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'Smart' roads no substitute for more roads

The boffins are meeting in Auckland this week to see if technology can solve traffic congestion at an Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) summit, run by ITS New Zealand.

The boffins are meeting in Auckland this week to see if technology can solve traffic congestion at an Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) summit, run by ITS New Zealand.

President Deryk Whyte said it will provide New Zealanders the opportunity to hear from Asia-Pacific colleagues about ITS in their countries and how such systems have contributed to productivity and the wider economy. At the same time, he said, it would be a chance for New Zealand to "showcase" its own operational ITS applications, such as the NZ Transport Agency's Traffic Operations Centre at Smales Farm.

ITS, he said, referred to the application of advanced and emerging technologies from basic management systems, such as car navigation, traffic signal control systems, variable message signs, automatic numberplate recognition or speed cameras and monitoring applications such as security CCTV.

"ITS also covers more advanced applications that integrate live data and feedback from a number of other sources, such as fleet management systems; weather information; crowd source applications on smartphones and the like. All in all, such smart technology applied to transportation can save lives, time, money, energy and the environment," he said.

I can only hope we get better than what we have seen so far, because at best their impacts currently seem to be marginal.

Yes, it is nice to be told you are 30 minutes away or 40km from the next motorway, or whether there are queues ahead, but it makes little difference.

The same applies for those "on-ramp" traffic lights that mean you now queue to get onto Auckland's motorways instead of queuing while on them!

As for those fancy spy cameras on Auckland's Alpurt motorway extension, along with its associated call centre-based billing system, they still gobble up half the revenue generated from the tollway.

Of course, governments will try to squeeze every extra bit of capacity onto our congested highways. Times are hard, after all.

Yet such systems don't come cheap.

This week I read of plans for an intelligent upgrade of a motorway in Florida.

Under the system, cameras and sensors relay real-time images and data to traffic-management centres in Manatee and Lee counties. Technicians in the Manatee centre, which will be located inside the county's emergency operations building, will monitor traffic 16 hours every weekday while the Lee centre will do so on nights and weekends.

When a crash occurs, technicians can remotely control cameras to zero in on it, determine how bad it appears to be and notify emergency responders if needed. Technicians also can post warnings and detour information on the electronic signs, which also can be used for Amber/Silver alerts, storm warnings and other information, as well as issue radio advisories.

The highway system also will be connected to a traffic-signal management system that Manatee County currently is installing on major local roads. When complete, the county system will allow technicians to adjust traffic-signal cycles to improve the flow of traffic, including that detoured off the interstate.

The system is part of a $496 million, 1600-mile state-wide ITS system that Florida's Department of Transport is building, spokesperson Lauren Hatchell said.

You could build a few big bypasses for that. If you ask me, there is no still substitute for highway construction, especially when our governments are content to let the populations of our largest cities grow rapidly. More people will always mean more cars.