Winnipeg’s new traffic nerve center does ‘crazy things’

A collection of enterprise data streams coupled with dozens of high-powered cameras is giving the Canadian city “unprecedented” vision over its roadways.

Just a three-hour drive north across the border from Grand Forks, North Dakota, lies Winnipeg, a Canadian city covered in snow one-third of the year, the birthplace of Neil Young, and now the home to one of the most advanced traffic monitoring systems in North America. When city leaders talk about the future of smart cities, automation and data-driven intelligence, it sounds a lot like what Winnipeg has already built with its Traffic Management Centre (TMC).

The sophistication of the center, which launched in January following a $3.6 million capital funding allocation in 2015, is not lost on the city, which calls it “a traffic nerve center” that provides to residents and city departments an “unprecedented” level of real-time roadway data and visual information. And though city officials report the situational awareness supplied by the network is already yielding improved traffic flows and new insights to improve city operations, they continue to pile on new features and data streams. The center’s information system is fed real-time data from every traffic signal found in the city’s 650 intersections, each connected by LTE wireless. The 100 percent signal connectivity allows for remote timing changes that can be made within minutes, where previously it took days. More than 70 high-powered cameras allow city officials to verify the information they receive from its integrated systems, allowing for both an improvement in the quality of the data received and the inclusion of additional situational details that sensors alone can’t detect.

Lots of cities think they need to wait for fiber or 5G to launch a system like this, said Jonathan Foord, the city’s signal asset engineer, but LTE has provided Winnipeg the connectivity to launch its transportation monitoring network fast.

“Rather than looking at maybe $140 million for fiber costs and maybe at best 10 to 15 years to get the fiber rolled out, we were able to [connect our signals]in eight months for less than half a million dollars,” Foord said. “And now we’re doing crazy things.”