The idea is that down the track the Gridsmart cameras – developed by Cubic, which operates Sydney’s Opal card system – will directly control traffic light signals. Such systems are already in place in US and Canadian cities. The Department of Transport and the Transport Accident Commission have backed the research.
Professor Sarvi, who is the chair in transport engineering, said the cameras would detect traffic patterns and had the capacity to make on-the-spot decisions to control traffic flow. For instance, if a large group of children approached the intersection, they would be given right of way, or if an elderly pedestrian was walking slowly over a pedestrian crossing, he or she would be given extra time. The cameras would also give priority to public transport services.
“It’s like a human sitting at an intersection watching what happens,” Professor Sarvi said. “At the moment, we don’t have any eyes on what’s going on. Now, we have eyes and intelligence – it’s a powerful combination.”
The cameras to be installed by September are built with a micochip and cost $15,000 each. They are cheaper and more efficient than the current system of installing inductive loops beneath the road’s surface or other regular cameras that photograph traffic and send it on to controllers.
“All the processing happens in a fraction of a second at the intersection; you don’t need to send the image somewhere else,” Professor Sarvi said.
Chris Bax, vice-president of ITS global strategy at Cubic Transportation Systems, said COVID-19 had changed people’s travel patterns and it was necessary to monitor how traffic flows were changing.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in cycling around the world,” Mr Bax said. “We’ve also seen more people shy away from public transport and move back into their cars, which will increase congestion and put cyclists and pedestrians at risk.”
“Giving public transport priority at intersections to help them run on time … is an important thing to getting people’s confidence up in using public transport.”
Before the pandemic, in the Melbourne local government area, 1 million people would come into the city each day, but figures recorded on Monday show this has dropped by 80 per cent.
Public transport patronage has fallen to about 10 per cent of normal levels (about 200,00 daily trips) and road volumes were as low as 40 per cent of normal levels (about 4 million daily trips) under the previous lockdown.
Lord mayor Sally Capp said this showed people were keeping off the streets during lockdown.
”The number of people moving around our city streets is significantly lower compared with the previous three weeks,” Cr Capp said.
“This indicates people are doing the right thing and staying at home where possible, but we know this is going to have a major impact on local CBD businesses.”
A Transport Department spokesman said: “If appropriate and safe, walking or cycling is a good option for making trips for one of the four permitted reasons.”
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Timna Jacks is Transport Reporter at The Age