Can the 20mph speed limit work for motorists?

With the recent announcement that Wales is imposing a 20mph speed limit on most urban
roads, many motorists are concerned that this will lead to further congestion and longer
journeys.

A petition against the move submitted to the Welsh Senedd has become the most
signed petition in its history, garnering over 466,000 signatures. And with other parts of the
UK including Scotland and Cornwall considering a similar move the burning question is how
to address the need to reduce road deaths and serious injuries – something the 20mph limit
hopes to achieve – without extended journey times and increased congestion.

The issue is now political, with Rishi Sunak recently stating he is “slamming the brakes” on
“hare-brained schemes” such as Low traffic Neighbourhoods and 20mph speed limits.
Meanwhile First Minister Mark Drakeford said there is “incontrovertible” evidence that
“driving more slowly in built-up urban areas saves people’s lives”.

Political dividing lines are also emerging over the best ways to reduce pollution and improve
the environment. With London’s ULEZ scheme and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, and with
Clean Air Zones popping up across the country, it is clear to see improving road safety and
reducing air pollution is top of the agenda.

One way or another, road users are caught in the crosshairs for people across the political
spectrum.

So, while politicians gear up for a fight, a Welsh tech start-up thinks it may have the answer.
Mohamed Binesmael, CEO of Route Konnect, a Welsh start-up backed by Development Bank
of Wales and others, specialising in AI Computer Vision systems says, “We laud any attempt
at improving road safety, but lowering traffic speeds is not the only solution. Good road and
junction design can eliminate the causes of many accidents and also optimise traffic flows to
reduce congestion.

“Yet the process for reviewing junction design is very out-dated. Today,
councils employ traffic surveyors to conduct studies at junctions. They do this by mounting
video cameras for a limited period and the resulting video is then viewed manually to produce
statistics on the number and types of road-users that use the junction over different periods
of the day and which direction they entered and left the junction. But this process is
cumbersome and loses a lot of the valuable insights from the video. With advanced AI, our
system can process the footage and produce the analytics that surveyors deliver today, but
also create visual maps of road-user movements. This shows up dangerous activity such as
pedestrians crossing in the wrong place, cyclists mounting the pavements and vehicles
cutting corners.”

While improving junction design to improve safety and optimise traffic flows is one area that
Route Konnect is tackling, it is not the only one.

Binesmael says, “We are also working on using our advanced AI computer vision solution to
improve traffic flows on a city-wide basis. By using the data from permanent, junction-mounted, cameras to control traffic lights and linking junctions together you can get massive
improvements in travel times, while reducing congestion and pollution. Today’s traffic lights
are often controlled by inductive loops, a 50 year-old technology, that detects lumps of iron
as they travel towards the junction. Apart from being expensive to maintain – repairs require
digging up the road – this hopelessly outdated technology fails to address today’s needs. It
won’t detect cyclists, e-scooters or pedestrians, misses some motor-bikes and is therefore
wholly inappropriate for today’s needs where councils are encouraging active travel.”

This kind of integrated junction control is proven to deliver results. A case study from a
similar city-wide traffic flow control system implemented in Sydney (SCATS) found motorists
had a 28% overall reduction in travel time, 25% reduction in stops and a 12% reduction in
fuel consumption/commuter costs. And a study based in LA (LADOT) found that travel speed
increased by 13%, and emissions had between a 3% to 4% decrease.

Mr Binesmael adds, “While the move to electric vehicles is reducing pollution from the exhaust
pipe, particulate pollution from brake dust and tyre wear will remain a health hazard and if we
can reduce the stop-start nature of today’s congested traffic you can reduce that type of
pollution too.”

Systems like Route Konnect’s sound expensive and adding more cameras raises concerns
about privacy. Binesmael counters this, saying, “Our system doesn’t rely on expensive
proprietary cameras, but works well with video from low-cost, off-the-shelf devices of the
type deployed by traffic surveyors today. And when it comes to privacy, one of the key
break-throughs of our system is that it doesn’t rely on number plate recognition, or facial
recognition to track users across junctions, so there are no privacy concerns.”

Summing up, he says, “20 mph speed limits and ULEZ zones aren’t the only way to tackle
today’s challenges, smart technology can make a huge contribution.”

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