Government Technology

A Better View

July 3, 2002 By

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a moving picture is worth a million. No wonder video cameras have become an important tool for managing metropolitan area traffic. In a growing number of traffic control centers, when news of a tie-up arrives, managers check their TV or computer screens to see the situation first hand. Once they know the cause of the problem and its severity, they decide how to respond, perhaps calling a tow truck to remove a stalled car and sending advice about alternate routes to radio stations and electronic changeable message signs.

In greater Cincinnati, a traffic management consortium called ARTIMIS (Advanced Regional Traffic Interactive Management and Information System) has installed more than 80 video cameras along 88 miles of interstate highway in southwestern Ohio and northern Kentucky. "The primary purpose is to monitor traffic conditions and verify incident locations," said Scott Evans, ARTIMIS program manager at the traffic control center in Cincinnati. TRW Inc. manages ARTIMIS under contract to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC), through a bi-state agreement with the Ohio Department of Transportation.

"There are a myriad of ways we might hear about an incident," Evans said.

Magnetic loop detectors embedded in roadways to monitor traffic speed might provide data that indicates a backup; traffic managers might hear of an accident on a police scanner; a call might come from the Freeway Service Patrol, a citizen or the center's traffic monitoring aircraft.

"We use the cameras to verify that there is indeed something there," he said. Operators in the center can make the color cameras pan, tilt and zoom to get a full view of the roadway. Most of the cameras transmit their images over a fiber-optic network; those in outlying areas use telephone lines.

Once it verifies an incident, ARTIMIS uses phone, fax, two-way radio and its Web site to get the word out to public safety officials, transit agencies, media outlets and the public. KYTC has a monitor in its office linked to the video system, citizens can view selected video images on the Web site and TV stations will soon be able to view and show the images.

SORTA Gets a Link

Earlier this year, one of the region's major transit agencies got its own window on the freeway as well. For some time, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has relied on two-way radio communications with the ARTIMIS center for details about traffic tie-ups on the interstates. "They call us immediately if there are problems," said Greg Lind, sector manager of SORTA in Cincinnati. In turn, SORTA alerts the traffic center when drivers report problems on the road.

Now, with a direct link to the cameras, Lind said, "We have the ability to monitor the progress of the incident and how traffic's going."

SORTA also sends supervisors to monitor traffic on nearby surface streets. Taken together, this information helps determine whether to reroute buses away from the incident and when to cancel detour instructions.

SORTA's dispatchers reroute their drivers by sending text messages over an 800 MHz trunked voice and data radio system. This is part of a computer-aided dispatching (CAD) system, which also uses the global positioning system to track SORTA's buses.

The region's other major transit agency, the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK), plans to put a direct video link in its dispatching center as well, Evans said. TANK currently stations a supervisor in the ARTIMIS control center during rush hours to watch the monitors. TANK is also implementing a CAD system for its buses.

Video Appliances

In central Florida, video technology is helping transportation agencies in several traffic management projects, all part of an effort to develop a regional intelligent transportation system (

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