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3 November 2012

How ITS helped London deliver the 2012 Olympic Games

Tag(s): Business, Technology

Last week I attended the 19th Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress in Vienna. I had not attended this event since it was last held in Europe in Stockholm in 2009 and it was impressive to see how much progress is being made in this exciting industry. The Japanese were there in force with the largest contingent led by Honda, Toyota, Panasonic, and other major companies. The Americans put on a good show. I had dinner with Dr Nady Boules, Director of Research at General Motors, who explained to me his roadmap to take vehicles to the point where they don’t crash. From there it will be a short step to vehicles that drive themselves and such cars would be lower mass, higher efficiency, radically different and give greater value to customers.

From Europe Austria as host, Germany, France, and Sweden all exhibited in force. In all these countries there are large companies, both automobile OEMs and engineering suppliers, which have embraced the opportunity. In addition it is clear that there is strong government involvement, both national and local. Unfortunately in the UK neither factor is present. We no longer have such large corporations and the Department for Transport shows little interest in the subject. Twenty years ago we were one of the first countries to see the potential of ITS. Now we are falling behind and those firms that we do have, mainly engineering consultants, get most of their business from abroad.

But there was one area where we could demonstrate our leadership. I refer once more to the Olympics. Alan Bristow, Director of the Transport for London (TFL) Transport Directorate, explained how ITS helped London deliver the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The following objectives were set:

1.       No athlete or official late for any events due to a delay in the road network

2.       No event delayed

3.       95% journey time reliability for the Games Family

4.       Keep London moving and open for business.

From the beginning one of the key issues was media management. The media were only interested in bad news stories and so another objective was set to make the media write about sport not transport.

The sheer scale of the operation was huge. Alan is deploys 1,400 closed circuit cameras, 6,000 sets of traffic lights and 140 variable message signs. There were 5,500 Games Family vehicles, 80 kilometres of temporary road markings and 4,000 temporary road signs. £12 million was invested in upgrading signals.  8,000 personnel were involved and some were so keen to help that they put off their retirement.

23 million journeys take place every day in London. During the Games another three million were expected. The strategy adopted was to change people’s pattern of behaviour. Londoners were actively encouraged to reduce their trips into central London from the middle of July or at least to retime such visits. There was considerable liaison between the London Organising Committee Olympic Games (LOCOG), the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and the 33 local boroughs that own the roads. Road works were reduced to zero except in emergencies and even here Alan had the power of veto. In the event public transport ran so smoothly that the usage of Games Family vehicles was 30-40% below expectations as athletes and officials were quite happy to take the bus or the tube.

Tony Earl, the Head of Network Performance at the TFL Traffic Directorate, i.e. the technical expert, described the strategic modelling that took place. Modelling was even done for pedestrians to help with crowd management. We were able to see videos of predictive modelling compared with the reality that took place and they were uncanny in their accuracy. The star of the show was SCOOT owned by PEEK, Siemens and TRL. SCOOT is a technology applied to Road Traffic Signals that can enable degrees of saturation to be maintained at high levels ensuring optimum through put on key traffic corridors. London now boasts close to 50% coverage under SCOOT control for its 6000 signalised intersections which is believed to be the largest single deployment of Adaptive Traffic Control Systems in the world. SCOOT GOLD (Games Operation Led Deployment) supported London’s corridor management programme and was essential to the management of signal timings on the Olympic Route Network (ORN). Key to the ORN implementation was the retiming of 1300 traffic signals.

A Games Playbook was prepared covering every 15 minute segment of the Games period. There were 500 users of this Playbook which equipped traffic managers with techniques to smooth the running of traffic 24/7. And so what were the results?

1.       No athlete or official was late for any events due to a delay in the road network

2.       No event was delayed

3.       95% journey time reliability for the Games Family was exceeded.

4.       London kept moving and open for business.

5.       After some cynical pre-Olympics stories about G4S and so on, once the Games began and British athletes started winning medals the stories were about the sport and not the transport, even on the front pages.

I asked Alan to justify that 4th objective. After all there had been some stories that the centre of London was dead and the tourist business down. He acknowledged that but told me that the extra journeys had been achieved and that businesses that had failed to realise that Londoners would change their patterns of behaviour and retime their journeys only had themselves to blame.

At the Gala dinner in the Hofburg Palace I found myself talking with a German engineer who complimented the British on the successful running of the Olympic Games. He had visited London during the Games and thought the whole administration could not be faulted. Now if we could just expand that to other areas on a permanent basis.

Copyright David C Pearson 2012 All rights reserved




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