Traveller Information Systems. By Kevin S. Hutchby
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Georgia State Department of Transport

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Due to the strong partnerships at work in Georgia I was already familiar with some functions of GDOT. The visit, kindly arranged by Kim Law, allowed me to see their latest responses to the challenge of providing traveller information to Greater Atlanta and the rest of Georgia.

GDOT's composite video wall incorporates CCTV, congestion mapping and incident messages Away from the busy downtown area, GDOT's Transportation Management Centre provides traffic management solutions and a home for the vast array of CCTV signals fed from hundreds of traffic cameras. The $160 million development, built from match funding Federal and State money, is the home of the "Navigator" project. This state-wide transportation initiative was initially borne out of the successful Olympic bid that, back in 1990, provided the DOT with the opportunity to develop, design and deploy a completely new ITS project. State meetings involving the public, traffic engineers, transit organisations and trucking companies, aimed to work out how ITS could be most useful to Atlanta and the rest of Georgia State.

Based around a data backbone that currently covers 10 jurisdictions and encompasses links to Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett County traffic control centres as well as MARTA, the system aims to provide distributed real time information with the aim of achieving the quickest incident detection possible. A combination of automatic incident detection equipment, variable message signs, Internet technologies and dedicated control centre operators have already achieved excellent results in reducing congestion caused by breakdowns. In 1997, the average duration of highway incidents that caused lanes to be out of action was reduced by 23 minutes - which GDOT equate to a commuter saving of $44.6 million. GDOT's composite video wall incorporates CCTV, congestion mapping and incident messages

Obviously much larger in scale than Nottingham's CCTV centre, the Atlanta version boasts an impressive 317 cameras including 67 full colour capable models with remote control (pan, tilt and zoom facilities). The additional cameras are monochrome fixed cameras providing video information for further processing. The major difference between the Nottingham and Atlanta systems lies with this automatic video processing. Average vehicle speeds, lane occupancy levels and overall traffic volume figures are calculated. Any incidents detected can be verified and are processed in terms of the rapid despatch of breakdown vehicles (the highly rated H.E.R.O. response team) and in terms of deployment to other travellers via various methods including the large array of variable message signs installed around intersections of interstates. Other additional tools include a gyroscopic camera mounted on a helicopter. This extends the video coverage to areas within 50 mile radius of central Atlanta. This is currently only used for special events but some of Atlanta's television companies have their own helicopters which can be used for traffic reporting.

Utilising the video processing capabilities of the system, travel times are calculated along key sections of interstates 75 and 85 and forwarded to motorists to enable them to make strategic decisions about their journey. Such information is also forwarded to the Internet as another method of information dissemination.

Current research, again in both the U.S. and the U.K., suggests that journey time information is eagerly sought after. Travellers like to know at what time they can expect to be at their destination and therefore deduce a departure time or alternative mode of transport. Atlanta's VDS

By using current and archive video information Atlanta's Navigator system has achieved this. The Internet site can be viewed at Georgia Navigator and also features colour coded congestion maps similar to Puget Sound and real time CCTV images that are continuously updated. In August 2000 the Internet site was receiving about 4 million hits per month and utilises 4 separate servers, probably more now as a expansion was imminent.

The VMS network includes more than 45 signs designed to carry journey time, incident, delay and roadwork information messages generated from the Navigator system. These can include which particular lanes are affected. The signs are installed on the major Interstate routes 20, 75, 85 and 400 at such positions to allow drivers to make strategic decisions about their journey, during their journey. Other pertinent information displayed includes air quality data as Atlanta suffers from occasional smog problems. These messages are regularly backed up with encouragement to use transit or to car-share.

Other uses of the valuable CCTV information include the dissemination to the local television companies - WAGA, WSB and WXIA. This really was a common factor in all of the cities visited. The control centre here is also manned by a local radio company who broadcast travel information gleaned from the systems in place.

GDOT equipment coverage

The distribution of the GDOT equipment is shown here. The height of the map is approximately 33 miles

As well as the solutions produced by GDOT and its partners the information backbone is there for private companies to access if they wish to develop and market traveller information products or their own Internet sites, an ethos similar to that found in Seattle.

Dial in traveller information services: popoular across the States Development of GDOT's systems include information coverage over an even wider area by incorporating information from an extra 100 miles of road network. This was already under way in August 2000 and will improve coverage in Atlanta, and across into Macon County, for both travellers and commercial organisations. Technology wise, the Navigator project should soon include a dedicated traveller information telephone service similar to those found in Boston and the San Francisco Bay area. A partnership between GDOT, Bell South Mobility and Airtouch Cellular has developed the *DOT (*368) free cellular phone service. Motorists are encouraged to report any accident or incident they either see, or are unfortunate enough to be involved in. The 24 hour a day service provides another vital piece of the traffic incident management strategy of Georgia State.

To ensure that future developments can be carried out as seamlessly as possible GDOT is currently in the process of developing data interfaces that will allow simpler integration of other agency information. The system, known as Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA).

If ever you find yourself in Atlanta, with a day to spare, the TMC does offer daily tours. You can contact the Media office on 00-1-404-635-8017 to arrange a visit.

The internet version of Atlanta Interstate expected travel times

My sincere thanks go to Kim Law

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