Portland Installs Smart City Sensors to Reduce Traffic Deaths
Emily Pollock posted on July 10, 2018 |
A graphic from the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s site on Vision Zero, an initiative to reduce traffic fatalities. The city’s new traffic sensors will supply data to the Vision Zero program. (Image courtesy of PBOT.)
A graphic from the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s site on Vision Zero, an initiative to reduce traffic fatalities. The city’s new traffic sensors will supply data to the Vision Zero program. (Image courtesy of PBOT.)

As part of its Smart City PDX Initiative, Portland has developed a pilot project where traffic safety sensors will collect data from the city’s deadliest intersections.

The city will install 200 sensors, supplied by General Electric’s startup Current, to count the number of pedestrians and vehicles, and collect speed data. The sensors will be connected to Current's CityIQ Internet of Things (IoT) Platform, which collects vehicle and pedestrian metadata (such as speed, number and direction of travel) in order to understand transportation patterns.

The sensors are being installed as the first part of the Smart City PDX Initiative, which aims to identify social issues and inequalities in the city, then solve them with technology. The initiative, a finalist in the Department of Transportation’s 2016 Smart City Challenge, was approved on June 20 by the Portland City Council. “We are at the forefront of using advanced technology to make our cities safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, helping people more easily get around, save time and reduce the possibility of crashes,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler, after the announcement. “This pilot is a significant step in acquiring and utilizing data to make critical decisions.”

The sensors will be installed on SE Division, 122nd and SE Hawthorne—three streets where half of the city’s traffic fatalities occur. The data the sensors collect will be fed into the Portland Urban Data Lake (PUDL), a data-collection pilot that will allow the city to make more evidence-based decisions about its public works projects. This specific data will be used to inform Portland’s Vision Zero program, which aims to end traffic fatalities by 2025. “Until now, collecting this data was time and volunteer intensive,” said Portland Board of Transportation Director Leah Trent. “Now, with these smart sensors, we can get real-time data about how Portlanders are using our streets. As a result, our traffic engineers will be smarter, and Portlanders will be safer.”The data will also be used to better understand parking patterns in the city.

While smart city surveillance tech often raises concerns about individual privacy, Mayor Wheeler said that any worries about privacy have been “well-addressed.” The sensors will analyze the videos with built-in computer-vision software, uploading the information rather than the videos so that personal information isn’t disclosed. Additionally, Wheeler says that there will be no facial recognition or licence plate identification software involved in the program.


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