Orchestrating the flow: a Moscow authority's work to streamline traffic

Orchestrating the flow: a Moscow authority's work to streamline traffic
Photo: mos.ru. Yuliya Ivanko
Read this mos.ru piece to gain insight into how Mosсow’s Traffic Management Centre tracks traffic signal performance and adjusts traffic flow.

As we wait for the traffic light to turn green, it doesn't occur to us to think about who is responsible for its performance. Whose job is it to paint the right road markings? How do traffic services find out about a road accident? For over 20 years, the Traffic Management Centre has been the invisible eye that watches over the roads in Moscow. 

Clear algorithm 

The traffic management response centre is busy. Studying feeds from over 170,000 cameras in the Safe City system all over Moscow, a team of 16-18 people monitors city roads around the clock.

The team's actions are automatic:

-- getting a road traffic alert;

-- seeing a traffic accident on camera;

-- evaluating severity;

-- contacting response teams;

-- issuing a warning;

-- monitoring developments until the issue is resolved.

Traffic updates are critical. They are issued through social networks, by radio and with digital road signage.

“When we get an alert, a team member will look at the right camera to figure out what has happened. If it's a traffic accident and no response team is seen on the monitor, they will notify the team again just to be sure. If they are there, then he or she will look into the likelihood of a traffic jam and decide whether to redirect traffic or adjust traffic lights. Our goal is to mitigate the situation so the traffic never stops,” said Sergei Stoyanov, a duty shift leader at the Traffic Management Centre's response centre.

Cameras watch, team members act

The centre's activity is not limited to traffic accident response. It includes a number of divisions on duty responsible for emergencies, traffic lights and road maintenance oversight.

“We have different tools to identify emergencies: automatic monitoring of congestions in less-likely areas, monitoring public transit stopping outside of stop points, notifications from the 112 emergency service,” explained Sergei Stoyanov.

Traffic light malfunctioning? Whenever the centre receives information on a traffic light malfunction, they will file a repair order. The duty team will also identify the traffic light's location and decide on the best course of action.

“If something is wrong with a light on a quiet intersection where drivers will know how to follow priority rules, then the repair request will be processed in a regular manner. If this is, however, a heavy traffic spot, like Tverskaya Zastava Square, where there are trams, buses and cars all needing to decide who goes first, then we’ll also send in a traffic controller, either a traffic police officer or our own man or woman from the Road Patrol service, to make sure there is no congestion or accidents.”

The centre works closely with the Road Patrol to streamline and improve operations. While on patrol, its staff will update the on-duty team on any emergency, which will then be very closely studied.

Another great tool is the short phone number 3210 that local residents use to call whenever they spot a traffic light out of order or an incorrect traffic sign, which brings down response times.

When it rains or a pandemic hits

Summer is a season for storms and fallen trees. This time of year the Traffic Management Centre closely monitors weather forecasts and the Emergency Ministry's weather warnings. A heavy rain will usually clog water drains and flood the roads. The centre will monitor the situation and will contact utility services whenever its sees a risk of that happening. A map of problem spots has been created as an important tool to help the on-duty team.

“If you know it's going to rain, you just send in the team and call the utility service. Our tasks vary based on the season, but one goal stays the same: making sure traffic keeps moving,” Sergei Stoyanov said.

Even when the pandemic hit, the response centre carried on. Most employees were asked to work from home, with only 400 of 2500 continuing to work as usual, including the on-duty staff and the Road Patrol service.

“During the restrictions, we took special care to follow safety guidelines. We regularly took each other's temperature, filled in questionnaires, and watched each other's health,” Sergei Stoyanov said.

Traffic has changed a lot during this time, the response centre staff said. Congestion levels were close to zero, with the largest jams not exceeding five kilometres during the first weeks of the pandemic. Normally, this is only seen on 1 January during Russia's New Year holiday season. Days later, however, Muscovites began to obtain travel passes to commute, and the traffic returned to normal, bringing the response centre back to its routine operations.

Future plans

Moscow's public transit system is growing more complex by the year. Comprising just buses, trolleybuses and trams 10 to 15 years ago, it has now added the Moscow Central Circle and the Moscow Central Diameters. The road and metro systems are expanding with new service routes.

In light of these developments new information tools help manage this huge operation. Smart traffic lights can communicate between themselves to readjust their signalling during non-peak hours to make sure traffic goes faster.

Another system at the centre's disposal can track public transit vehicles in real time, even showing how many people get on at a stop. This greatly improves analytics and public transport management.