Raleigh, N.C.

Apr 15 2022

Street Smarts: Raleigh Drives Smart City Improvements with Traffic Solutions

The city puts video surveillance at the center of its data-sharing efforts.

Raleigh, N.C., hosts an annual Connected Communities Conference (formerly known as the Triangle Smart Cities Summit), where private and public sector leaders gather to tackle everything from transit to connectivity and digital inclusion.

The city has won financial support for its modernization efforts, including grants from the Knight Foundation and Next Century Cities, and IDC has honored Raleigh with a Smart Cities North America Award.

“The IT team has been really open to working with startups and new technologies on smart city pilot projects,” says Tom Snyder, executive director at the Raleigh-based, tech-centric economic development organization RIoT. “Rather than put up barriers, the IT team works to find solutions.”

When it comes to distinguishing Raleigh as a smart city, Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin designated traffic congestion and transportation issues a top priority. Without a transit solution, “we’re going to be suffocating in our cars, you know, just struggling with traffic. And that’s not the region we want,” she told local media last year.

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Video Surveillance Becomes Smart Traffic Centerpiece

StateTech recently interviewed former Raleigh CIO Sindhu Menon, who left that role on April 1 to become CIO of Harris County, Texas. Menon describes how the city leverages technology in support of a modernized approach to transportation.

In search of Internet of Things tools and data solutions that would help to identify traffic patterns, the city’s IT and transportation departments reached out to partners in the public and private sectors to develop a pilot project.

“We wanted to use real-time data, machine learning and artificial intelligence to build a proof of concept that could identify vehicles and detect vehicle movement and patterns,” Menon says.

Raleigh has made a major investment in Pelco video surveillance systems, particularly the Pelco Spectra Enhanced Series IP PTZ. The city has more than 100 cameras deployed at traffic intersections, making it possible to view activity in real time. A transit project is scaling up camera use, leveraging AI to shift from manual viewing to automated-intelligence solutions.

“Live video feeds from these cameras are fed into pretrained computer vision models to detect vehicles as metadata and are made available to other city systems to assist in making informed traffic management decisions,” Menon says.

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Sharing Traffic Data Breaks Down Silos

This sharing of traffic data across city departments typifies Raleigh’s smart city strategy. IT leaders here have focused on breaking down silos in support of their smart city proof-of-concept efforts.

When the traffic pilot project sought to leverage data from the camera network, for example, “the team realized that the valuable camera data was limited to certain people and locations. The data’s value was siloed,” Menon says.

To break that data free, the team integrated key data sources into the city’s geospatial information systems platform, enabling a dashboard map view that cut across previously fragmented data stores. For nongeographic data, the city uses the Microsoft Power BI platform to build dashboards and construct visuals for sharing information and detecting trends.

A COVID-19 screening pilot, for example, led the IT team to realize that incorporating a unique employee ID within the city’s badge and access data schema could make that data available for other purposes. As a result, the city is “taking steps to start including the ID on new badges and match the data to populate IDs for existing staff,” Menon says.

This focus on data availability has also surfaced in the city’s partnership efforts. North Carolina State University has notably teamed with the city’s IT department on mapping projects and mobility initiatives. North Carolina State University CIO Marc Hoit praises city IT leaders for their efforts to make data more readily shareable.

“If you go look on their website, you can download the data sets,” Hoit says. “That allows university researchers or students to do projects, to offer ideas or solutions. You have many eyes looking at it, which is a nice use of data.”

Tom Snyder
Rather than put up barriers, the IT team works to find solutions.”

Tom Snyder Executive Director, RIoT

A Digital Twin Helps Visualize Data

GIS has been a foundational technology driving Raleigh’s smart cities efforts. In support of smart transit and smart development solutions, the city has been leveraging geospatial systems to develop an intelligent digital twin.

As a pilot project built on the Esri GIS platform, the digital twin has enabled the technology team “to develop an existing-conditions model and capabilities to model potential future conditions,” Menon says. “It shows the current building development of the city and can generate a future development scenario modeled from a procedure-based rule engine.”

In addition to providing visualization capabilities for current and future conditions, “we are testing capabilities to generate future planning metrics — housing units, office square footage, vehicle trips, jobs,” Menon says. “We can also use this digital twin as an input to other spatial models including sun exposure, shadow analysis, flood modelling and line-of-sight analysis.”

Going forward, Menon says, the city is piloting an effort to use customer relationship management technologies to provide a service hub for residents. This comprehensive, citywide customer service system “will ensure convenience and accessibility for community members,” she adds.

“We expect with the implementation of this pilot, we will build significant intelligence into our resident issue reporting, including virtual agent chat capabilities and integrated technology to efficiently route and resolve resident requests,” she says.

LEARN MORE: How data analytics is helping smart cities grow.

Smart City Initiatives Require Expert Talent

To make the best use of technology in support of its smart city efforts, the city needs access to talent: data scientists, GIS analysts, data analysts, innovation and smart city analysts.

In support of that need, the IT department works with other city departments to nurture talent internally, and also partners with local universities “to develop a pipeline of skilled students in various fields,” Menon says. “Our goals are to build an ecosystem, both internal and external, to enable us to obtain experts quickly.”

This emphasis on outreach has been a hallmark of Raleigh’s approach to its smart city initiatives.

“They have joined with other cities to do data backups by sharing each other’s data centers, which helps to lower the cost. We’ve done fiber maps to find ways to share the fiber, so that in emergencies, we can move data over our own networks by connecting it together,” Hoit says. “They are open to partnering.”

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