SURREY â€” During the throes of Surrey’s rush hour, when the streets are congested and the traffic lights seem to conspire against you, it can feel like there’s little order to the chaos.
But there are, in fact, people watching over you, trying to help you get to your destination just a little faster, and in a more relaxed state of mind.
Surrey’s traffic management centre at the newly minted City Hall, which became operational in September, has eight municipal employees working in three hour shifts from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. to keep traffic moving.
Using a highly sophisticated computer system, employees make use of nearly 200 cameras at signal-controlled intersections to change traffic flow, literally at the flick of a switch. By the end of December the city will have all 250 cameras operational to complete a $2.7 million traffic management strategy, explained Surrey’s transportation manager, Jamie Boan.
While staff are still in the process of analyzing traffic patterns, there are some intersections that are almost beyond help. King George Boulevard and 88th Avenue is Surrey’s most congested intersection, listed on ICBC’s top 10 worst for car crashes in the Lower Mainland, at 180 accidents in 2013.
"There are infrastructure changes that we have made and will continue to make. We tweak the timing where we can. But because it is so congested there’s not actually a lot you can do for that particular intersection," said Boan.
Instead, city staff are focusing their efforts in other locations where there’s potential to generate efficiencies. The trickle down theory to finding those efficiencies is that it will reduce strain on the other problem intersections, such as Surrey’s 128th Street or 72nd Avenue along King George Boulevard, responsible for 170 and 160 accidents in 2013, respectively.
Boan said there are two approaches to effecting positive change in the flow of vehicles.
First, the traffic management centre will be setting up timing plans for light signals based on the normal traffic flow observed during those times.
The second way is to react to real-time events, such as construction or a collision, by redirecting drivers along another route.
"We can then go in and adjust those signal timings on a specific basis," he said.
Simple things, such as adding 10 seconds to a left turn signal, could allow a bottleneck to ease up and get drivers around a problem area.
Another technique is coordinating traffic to get through more green lights sequentially, reducing idling and wait times at intersections.
There are 24 segments of Surrey’s arterial roads that have that a "green wave coordination" in place and Boan said that will expand continually over time.
"So that does help a lot, especially when you’ve got peak directional flow, because that green wave works really well in one direction, not so well in the other direction," he said.
One "exciting initiative" currently being testing is called adaptive signal control, which has been installed on 72nd Avenue between King George Boulevard and Scott Road. The city placed a computer at each intersection, allowing the computers to communicate with one another based on the traffic flow it observes.
The signals are changed in real time to adjust to real-time patterns, optimizing the flow.
"So it effectively creates a co-ordination along that route while minimizing delays for all of the other legs as well," he said.
Construction is another big challenge for Surrey. Boan said they’ve been working on traffic management plans and doing inspections to ensure developers or road crews are only impacting routes during certain hours and not impeding traffic during peak hours.
"We’re still evolving in terms of the process with the development and construction industry on that but the idea is to try and improve that situation."