Thu | Jun 4, 2020

Technology in Focus | Smart city plan could ease traffic woes, spur growth

Published:Wednesday | May 15, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Traffic congestion and lack of adequate parking spaces in New Kingston could be history if it were to successfully become the country’s first smart city, information technology experts and members of urban planning academia have stated.

The experts also believe that local smart cities, if properly implemented, would spur the growth of start-ups and generate new jobs in addition to improving the efficiency of the private sector and achieving better use of urban spaces.

Salomie Lyle-Scott, senior project manager at MC Systems, said that smart cities would ease traffic congestion.

“People will drive their vehicles and commute more efficiently based on traffic, transportation, parking sensors and their monitoring systems,” she explained.

Lyle-Scott expounded that this could accrue, based on better coordination, as a result of increased planning and greater focus from different specialists.

“Usually, various city government departments, scientists, engineers, technology experts, social scientists and biologists work together to achieve outcomes tailored to that city,” she pointed out.

Shedding light on plans to make this happen, manager at the Local Area Planning Branch of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), Dwight Williams, said that the Vision 2030 Jamaica – Transport Sector Plan is one component that encourages smart infrastructure development in Jamaica.

“This sector plan highlights the need to implement an intelligent transportation system (ITS) in Jamaica, which provides driver feedback and intelligent roads, real-time broadcast of traffic data, and routing for congestion alleviation. It also highlights the desire to establish linkages with traffic technology developers around the world,” he said.

Citing information from the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), Williams said the ITS project aims to use transportation technology to automate the operations of traffic signals; improve the ability to detect and respond to incidents, including disabled vehicles; and to improve coordination between the traffic management and traffic enforcement agencies.

“The National Works Agency (NWA) is charged to carry out the implementation process, which will be conducted in several phases,” Williams stated.

He further explained that the focal point for the 2016-2018 period was Kingston, with the implementation of 80 traffic signals and 30 cameras, which will be connected to the Traffic Management Centre (TMC).

On that basis, corridors will have their traffic signals linked to the TMC so that their operation can be synchronised to reduce stops between signals, Williams stated. For example, in the Corporate Area, the following corridors will be coordinated: Constant Spring Road to Half-Way Tree Road; Old Hope Road; Hope Road to Hagley Park Road; Upper Waterloo Road to Waterloo Road to Trafalgar Road; Oxford Road and Knutsford Boulevard.

Businesses would benefit

Head of the School of Building and Land Management in the Faculty of the Built Environment at the University of Technology, Jamaica, Associate Professor Laurence Neufville, said businesses will gain a lot from the implementation of smart cities.

“Smart cities have huge potential to drastically improve the experience of living and working in the city, and the ripple effects for business will be, by and large, positive. Organisations will inevitably see an increase in their profits, sustainability, efficiency, resulting in a boost to many industries and the overall economy,” he said.

Neufville noted that offices in smart buildings would see a boost in efficiency. One such example, he said, is that “small radio sensors could monitor the occupancy of office spaces, gathering information about who is working in a particular room at any given moment; and providing data on room usage, which can be displayed on office signs.

“A more streamlined office will reduce frustration and time currently being wasted by setting up the technology and effort devoted to organising the office. Smart buildings can also make the workplace considerably more comfortable for its workers, with smart devices streamlining lighting, temperature and even music. It is common knowledge that happy workers are more productive workers,” he pointed out.

The head of the School of Building and Land Management said that the efficiency of devices, such as smart lighting or heating, also reduces costs for the company.

“Additionally, locating your business in a smart building can also significantly increase the security of your workplace,” he said, “as CCTV footage can be linked to mobile devices, allowing the company to monitor who is coming in and out of the workplace.”

However, he noted that a smart building does not only improve security in terms of physical access, but it can also improve cybersecurity infrastructure, reducing the risk of a breach and damage to businesses.

“The increased Internet speeds in a smart building also allows the business to respond faster or build technologies which can harness an increased data velocity, giving the company a vital edge on its competition,” he said.

Addressing how the economy could benefit from smart cities, Lyle-Scott said that a smart city results in growth because of the many real-time open data sources that will be available.

“A city like this will get many IT start-ups, which can create mobile and web apps; as well as business intelligence solutions; sensors and artificial intelligence solutions,” she said.

However, Neufville noted that for a smart city to remain in its most efficient, most sustainable and most effective state, the technology and strategies used to implement its goals will need to be perpetually updated.

“With constant demand for new technologies to be developed across a wide range of industries as more urban spaces become smart cities, they will also be the driving force behind innovation. This will be especially apparent for technology and Internet of Things enterprises, which will respond to the increased demand by developing effective technology to ease smart cities development. New technology and businesses will directly emerge from smart cities, creating thousands of jobs and business opportunities,” Neufville maintained.

Better use of urban spaces

Williams maintains that smart cities will support compact urban spaces with compatible land use activities.

“This principle,” he said, “improves the town’s economic viability, lowers infrastructure cost, uses less land space for development, thus conserving open spaces and preserving historic resources as well as reducing the impact of vehicular transit.”

He noted that the Urban Planning and Regional Development Sector Plan – Vision 2030 Jamaica supports this smart city principle, as it promotes planning policies for mixed-use development.

“This is expected to improve the effectiveness of town centre planning and policies to revitalise town centres,” Williams said. “Smart cities are encouraged, through land-use planning and zoning, contained within the national spatial plan, development orders, master plans and other policy documents.

“Urbanisation in the cities, particularly Kingston and St Andrew, has initiated a review of the current height and density for several corridors and growth centres. NEPA is currently taking the lead on the project to increase height and density along these corridors, taking into consideration factors such as the creation of new policies and development imperatives; the location of major nodes and corridors; the areas of the parcel of land, and the availability of infrastructure, including sewerage system, water supply and open spaces. This initiative supports smart city development of mixed-use activities in compact urban areas,” he maintained.

Will privacy be compromised?

The experts further cautioned that while smart cities come with several advantages, there is, however, the disadvantage of reduced privacy due to the many sensors, cameras and various digital information which are constantly being collected.

“Increased control of inhabitants’ personal space and the erasure of their privacy is a concern,” Neufville posited. “Hence, some city dwellers may have no option but to opt out of a situation in which all kinds of data about them are constantly being collected and analysed in the background,” said Neufville.

Williams posited that the use of smart city technology requires knowledge of its use, in order to optimise the city function; and, as such, will need to be embedded in the training and educational systems to develop persons with the required skill sets.

“Municipal corporations, local authorities, businesses and other involved parties may not fully understand the value and benefits which the data can generate. That makes it difficult to release the business case for implementation process (funding). Smart cities will need leaders who have the courage to defend their data, say what it means; and establish it as a truth, upon which cities will make decisions. The leader should be able to interpret and use the data wisely to solve the city’s challenges,” Williams maintained.