Windward traffic cams


POSTED: Saturday, November 28, 2009

Question: For months I've noticed that there are traffic cameras installed at key locations in Windward Oahu. When will they become operational?

Answer: Nineteen new traffic cameras, with their attendant fiber-optic cables and communication equipment, will begin operating in the Kaneohe area in January.

The city Department of Transportation Services is partnering with the state Department of Transportation to install and operate the additional cameras, as is the case at certain other intersections on Oahu, said Ty Fukumitsu, chief of the city Traffic Signals and Technology Division.

The partnership makes sense in areas where both state and city roadways can be monitored by the cameras.

In hooking up the Kaneohe area, the city was able to make use of the fiber-optic system that runs through the state's H-3 freeway tunnels.

The new cameras are set up along Kamehameha Highway, from Castle Junction to Halaulani Street, and along Kahekili Highway, from Likelike Highway to Haiku Road.

These will be the first traffic cams in Windward Oahu tied into the city's Traffic Management Center. Currently, the city has 131 cameras in use at major intersections between West Oahu and Hawaii Kai.

Future plans call for 17 more cameras to be installed in Kailua, 19 in Kapolei and 17 in the Waipio area.

All images are transmitted to the Traffic Management Center, housed in a small red-roofed building at the end of Kinalau Street, off Ward Avenue.

There, with a bank of monitors lining a wall, Fukumitsu, electrical engineer Nate Warner (project manager for the Windward cameras), traffic technician Arnold Fukutomi and others can monitor the ebb and flow of traffic along major roadways, adjusting the timing of signals as needed.

It turns out “;we change the timing quite a bit,”; Fukumitsu said, adjusting for traffic disruptions, such as roadway construction and accidents.

But “;we don't want to change the timing without knowing what else is going on and how it might impact other streets,”; he said. The intent of the Traffic Management Center is to make sure that not only the main roads are flowing, but the side streets as well.

“;People (usually) don't realize it's been changed,”; Fukumitsu said of the timing adjustments.

“;It's very judgmental,”; he added, regarding the adjustments made. “;It's an art.”;

His boss, Wayne Yoshioka, director of Transportation Services, agrees.

“;I've been in the business for over 30 years,”; Yoshioka said. “;There are complex algorithms for traffic signal timing. But in a one-on-one situation, there is nothing that counts more than experience”; and the human element.

The first camera was installed about 15 years ago, as an experiment using fiber-optic equipment, at South King Street and University Avenue, where Beretania Street also intersects.

Fiber optic “;was new to us back then,”; said Fukumitsu, who's been with the Traffic Management Center since it opened two decades ago.

The experiment worked, and the city now spends approximately $4 million a year expanding the network of cameras around the island.

“;We started with the easy areas in downtown and Waikiki and now are working (to move) out to the harder (access) areas, like Windward Oahu,”; Fukumitsu said.

Of the approximate 800 signalized intersections on Oahu, nearly half are now monitored by the cameras.

Each camera, which can be maneuvered 360 degrees and zoomed in and out from the control center, has a bird's-eye view not only of the intersection where it is mounted, but nearby ones as well. Each camera also is equipped with a tiny windshield wiper-like device, also controlled from the center.

The cameras face in one direction during the peak morning commute hours, then are reversed for the afternoon rush-hour traffic.

The Department of Transportation Services' goal is to have every signalized intersection monitored by a camera, Yoshioka said.

The center is staffed from 5 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday though Friday. However, depending on what might be affecting traffic—a parade, block party, major accident or emergency—staff will come in on weekends.

In addition to keeping traffic moving, the center offers feeds to news stations to report traffic conditions, as well as to other government agencies, including the Honolulu Police Department and state Transportation Department.

During emergencies many city departments are activated, including Transportation Services. In those cases, “;I have two hot-line phones,”; Yoshioka said—one connected to city bus operations and the other to the Traffic Management Center.

Beyond that, he said the city is hoping to set up a Joint Traffic Management Center one day on the site of the old Alapai Street bus barn, with state and city agencies working together and sharing information.

The traffic cams can be found online at http://www.honolulu.gov/cameras/traffic.htm. You can do a fast check of traffic conditions by going to http://www.honolulu.gov/multimed/hotspot.asp and clicking on the area of interest.

Write to ”;Kokua Line”; at Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana, Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).