected journey times are being achieved, with improvements to be investigated.

“To date, the solution has been used mainly to the benefit of the traffic engineers in the city to: monitor live journey times during major roadworks and at large-scale events; provide traffic data for future planning meetings; view historical data, looking for quieter days and times on the network when planning major roadworks; and allow traffic engineers to provide clear and understandable data from a ‘third-party’ company to the public, mitigating the risk of any public perceptions that altering of data has been made for more favourable options.”

Public data

However, the council now plans to go further and, following an 18-month monitoring plan, will soon make the data available to city employees to use themselves, enabling the organisation to collect information on how the BlipTrack journey data can be used by people in their day-to-day lives.

If this trial is successful, says Gilbert, the council will attempt to expose its data to the general public online, on a website that could incorporate live streams of road traffic cameras, road work information and other services.

Smart CCTV managing director Peter Eccleson says Portsmouth is also benefiting from the ease of use and installation of the BlipTrack equipment, which can be moved and set up in new locations at will, with an average installation time of about 15 minutes per unit.

“This flexibility has also enhanced the level of confidence that the client has in overall product capability,” he says. “We have found the ease of installation and set-up incredibly simple. The solution is very cost-effective and the filter engine provides a robust method for removing the outlier data sets caused by vehicles stopping at shops, for example.

“There is no doubt that the solution has provided our clients with a level of confidence in better understanding journey times and hence managing the expectations of the travelling public.”

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