For over six years, the municipality of The Hague has been actively using social media monitoring and open data for its traffic management. The use of this data is an additional source for early detection of problems on the road and obtaining a situational view of incidents. We visited the traffic centre of the municipality of The Hague to take a look behind the scenes.
Traffic Control Centre The Hague
The traffic control centre in The Hague is responsible for traffic flow in and around the city and informing road users about suitable alternative routes in case of road works, incidents or events. “We want to ensure that road users experience as little inconvenience as possible and reach their destinations as quickly as possible,” says traffic expert Jasper Vries.
In order to facilitate traffic flow, the road traffic controllers monitor the city’s road network. They do this by monitoring a number of computer screens. If they notice an abnormal traffic situation, they can deploy a number of technologies to inform and advise the road user.
The 75 Dynamic Route Information Panels (DRIPs), the black LED screens placed along main roads in and around the city, are used to share information with road users. The road traffic controllers also have an influence on the approximately 250 traffic control installations.
This means that they may set a traffic light to green for a longer period in order to improve the flow of traffic (for instance during an incident). As far as this is possible, of course, as cyclists and public transport should not ‘roll up’ as a result.
Available tools in traffic management
Jasper ensures that the road traffic controllers have the right tools, resources and innovations at their disposal to steer traffic in the right direction. A combination of resources is used to form a good picture of daily traffic in The Hague. These include TomTom, Ongevallen Radar, Regio15 sites and 112 reports. PublicSonar is also part of this list and contributes to a more complete picture. “We find that we always use a combination of technologies for information provision. There is not one system that is the ‘best’. This means that the combination of these different systems contributes to getting information as quickly as possible. That information can then help us with decision-making and the deployment of the right measures,” says Jasper.
Use of PublicSonar
There are three reasons why Traffic Control Centre The Hague uses PublicSonar:
When there is an incident, road traffic controllers are not always immediately informed by the road authority or the police. On 13 July 2021, for example, there was a fire on the Van Alkemadelaan. Road-traffic controller Berend de Jong noticed this via a message on PublicSonar and could then act immediately. In this situation PublicSonar is used for early detection and as a first source of information.
During an incident, PublicSonar is also used to gain an overview of the situation. The messages and images on social media sometimes serve as background information and can provide additional insights. “It is particularly useful to use images from social media at times when we do not have camera footage. This gives us a better and quicker picture of the situation,” says Berend. “Every piece of extra information helps us with that,” adds Jasper.
In some cases, it is not always clear what has happened at certain places in the city or why a certain road section has been closed off. For instance, Berend says that it is useful to consult PublicSonar to collect additional information afterwards. “During the weekend, the Hubertus tunnel was closed. PublicSonar helped us to find out what had caused a disturbance in the tunnel. A road user told us that the tunnel was closed due to repair works after a vehicle brokedown”.
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Traffic Control Centre The Hague deploys PublicSonar at various moments. These moments are summarised below in three scenarios: incidents, planned events and typical situations in The Hague.
1. Social media monitoring during incidents
The Hague Traffic Control Centre is responsible for managing traffic on a daily basis. In the event of an unplanned situation, such as an accident, it is important to act quickly. Roads have to be closed, causing traffic to be diverted and traffic lights to be adjusted.
All this is done to keep the flow of traffic as smooth as possible so that the waiting time for the regular road user is as short as possible and there is as little inconvenience as possible. In order to be able to switch quickly, resources such as PublicSonar and Regio15 sites offer extra support to road traffic controllers such as Berend.
On 7 April 2020, for example, there was a motorbike accident on the N211. PublicSonar played an important role in providing information at the time. “We have no camera images of this section of the road. In such cases, it’s nice to have PublicSonar next to us to get some idea of how the situation is developing,” says Berend.
2. Social media monitoring during planned events
During a planned event, such as a Bruce Springsteen or P!nk concert at Malieveld or a fireworks festival in Scheveningen, the most important goal of Traffic Control The Hague is to get the visitors of the event smoothly to their destination. It is important to cause as little inconvenience to regular traffic as possible. To achieve this, Jasper and his colleagues started coordinating with other road authorities, other departments within the municipality and the event organisers months in advance.
If roads have to be (unexpectedly) closed, road users must be informed of diversions via DRIPs and other means. Scenarios are devised in advance for this, so that the measures can be quickly deployed during the event.
“During events, unexpected things can happen”, says Jasper. “In such cases, as a road traffic controller you want to receive as much information as possible so that, if necessary, you can provide a complete picture of the situation. PublicSonar also plays a role in this.”
3. Social media monitoring during typical situations in The Hague
The traffic control centre also regularly has to deal with typical situations in The Hague, such as busy beach days and mass gatherings, like the farmers gathering in July last year. “When we know, for example, that there will be a mass gathering in 1 or 1.5 weeks, there is too little preparation time,” says Jasper. “Moreover, it is difficult to predict how many people will come to this. It could be 10, 100 or 10,000.”
For these typical situations, The Hague Traffic Control Centre has general scenarios ready. What if the car parks in Scheveningen are full? What if a road has to be closed due to the crowd? How the road user can be informed has been thought out in advance, but often things do not go quite as expected. With the help of PublicSonar, you can also determine, in advance, with which words (e.g. accident, crash, collision, collapse) or location indications (e.g. specific streetnames or places of interests) people will post on social media. By setting up alerts, people are automatically notified as soon as something happens. “With this preparation and the information we receive via social media, among other things, we can respond quickly to unexpected situations. And these often occur at mass gatherings or on busy beach days,” says Jasper.
Added value of social media monitoring
Both Berend and Jasper agree on the added value of collecting traffic information through social media. “It’s not that you miss information if you don’t use social media, but the response time is definitely faster when you have a tool like PublicSonar at your disposal. Important advantages of PublicSonar are therefore saving time and the additional background information you can gather,” says Jasper. Berend also regularly retrieves information from the tool and agrees: “PublicSonar is a useful addition to our work.”