Road infrastructure development can benefit from machine learning to reduce congestion and improve road safety, according to SA National Roads Agency (Sanral). Picture: David Ritchie
Road infrastructure development can benefit from machine learning to reduce congestion and improve road safety, according to SA National Roads Agency (Sanral). Picture: David Ritchie

Sanral to use technology to tackle traffic congestion

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Apr 22, 2021

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Cape Town - Road infrastructure development can benefit from machine learning to reduce congestion and improve road safety, according to SA National Roads Agency (Sanral).

The agency has been probing the extent to which machine learning could be harnessed in the quest to reduce congestion and improve safety.

Sanral’s Technical Innovation Hub (TIH) mechatronic engineer, Ruan Van Breda, said the hub was at the forefront of harnessing technology to inform, improve and expedite road safety across the South African road network, drawing from extensive research into industry best practices and collaborations with various stakeholders in the road safety arena.

Van Breda said machine learning could be used to detect and segment objects within a camera frame (each frame of a video is analysed as a still image).

"These objects can then be classified based on pre-trained image classifiers. Within the road environment, this allows one to detect and classify different types of vehicles, pedestrians, different types of animals, cyclists,” he said.

He said while the technology was still in the exploratory phase in the country, it already has tongues wagging in countries like China, where they used machine learning to incorporate facial recognition for law enforcement.

Department of Transport and Public Works spokesperson Jandré Bakker said road congestion has many contributing factors, which included road maintenance and capacity, road network planning, demand arising from workplace factors, individual road use patterns, traffic law enforcement, road traffic safety education, and how well the public transport system is working.

Transport Mayco member Felicity Purchase said traffic congestion remained one of their biggest challenges.

Purchase said to beat the traffic, they were building new roads and were prioritising public transport, among other interventions.

University of Stellenbosch's post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Civil Engineering, Dr Pascal Nteziyaremye, said there was very little effort in alleviating congestion in the country, and in the Western Cape as well.

Nteziyaremye said one possible solution, expanding the road infrastructure (increasing the road space), would seem like a short-term solution.

"After a few years, the improved road infrastructure becomes again congested due to traffic growth and induced traffic (traffic attracted by the new improvements in road infrastructure)," he said.

In terms of road safety, Safety and Security Mayco member JP Smith said the City’s enforcement agencies were tasked with enforcing national traffic legislation, as well as the City’s Traffic By-Law.

Smith said with their Traffic Service in particular, numerous initiatives have been undertaken in the last decade and longer to boost resources, like recruitment and training of new officers, investment in patrol vehicles and various technological platforms and devices to aid enforcement efforts.

He said education and awareness drives also formed part of those efforts. He said road safety enforcement was a mammoth undertaking, particularly given the extent to which so many road users disregard the law.

Cape Argus

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