In the first phase, the project aims to capture a more granular picture of traffic flow
West Midlands 5G (WM5G) and Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) have joined forces to establish a 5G-connected road sensor network to help tackle congestion.
The network will relay live traffic information to the regional control centre to enable swift action to be taken as queues build up. This could include diverting buses, implementing diversions and issuing instant warnings to motorists.
The traffic data will also be used to spot traffic trends and help plan future transport development.
In its first phase, the project aims to capture a more granular picture of traffic flow through the deployment of various of 5G enabled sensors, radar and cameras across the key route network.
The next stage of the £5.8m project will see around 280 sensors provided by technology companies Vivacity and Vaisala deployed across the seven constituent authorities of the West Midlands Combined Authority area, before its conclusion in March 2022.
The project centres around the Key Route Network, a set of A and B roads equivalent to seven per cent of the available network but which carry over half of all traffic within the region. This has resulted in congestion hotspots affecting drivers and bus passengers.
Insight from the first phase will prove critical in reducing congestion and predicting and managing increasing levels of traffic particularly during major events or incidents. TfWM, which is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), has been working with partners such as WSP, Siemens, Earthsense and Vodafone in delivering the project.
“This sensor network is yet another example of how the West Midlands is at the forefront of 5G technology and the cutting edge of transport innovation,” said Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA. “5G is far more than just quicker streaming of movies, and this works shows the difference it will make to people’s everyday lives across the region.
“The road sensor network project will form a key part of planning and developing our future transport network, allowing us access to data that would otherwise have not been possible without 5G. Projects like this show how critical it was we got ahead of the game and won the right to be the UK’s first regional 5G testbed back in 2018.”
The project supports the Regional Transport Coordination Centre (RTCC) and Local Authority Traffic Control Centres to provide real-time anonymised insights about traffic flow and capacity on the roads.
“The road sensor network project will form a key part of planning and developing our future transport network, allowing us access to data that would otherwise have not been possible without 5G”
The project will also allow the region to develop better traffic models or digital twins allowing better understanding of changes in travel behaviour as the region comes out of lockdown. These models will enable the prioritisation of road improvements and support new developments.
To date, the region has relied on manual surveys of traffic flows using pneumatic tubes or limited coverage of CCTV and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to gauge the number of vehicles and journeys being undertaken on the region’s roads. This approach is limited in terms of the data and information it provides, making it difficult to accurately predict or model transport activity on the road network.
5G’s high speed and low latency (the time from action to reaction) enables the data captured to be anonymised and transferred to the RTCC in near-real time, building a more accurate simulation model of anticipated traffic and improving congestion management. It also supports the collection of a much richer set of data including pedestrian, cycle movements and supports evaluation of Future Transport Zone initiatives such as demand responsive transport and e-scooters.
The road sensor network will also deploy environmental sensors to gain greater insight into noise levels, particulates, CO and CO2 counts, as well as weather and humidity data. This kind of information will support the TfWM in meeting air quality objectives and help the region reduce its emissions footprint; which in turn will improve the health and wellbeing of local citizens and road users.
Councillor Ian Ward, WMCA portfolio holder for transport and leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “Making the regions roads greener, better connected and less congested will bring about a great number of benefits to residents and local businesses. Digital solutions such as the road sensor network will be critical in delivering the insights necessary to action such tangible long-term change.”
WM5G is a multi-million-pound programme that both the WMCA and DCMS set-up to develop the UK’s first region-wide 5G testbed. DCMS expects to invest over £20m in the programme, in addition to substantial West Midlands public sector and private investment (October 2018 to March 2022).
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