New Portsmouth traffic centre aims to free up city’s roads

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WITH more cars on the roads than ever, a new highly-sophisticated system aims to keep the roads clear and assist drivers in getting home safe.

The new top-of-the-range Traffic Management Centre has been unveiled by Portsmouth City Council.

Councillor Simon Bosher asks Steve Flynn, traffic network engineer questions about the centre

Councillor Simon Bosher asks Steve Flynn, traffic network engineer questions about the centre

Stocked with 34 screens, providing a comprehensive picture of the traffic flow across the city and a live system that can be accessed anywhere and change traffic lights at the touch of a button, the new centre is being deemed as a breakthrough for the council.

After a year’s work, it was unveiled by Councillor Simon Bosher, cabinet member for transport, last week, and has already had a significant test-run – the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth into her home city.

With notice of the exact timings for her arrival only coming less than 48 hours before her hull pulled alongside Southsea seafront, it was all systems go for the team who quickly put together a plan for the morning with thousands heading to the coastline.

Following the 65,000-tonne ship’s celebrated arrival, the onus was then on the new centre to cobble together a plan to get people out of the city while also managing the regular flow of cars heading to work.

This centre will act as a springboard, allowing us to keep pace with all the improvements in technology that are arriving at a constant rate.

Councillor Simon Bosher

Steve Flynn, traffic network engineer, said: ‘We had people coming in from 4.30am to monitor it. We were expecting huge levels of pressure on the roads and so we had to ensure the signal flow was correctly in place to get people down to Southsea and then out of the city quickly.

‘It was a real test of the system and while it was peak rush hour when most of the cars were leaving the seafront, we have not had any complaints in relation to a mismanagement of the traffic at all.’

So, why did the council need an upgrade?

Paul Darlow, IS business partner at the council, explains: ‘With more cars driving in the city than ever, to get ahead of the curve, we have looked to bolster our ability to deal with it before it becomes very tough to deal with.

‘We used to manage the entire system based on one server, which could only have been accessed by someone in the office.

‘Now, we are utilising a cloud server which means we are able to access 
it everywhere and anywhere.

‘So, say, if there was an accident at 5am and it was leading to a build-up in the city, we would be able to log on from bed, access the CCTV, pinpoint the area where congestion is most prevalent and alter the traffic light pattern at a flick of a switch.’

But, why is it important that the council can access the system remotely?

Mr Darlow adds: ‘Previously, if the council offices were affected by a gas leak or for some reason had to close down and no-one was able to get in, then we would not have been able to log in or do anything to affect the traffic flow or manage the roads in any emergency situations. This will no longer be a problem.

‘The new technology is allowing us to move the centre forward in leaps and bounds and with improvements being discovered constantly, hopefully this will keep us ahead of the game.’

With a new live system able to spot incidents and build-ups at a faster pace, the council says it is then able to deliver real-time updates to drivers coming into the city.

Real-time data is also provided by the council’s legion of civil enforcement officers (or traffic wardens) on the city’s streets, 
phoning in the spotting 
of incidents or any updates.

In a further attempt to assist drivers, the centre is also exploring vehicle-to-everything or V2X technology that would see internal satellite navigation systems connect to the council’s real-time updates, informing drivers of up-to-the-minute traffic changes instantly.

The revolutionary technology is being explored by a number of companies and could lead to drivers being told in the future if there was a pedestrian in the road, preventing further accidents.

A trial is set to take place with BMWs from next March.

The centre is set to face its next big test from tomorrow as the Victorious Festival weekend kicks off.

An estimated 60,000 people are expected to travel to the seafront and a plan is already in motion to deal with the extra traffic.

While the council recommends public transport, those braving their cars should be expecting queuing traffic along Eastern Road and the M275.

Traffic on the motorway is expected to be heavier due to it being the more direct route and the estimated traffic flow for the route has already been structured around a designated plan at the centre to ease traffic coming in to the city.

Cllr Bosher, who opened the centre, said: ‘The new centre of course gives a strong visual impact to show the resources we have at our use but its more about the technology that we are able to use.

‘This new centre will give us greater flexibility to be able to control the issues we have to face one at a time.

‘Of course, there is no magic bullet in place to cure all of the city’s traffic problems and we are looking at a number of solutions as to how it can be eased, but at least now, with this new live system, the city would not grind to a halt if we were not able to get into the offices.

‘The arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth really put it through its paces and showed its worth to the council.

‘The people down here do important work as we are an island city here and we need to keep people and businesses moving.

‘This centre will act as a springboard, allowing us to keep pace with all the improvements in technology that are arriving at a constant rate.

‘The fact that we are now able to log on to it remotely, will only boost the service we already provide and give us as a stable footing for the future.’

The centre itself is right next to the council’s city-wide CCTV system where people’s movement across the streets is monitored and any incidents can be detected.

This works with the traffic management centre to assist police in terms of live reporting of emergency incidents.

The Conservative councillor said that the centre was one of a ‘catalogue of improvements’ aimed at freeing up traffic flow in the city with Eastern Road targeted for an upgrade.

Public consultations on the works, which are expected to see some changes to enable greater use of cycling down the major route, are set to take place with residents from next month.