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Signal Green, all the way!

Last Updated : 28 May 2016, 19:46 IST
Last Updated : 28 May 2016, 19:46 IST

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Wriggling out of a traffic-clogged junction, motorist Rishikesh could see vehicles piling up at the next signal barely 400 metres away. As he approached it preparing for another 20-minute wait, a thought struck him: Why don’t they synchronise multiple signals to ensure seamless vehicular movement? Why don’t signals communicate smartly to adjust to vehicle density and numbers?

Battling Bengaluru’s explosive vehicular growth, its traffic management strategies pushed to the limit, the city police have exactly the same thoughts as Rishikesh. Scouting for solutions, they have finally zeroed in on a mechanism that could actually link vehicle density with traffic signals. It’s called the Area Traffic Control System (ATCS), a potential relief finally from the fixed time signals. 

ATCS explained
Simply put, here’s how the ATCS will work: All traffic signals in a designated area will be connected to a control room, equipped with the required hardware and software. Every signal in the area will send data about real-time congestion on the approach roads. 

The software analyses this data to fix the vehicle waiting time at the signal. This traffic density-linked revised time is relayed and flashed at the intersection. Motorists could then stick to an appropriate speed and ensure that they get green signals right through the corridor.

The big idea is this: To help movement of vehicles from the first to the last signal in a designated area of ATCS in the quickest possible time. This will evenly distribute congestion on the road, and in the city’s Central Business District (CBD), this could potentially be a game-changer.

Congestion will dictate how much time a vehicle has to wait at a signal. This is a far cry from the fixed time signals, where motorists invariably get stuck regardless of traffic density. The existing system is so faulty at times that the timers are not adjusted for far lesser traffic during night hours. Result: Mounting signal-jumping cases by motorists frustrated by timers that show 120 seconds even if a road is virtually deserted.

Homework before ATCS
But the ATCS will not be introduced in a hurry. First, a survey of traffic patterns in a chosen area will have to be conducted. 

This will identify problem areas such as the number of crossroads converging at a main road and affecting the continuous flow of traffic on that road. Besides, traffic police personnel long used to the traditional way of managing traffic at a junction will have to be retrained. 

Traffic police officials and traffic experts both agree that ATCS does minimise overall journey time by reducing the number of stop delays. Reduced congestion means less number of accidents. An average increase in fuel savings is another key benefit. 

But there are disadvantages as well, the cost factor being one of them. ATCS, say experts, is a very advanced traffic control strategy requiring the services of highly skilled personnel to operate the system. High complexity is another. The system incorporates Vehicle Detectors, Intersection Controllers, Communication Networks, Application Software and a Central Control System. 

Vehicle Detectors
 Vehicle Detectors (VD) do exactly what they say: Detect the presence of vehicles, collect data to find the average speed, vehicle flow, density and queue length measurement at a traffic intersection. In effect, the VD acts as a nodal point between the vehicle and the intersection controller. The detector could be of different types: ultrasonic, microwave radar, infrared laser radar, video imaging or an inductive loop. 

The last option is likely to be chosen for the ATCS in Bengaluru. Traffic expert M N Sreehari explains that the inductive loop is inserted below the pavement and between junctions to get automatic data about vehicular density. The system, he feels, could work seamlessly if introduced at junctions along the Old Airport Road corridor or in the area between Sankey Road and Mehkri Circle. Eight to 10 signalled junctions could be combined to make the system work. 

Challenges 
However, there is one key concern about all the ATCS technologies currently being implemented in various developed countries: Can they be adopted in Indian cities where lane discipline is a virtually an alien concept? Besides, the traffic is highly mixed. Bicycles, two-wheelers, cars and even bullock carts move on the same lane, as H P Khincha, chairman of Karnataka State Innovation Council, points out. Complicating matters are unregulated side road and on-street parking. Loss of data due to power failures is another challenge. 

Yet, despite these challenges, all indications are that the ATCS will see the light of day by this year-end in Bengaluru. 

Positive impact study reports from Delhi and Pune, where it was first introduced five years ago, could give a big push to its implementation here. 

The Pune ATCS covered 37 signals. 

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Published 28 May 2016, 19:46 IST

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