Why Only a Data-driven Approach Can Beat Traffic Congestion

To improve a city’s ageing transport infrastructure, you need to know where the problems lie. That’s where big data comes in

As our towns and cities expand and grow, they face the prospect of increased traffic congestion and air pollution. In a 9-5 economy, the ‘rush hour’ problem is inescapable - too many people, too many vehicles, all wanting to use the roads at the same time.

According to the TomTom Traffic Index [1], Belfast is currently the UK’s most congested city with journeys taking an average of 43% longer. It’s followed by the gridlocked streets of Edinburgh and London (40%), then by Manchester (38%) and Brighton and Hove (36%).

Without a dramatic shift in working patterns, smarter solutions to easing congestion (and the resultant air pollution) need to be explored. The good news is that modern sensor technology, big data analytics and cloud computing are making some promising headway.

As cities expand, population swells and more vehicles test the limits of ageing urban infrastructure.

Strategic use of diverse datasets and big data analytics can improve the efficiency of transport infrastructure

A city in the Chinese province of Zhejiang, for example, installed more than 1,000 digital monitoring devices in the city’s key checkpoints. These sensors capture images and video data continuously, which is then processed in real-time to provide an analysis of traffic conditions, accidents and road violations.

“With 24 months of traffic violation image information stored in the system, traffic police departments easily retrieve vehicle information such as the colour, model, and license plate in real time along with other relevant information such as historical behaviour, driving routes, the vehicle’s operating company, and the identity of the driver.”[2]

Discover how Intel® technologies can unlock the potential of your business data ›

In Rio de Janeiro[3], agencies have been gathering, combining and analysing data to improve city services since 2010. According to a big data report by the Department for Transport, Rio is a partner in the Waze Connected Cities program, using the crowd-sourced traffic app to monitor road conditions, reduce emergency response times and improve refuse collection routes.

Singapore, meanwhile, is capturing data from RFID-equipped travel card use, CCTV footage, real-time taxi information and anonymised mobile phone data to monitor traffic patterns and predict potential problems.[3] It’s proof that strategic use of diverse datasets and big data analytics can improve the efficiency of transport infrastructure.

Singapore is one of the smartest cities in the world and uses big data analytics to monitor its transportation network.

Transport for London (TfL) arguably leads the way in this area. Its Open Data project currently provides more than 80 data feeds through a free unified API. These include feeds for air quality, tube times, passenger count data and live traffic disruptions. The availability of this data is reported to boost the capital’s economy by up to £130 million a year.[4]

More than 600 apps are now being powered using these feeds, used by 42 percent of Londoners.

Jeni Tennison, CEO at the Open Data Institute said: "Open data is changing our everyday lives and how organisations like TfL work. In fact, data is becoming as important as other types of infrastructure, such as roads and electricity, which means building strong data infrastructure is vital to economic growth and wellbeing.”

In the right hands, big data analytics allows smart cities to connect previously unconnected information, to exchange and analyse it, ultimately unearthing key insights that can improve the quality of life for everyone. This might include improved planning, greater operational efficiency and improved public transport (leading to reduced vehicle emissions and better air quality).

Whether we realise it or not, the future is data-driven. What did we ever do without it?

Unleash the power of your business data with leading-edge Intel® technologies ›

In the battle against air pollution, big data is winning

Technology is rising to the challenge of air pollution, with cloud computing and data analytics-based solutions helping to make our cities healthier places to live.

Read more

New technology is changing how cities tackle crime

Over half of the world’s population live in cities, where the application of data analytics is revolutionising how authorities protect them from crime.

Read more

From gaslight to intelligent data node, street lights are evolving

By embracing cloud networks and big data analytics, modern street lights now do so much more than just show us a safe path home in the dark.

Read more

Big data has the potential to identify previously unknown hotspots of commercial activity that could help you respond more effectively

Discover how with this free expert guide