York will start using smartphone and connected car data from June in a bid to cut congestion and emissions in the city.
Called the Smart Travel Evolution Programme (STEP), the two-year project has been made possible thanks to a grant of £450,000 from the Department for Transport (DfT).
Initially, it will fund a pilot scheme on the A59 entering York, before being rolled out across the city, funded by a further £2.85 million.
The City of York Council said the project was also made possible because of the network of fibre broadband connections in the city.
STEP uses detectors located on traffic lights, bollards and other street furniture to track vehicle movements by anonymous signatures collected using mobile data services.
It will also collect data about weather patterns so that traffic light sequences can be changed to make traffic move more efficiently in different weather conditions.
The data will be used to inform traffic flows, junction designs and road improvements.
Data is being processed using the council’s real-time traffic data analysis system. The system will also work with the latest generation of connected vehicles and will prepare the city for future driverless vehicles.
The council’s own data shows that average peak time speed across the city is less than 20mph and is significantly slower on key corridors.
Councillor Ian Gillies, executive member for transport and planning at City of York Council, said: “This will make York one of the most advanced cities in the country.
“Being able to build things like traffic light signalling based on the journeys people really make every day will mean better decisions, less congestion and improved air quality.
“We can’t simply build more roads in the city, so this is a really innovative way to get it moving as efficiently as possible.”
The intention is that the programme will make a positive impact in terms of reducing congestion in York, as well as emissions by reducing choke points and stop/start travel. However, a council spokesman said it was not possible at this stage to put a figure on what sort of improvements could be made due to the project still being at “the very early stages”.
The council said the programme will place the city in a leading position to react to the challenges and opportunities represented by connected and autonomous vehicles in future.
“As the global technical community continues to develop standards for communications between vehicles and infrastructure and the types and forms of data services that can be supported, there will be a growing need for highway authorities to react,” said the spokesman.
He explained that York has to evolve a programme to move to smarter travel and swapping to new approaches can’t happen “wholesale”.
“STEP will have significant impacts on the ability of the city to support connected and autonomous vehicles, but by looking at vehicles and people as a source of data, the first steps can be taken,” he said.
He also said that concerns around driver privacy will not be a problem as all data is “totally anonymised before we receive it”.
Each smartphone device has a unique code – called a ‘MAC address’ – which it broadcasts while searching for Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth devices.
For those drivers that still don’t want to transmit their data, they can disable Bluetooth or WiFi on their smartphone.
York’s traffic network monitoring officers will use the data to help influence traffic management, but the long- to mid-term aim is to introduce more automation to the system as it develops.
The DfT will be monitoring the results of STEP with a view to supporting investment for similar initiatives across the UK.
A DfT spokesman said: “We are always looking at ways to use technology to revolutionise the way we travel.
“That’s why we invested £3m in this innovative scheme in York, which will help us to explore how vehicle technology can be used to improve road networks for drivers.
“As with all our funded projects, we will monitor the results of this trial and remain committed to supporting future investments in ground-breaking technology.”