Moving, moving, moving

Technology helps officers keep traffic moving in New York City


     NYC mandates the use of hands-free devices when using cell phones while driving. Under this law, an officer can stop a vehicle when a driver is using a cell phone without the required hands-free device, even if no other violation is occurring.

     A box junction is a traffic control measure designed to prevent gridlock at busy road junctions. The surface of the junction is marked with a crisscross grid of diagonal painted lines (or only two lines crossing each other in the box junction), and vehicles may not enter the area so marked unless their exit from the junction is clear (or, if turning, to await a gap in the oncoming traffic flow). "Don't block the box" is a strategy to avoid spillback and gridlock. In NYC, blocking the box is a moving violation that only can be issued by police officers, not traffic agents.

     Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed legislation to allow traffic enforcement agents, who direct traffic, tow vehicles and maintain traffic flow, as well as police officers to issue "blocking the box" violations. If that legislation passes, it should significantly reduce in gridlock in NYC.

Traffic management center
     Traffic is also monitored in a traffic management center. Three agencies -- the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) and the NYPD occupy the Traffic Management Center in the borough of Queens. Here, traffic is monitored by an array of electronic surveillance and controlled through real-time traffic signal operation. More than 6,000 of NYC's 12,000 traffic signals can be adjusted, timed and reset from this central location, and further capabilities are expected. "We're anticipating a move to new facilities within the present location," says Inspector Patrick McCarthy, commanding officer at the center. "New coordinated technology allowing us instantaneous communication with the other agencies will enhance our surveillance and response capabilities."

     John Tipaldo, director of systems engineering for NYCDOT, keeps watch over the multiple screens covering strategic locations around the city. Congestion at bridge and tunnel approaches, as well as major highway intersections, are constantly monitored for developing problems. Video, along with the NYPD's systems, can determine the kind of response necessary to address an incident.

     The NYPD utilizes several different technologies to monitor and advise response. The IIMS (Integrated Incident Management System) installed by General Dynamics of Falls Church, Virginia, sends incident images to the command center. This allows officers monitoring the system to determine what the emergency is and how to respond. For instance, they can tell if a hazmat response is necessary or a heavy-duty tow truck is needed, and how many lanes of traffic are affected.

     The IRVN (Integrated Regional Video Network) is an intranet-based system in place at the center. It is older technology, but very reliable and does not require an Internet connection. The center's SPRINT (Special Police Radio Inquiry Network Terminal) is a text-only technology that coordinates searches with 911 dispatchers. It is very reliable in describing incidents according to standard 10 code.

     With all this in place, Scagnelli says it's no accident that the NYPD is on target to break records and achieve traffic safety numbers never before seen in NYC history. In fact, the NYPD is about to report the lowest number of traffic fatalities since 1908, when the city first began keeping traffic violation records. "Our police officers and traffic enforcement agents have reason to be proud," he says. "They have seen the results of their dedication and know that each time they enforce the law they are preventing an accident or fatality. We're making a difference because they are consistently enforcing the law."

Less congestion + Less accidents = Saved lives
     As many cities are facing enormous traffic congestion problems, the concepts of monitoring and controlling traffic electronically are becoming reality. Changing driving habits is a daunting task with people reluctant to carpool or take public transportation. People are used to going where they want, when they want and desire the freedom to change their minds. Busy, complex lives don't necessarily coincide with an easy transition to matching workday schedules with others.

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