September 5, 2004
Thirty-one cameras constantly watch the flow of traffic on Scottsdale’s major roads, feeding live video into what looks like a mini NASA-style control center.
From the traffic operations center in downtown, technicians can alter signal timing, warn drivers on electronic message boards and tell police about problems.
Though the network is already the most advanced in the Valley, it’s getting an upgrade. The city is about to add another 31 cameras, giving traffic experts a view of miles of city roads. The $1 million addition will start operating in January or February.
The cameras are invaluable to helping control traffic, though most drivers won’t appreciate the equipment’s role, said Bruce Dressel, an intelligent-transportation systems analyst for Scottsdale.
"If we do our job right, the system will be invisible," Dressel said. "People won’t realize we’re helping them."
The cameras have the potential to significantly reduce congestion, said Paul Porell, Scottsdale’s traffic engineering director. Half of the driving delays in a city are the result of collisions, Porell said, and the cameras allow officials to spot problems and respond instantly.
The cameras are part of what seems like a scene from a futuristic movie. They are posted along major roads and can zoom to get a view on things more than a halfmile away. Operators can remotely turn many of the cameras to look at traffic in any direction.
The images are viewed on a video wall where technicians can also look at a graphic of the city’s roads that shows every traffic signal.
With a click of a mouse, analysts can see the timing of signals and change to different plans designed for different traffic situations.
Analysts monitor the center 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and change signal timing or post messages on electronic boards about 10 times a day in response to collisions or backups, Dressel said.
With the new cameras, analysts expect to see twice
as many problems in the city — and make twice as many adjustments to alleviate slow traffic.
"If we can see it, most of the time we can fix it," Dressel said.
Analysts use the cameras to adjust traffic in events such as the FBR Open, the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction, spring training baseball games and flooding in Indian Bend Wash.
Some parts of the city remain out of view, mostly in the north. But the city plans to have 82 cameras posted every mile along major roads. Because the cameras can see at least a half mile, that would put every major road in view.