Congestion is becoming an increasingly serious problem for both governments and commuters worldwide. Not only do ubiquitous rush hours lead to soaring costs for government agencies and taxpayers, but CO2 emissions are rising and the number of potentially fatal traffic-related incidents is also on the up.

"Furthermore, the cost of congestion is more than $100bn, which equates to nearly $750 for every commuter in the US."

Hong Kong’s Transport Department’s Emergency Transport Coordination Centre (ETTC) now handles an estimated 3,000 traffic and transport incidents each year, a number which is growing at an annual rate of 2-3%, while 24,430 people were killed or seriously injured in reported road accidents in the UK in the year ending September 2011.

Congestion is a similarly serious problem in the US. According to the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University’s 2011 Urban Mobility Report, the amount of delay endured by the average commuter in 2010 was 34 hours, up from 14 hours in 1982. Furthermore, the cost of congestion is more than $100bn, which equates to nearly $750 for every commuter in the US.

As congestion issues continue to escalate, leading to more and more traffic incident-related accidents, the need for effective incident detection technologies and traffic flow monitoring systems is becoming increasingly acute.

Not only do these sophisticated technologies have the potential to improve road safety, they could also reduce CO2 emissions and significantly cut costs for government agencies and commuters worldwide.

Abacus 2.0 by Iteris

In August 2011, traffic management technology company Iteris launched Abacus 2.0, a piece of automated incident detection (AID) software, which uses existing camera systems to collect real-time traffic data in tunnels, highways and arterial roads, rapidly identify incidents and gain enhanced traffic flow information in a ready-to-use graphical user interface format.

Capable of supporting up to 12 video feeds, the innovative system allows operators and agencies to view potential danger zones in real time, as well as delivering messages immediately to operators via email and text message alerts or directly to the traffic management centre’s software, significantly reducing incident response time.

Not only does the product have the potential to improve response time; Abacus 2.0’s tracking-based detection algorithms turn CCTV cameras into a continuously rich source of traffic flow data, allowing operators to collect and analyse data on a more long-term basis.

Indeed, the system effectively collects volume, speed, occupancy, lane-by-lane and vehicle classification data. Costs can further be reduced due to the fact that data is immediately transformed into a configurable GUI reporting interface, cutting down significantly on analysis time.

MediaTunnel by Citilog

France-based incident detection company Citilog, which has systems installed in more than 800 sites worldwide, installed its video-based automatic incident detection system (AID), MediaTunnel, in 2011 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"According to Citilog, the flexibility of the system is what really sets it apart from its competitors."

The product ensures proactive response to incidents in the Reboucas tunnel, which plays host to 190,000 vehicles each day, as well as limiting the risk of secondary accidents, minimising the chances of both loss of human life and infrastructure damage.

In all, 52 Bosch IP cameras, with optimised fields of view covering 100% of the tunnel along with two redundant servers and five analysing computers (four working constantly, one an automatic spare) make up Citilog’s Brazil-based system, which can detect everything from stopped vehicles to pedestrians and wrong-way drivers, in less than 30 seconds.

One standard industrial computer then analyses up to 16 video streams in real time and alarms are delivered, both to the tunnel’s control centre and the city’s main control centre.

According to Citilog, the flexibility of the system is what really sets it apart from its competitors. "No other company can provide an incident detection system accepting digital video stream (RTSP) in an open format," the company emphasised.

"With Citilog’s technology, the customer isn’t locked into using a specific brand of camera or coder."

TIME project, by the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory

The Transport Information Monitoring Environment (TIME) project at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory aims to decrease the congestion in cities, by developing ways for low-cost monitoring methods to analyse the flow of traffic.

Focusing on the city of Cambridge, researchers have ‘re-purposed’ data sources from Cambridge County Council and the city’s local bus operator, Stagecoach, incorporating them into a system that can transport, collect and analyse data. Fortunately, as the infrastructure required to collect the data is already in operation, this part of the project incurs no extra expense for governments or commuters.

On top of using already existing data sources, TIME has investigated the use of low-cost, static, infra-red detectors to count traffic. By aiming a detector at a roadway and using appropriately placed count lines, the sensor can determine the number of vehicles that pass in each direction.

Moreover, Cambridgeshire County Council has allowed TIME project members to access and archive its real-time traffic light data from SCOOT (split cycle offset optimisation technique), which again is already in place, to count vehicles at traffic-light controlled junctions.

According to the TIME team, congestion can most effectively be tackled by reducing demand in congested areas. Providing citizens with accurate information on traffic conditions, they say, can encourage journeys at times of low congestion as well as an uptake in public transport. As the majority of cities, in the UK at least, have access to the kinds of data analysed by the TIME project, there is no reason why this approach could not be extended nationally.

Copenhagen traffic management system by Imtech

"Traffic is currently responsible for 21% of Copenhagen’s greenhouse gas emissions, but officials want to cut this down to 10% by 2015."

Improvements in road safety, reductions in congestion and savings in cost are not the only benefits sophisticated traffic monitoring devices can provide. Indeed, the city of Copenhagen is set to implement a high-tech traffic management system for an entirely different end – to reduce the region’s CO2 emissions.

The city has awarded a ten million euro contract to Dutch technical services provider Imtech to put in place a system that covers all 365 road junctions in Copenhagen.

Imtech’s traffic management technology will use a combination of real-time control, simulation and communication to enhance the city’s traffic flows, with priority given to cyclists and public transport.

Traffic is currently responsible for 21% of Copenhagen’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, but city officials want to cut this down to 10% by 2015 by increasing the number of residents who regularly travel by bicycle. In 2011, this stood at 36%, but by using the latest traffic management technology, the city hopes to increase the proportion of cyclists to 50% by 2025.