First off, YESTERDAY. (a Wednesday)
No, I didn’t go to VicRoads to get the car rego or my licence fixed up like a normal person.
I went to the VicRoads Traffic Management Centre in Denmark Street, Kew (a suburb of Melbourne, if you did not know)
What the hell is that, I hear you ask? Well, it does as it’s name suggests, it manages traffic…
You might recognise it from Channel Seven’s "Sunrise" program, they do a traffic report from there every morning.
Also, radio stations don’t have people flying around in helicopters watching traffic. There is one radio station guy sitting in the control room ever mooring and afternoon peak, writing out scripts for every other radio station. There is no "eye in the sky…"
This week was Victorian Engineering Week, and so they were having tours of various engineering related places. This was one of them.
And why the hell did I want to go there? Well, I am interested in that kind of stuff. Question answered.
So what do they do there, other than the obvious? I will break it into dot-points for the slow ones in my audience. (I know you are out there…)
SCATS – it’s just a fancy way of controlling traffic lights. VERY fancy…
Of the 3000 odd traffic lights, over 2400 of them can be controlled from this one room. The guy showing around us around started a program on the computer, and picked an intersection (Swan Street and Punt Road in case you care) and showed us what the system can do…
- Change the traffic light timing
- See if any lights are faulty
- Watch if anyone is waiting on the traffic light sensors
- Change the lights to blinking orange
- Set the light to green, or orange, or red
It’s a remote control for traffic lights, all computer controlled from one console.
He told a story about one day he had been waiting at a traffic light for over five minutes (a special event was on and the lights were running on a different cycle) so he rang up work, said "I’ve been waiting at the lights for five minutes, can you let me through." And with a few taps of the keyboard, the light changes, giving him a green run all the way home. Just a "training exercise" of course…
Motorway Management System – a way of seeing what is happening on Melbourne’s freeways…
On almost all of Melbourne’s freeways, there are special sensors located every 500 metres or so. The sensors give the people in the control room all sorts of data such as:
- Average speed of cars in each lane
- Number of cars in each lane
- Travel time to next sensor
- Travel time to anywhere else on the freeway
All of this data is fed into a computer continually, and alerts are given to the operators in the control room if anything is wrong. These signs are also used to operate the displays along the freeway that show travel times.
CCTV -much more fun than normal TV…
Along Melbourne’s road system, there are over 300 video cameras, all controllable from this one room. The controllers use them to watch how traffic is flowing, and to help in case of emergencies.
The cameras have full pan tilt and zoom, so you can see all kinds of stuff. The VicRoads guys use the camera on top of the Westgate Bridge for weather forecasting, to see if is going to rain in the next 30 minutes or so…
Variable Message Signs – to well, give drivers messages…
Along Melbourne freeways, there are many of these large, 2 metre by 5 metre signs, that can display both text and graphics.
These signs are also controllable form this same room. (I thought you could guess that by now…)
The VicRoads guy gave us a demonstration:
He pointed a CCTV camera at a message sign on the Eastern Freeway. It was displaying "Speed Kills – Slow Down"
He fired up a program on the computer, entered the ID number of the sign, and changed a drop down menu to "Test Message – VicRoads"
And after a few seconds, the sign changed to that very message.
The system also has the capability to show custom messages. You could type in "Have a Very Crappy Day" hit enter, and then thousands of Melbourne motorists would see your nasty message.
The VicRoads guys don’t get to do the "fun" stuff like this very often, as people with too much time on their hands call up talkback radio to complain…
That means they don’t get to change the traffic lights to green so they get home earlier…
Or change them if they are late for work…
Or propose to their girlfriends by displaying "Marry Me" on a huge sign on a freeway when she is going to work…
[I STILL have more updates to come! The one continuing on from this one needs a hammer, sheetmetal press, and a picture of the Flinders Street Station tram superstop to complete it.]
[and there is still stuff from today to come…]