When Big Data brings digital agility to traffic management

As part of our Smart City Program at Swisscom, we have run co-creation projects with cities with the objective to find innovative solutions to tackle the challenge of traffic congestion in urban areas. Our starting point was 20 billion data points generated by Swisscom’s mobile network, a team of skilled data scientists, the expertise of urban planners within cities and the experience of Transitec, an urban mobility consulting company.

In this article, I want to share the outcome of three projects that we have run over a period of 12 months.

What are the concrete benefits achieved by transforming a flow of Big Data into traffic indicators?

Getting a detailed understanding of the city center dynamic

In Montreux, we have been monitoring the people density in the city center during the whole year of 2016. The outcome is the following:

Montreux “Pulse”: You can easily recognize the 4 major highlights of 2016

Montreux is a very attractive city, having lots of cultural, political and business events. However, you need to make sure that all these activities do not generate too much congestion and that both citizens and visitors are not wasting time in traffic.

Having a tool capable of monitoring on a yearly, monthly and even hourly basis, the traffic dynamic will for example help city planners to adapt their traffic management system accordingly. These new insights can also trigger new strategic planning from the city executive. Questions like « Should we define some new pedestrian only zones? » can now be reconsidered.

Drawing the origin and destination of the traffic at the entry points of a city

In the city of Fribourg, you have eight main entry points to the city. All of them are equipped with road sensors which provide precise information about the volume of the traffic. However, it does not answer key questions like: What share of the total traffic transits through the city? How many cars do stay in Fribourg? In which district do they stop?

The picture below illustrates this new dimension: With the new insights shown on the right side, we have measured that 51% of the total traffic is cars that do not stop in the city for the considered period (red arrows). For example, out of 6’900 cars, 2’170 are entering Fribourg from the south and exiting in the north, without doing any activity in Fribourg.

This information supports the ongoing discussion about a major mobility decision to build a road that connects the south with the north-west side of the city, where you have the highway entry.

In addition, this new tool would allow to decide and monitor the actions that shall be put in place in the city center to steer the traffic on this new road.

New insights to trigger the construction of a new road and the related accompanying measures

Measuring the effectiveness of the road network hierarchy

In the Canton of Geneva, a road network hierarchy has been defined and the mobility department is taking actions to steer the traffic accordingly. In downtown Geneva, they have defined a path called “moyenne ceinture”, represented in the figure below with the red arrows. The objective is that the majority of cars use this path for transit through the city center and consequently, the number of cars that transit the city center on other roads should be limited. The rationale behind it is obviously to reduce the number of cars and the congestion in the city center.

Within the scope of this project, we have been able to monitor this transit traffic in the center and compare it against the objective fixed by the Canton. In addition, we now have the ability to quantify the reduction of traffic during specific periods like for example the school holiday in February, which is 18% lower than the average of the four weeks prior to the holiday, as illustrated in the graphic below. Finally, the origin of the traffic for that period can be observed, where we see that a high proportion of cars originate from the Canton of Valais, for instance 2’593 cars originate from the commune of Bagnes, where the Verbier ski resort is located.

A new way to measure if the mobility objectives are being achieved

Digital agility to develop your mobility strategy

This Smart Data approach is bringing new insights about the traffic dynamic. It enables to measure indicators that were very difficult and costly to acquire in the past. City leaders are now in a position to review their mobility strategy, because this new solution supports them to define, execute and measure the effect of their current strategy in place. Corrective actions during the execution phase can also more easily be taken due to the nature of the solution, a dynamic and continues measurement of the traffic flow.

These three projects are the beginning of an exciting journey and a great example on how digital technology can positively impact and transform the public sector.

You can also read the learning from our fourth project, Mobility Observatory in Pully

Our latest publication with IMD business school, Six Steps to Successfully Transform Your City