Each of the project cities, Lyon, Madrid, Torino, Gothenburg, Birmingham and Wroclaw focused on a particular aspect of the larger Opticities vision. All projects had to design solutions that could be implemented / replicated in other cities.
The purpose of the Birmingham study was to develop a Decision Support Tool (DST) that brings different types of highways data together to predict urban traffic flows and enable optimised routing across different transport modes. The study focused on 4 key routes into the city (A456 Hagley Road, A38 Bristol Road, A34 Walsall Road, and A45 Coventry Road) and one key freight route, the A38 Tyburn Road.
There are a range of monitors and sensors (e.g., CCTV, SCOOT) already installed along the study routes, which capture information on traffic flows. Finding out where these monitors are and how well they are working (i.e., asset inventory and condition/performance) was one of the key challenges for this project.
Data feeds from each of the sensors/monitors have been brought together into a single open data repository, available to download in XLS, JSON, XML and CSV formats
Challenges the project faced in bringing data together into a single open data portal included: firewalls / region locks to accessing the data, figuring out who owns the data / arrangements in historic contracts/agreements, establishing metadata (descriptive information like location, source, type etc) for the datasets and appropriate licensing to allow reuse (choice is Open Government License).
The team worked a lot with Open Street Map to help figure out location and direction information for the sensors and monitors. They also needed to navigate a learning exercise with transport planners and highways engineers who were new to this way of managing and using data.
The data being brought together into a common Urban Traffic Monitoring Control database under this project are: Car parking spaces, Real time incidents, Traffic prediction, Traffic flow, Journey times and Planned incidents.
Why is this common Urban Traffic Monitoring and Control database needed? It forms an essential part of the wider that will fuel Mobility as a Service. To be realtime, we need data on planned and unplanned incidents and predicted travel times. To be multimodal, we need data on individual modes and the relationships between them. Opticities proposes the dataset and services, but doesn't build the app, that's for private developers.
Interfacing between different modes (cars, trains etc) and different platforms (service platform, smartphone app , wifi enabled apps in vehicles, and in-car head units) were also key data challenges the Opticities project needed to solve.
Throughout this project, there has been a strong commitment to open data, which is the only viable approach to making the dataset provision for Mobility as a Service work.
A sentiment echoed by the Department for Transport in keynote presentation by Nic Cary, Head of Digital Transformation and Open Data, at the Future Highways conference a few days earlier...
The Opticities project engineer Andy Radford demonstrated the power of connecting to live traffic monitoring data through a Raspberry Pi, by using a simple programming interface called Scratch to make cats and elephants move across the screen in response to change traffic conditions. It's a very simple and accessible way of demonstrating the power of open data to monitor live traffic conditions.