Cutting congestion and emissions

Saanich looks at installing new intersection cameras to improve vehicle flow, reduce idling
Kyle Slavin, Saanich News

A new traffic flow concept being tested at Saanich Road and Oak Street could soon be the norm throughout the municipality.

“The idea is that we will have all our major signals interconnected wirelessly … and that’ll allow us to monitor and alter the timing of signals in real time,” said Colin Doyle, director of engineering.

Currently, light changes are detected by a magnetic loop, completed when a vehicle stops on top of sensors in the road. But they can be problematic.

There can be sensitivity issues, asphalt issues and damage done to the sensors, Doyle said. An estimated five per cent of the underground sensors fail and need replacing each year.

The $1.5-million project, currently an option the municipality is looking to have funded through the Federal Gas Tax Agreement, would switch virtually all signalized intersections in Saanich to the new technology.

“With these new detection systems, a camera takes pictures of the intersection every couple seconds and a computer figures out where things have changed,” Doyle said. “We program in the area and visual field to look for those changes – so we program in where it will look for changes should a car or a bike approach a light.”

Consequently, this technology has huge potential in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The report to council stated that wireless traffic signals have helped remove 3,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually in similar size communities.

“Transportation represents 62 per cent of Saanich’s greenhouse gas emissions, so any changes we can make that will bring down our overall emissions is excellent,” Coun. Dean Murdock said.

The other benefit, Doyle said, is there’s potential with this technology to improve transit service by making the intersection “aware” that a bus is approaching.

Murdock says this would be a huge step forward in making the bus system more efficient on east-west streets – such as McKenzie Avenue – that aren’t a priority in discussions about the Douglas Corridor.

“(McKenzie Avenue) is a corridor we have a lot of interest in, a corridor where we want to build in some rapidity … This is the technology that will allow us to give some priority to buses or any kind of rapid transit,” he said. “The greatest benefit is for the person caught in congestion – this’ll hopefully speed the process up and you’ll get to where you’re going a little faster.”

Even if the gas tax fund request is rejected, Doyle anticipates wireless cameras will be rolled out to Saanich intersections in the coming years.