Smart cities start on the street

Sarah Durante
Berlin 52° 30' 57.852" N, 13° 22' 37.128" E

How intelligent transport solutions will transform the roads and cities of the future.

Tired of stop-and-go traffic in the city because of so many lights? Wouldn’t it be easier if your car knew the ideal speed to get to a green light or, even better, wouldn't it be great if traffic lights were aware of the traffic flow and able to adjust the signal phase accordingly? Not only would your commute be much smoother and you’d feel less stress, but also traffic congestion and city air quality would improve drastically.

Transportation infrastructure is already at its limits in many cities. Inefficient or over-commissioned transportation networks negatively impact economic growth while traffic congestion, pollution and accidents degrade the quality of the life in cities.


Many governments and cities are reacting by implementing what are known as Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). In layman’s terms, ITS is the application of information and communication technologies to road transport that help improve safety, efficiency and minimize environmental impact. ITS encompasses everything from automated traffic lights to traveler information technologies like real-time traffic data.

Collaborating for a smarter future

While there are already many uses of ITS across Europe, fragmentation exists. This is where organizations like Ertico come in. Ertico is a public/private partnership of more than 100 companies and organizations from across different sectors, such as mobile network operators, public authorities, research institutions and vehicle manufacturers, working together to make ITS a reality in Europe.

hermann“Even though ITS can be considered as one component of a smart city alongside smart energy and smart home, it might be the most important with the greatest opportunity to positively impact city life,” says Hermann Meyer, Chief Executive Officer at Ertico. “To be concrete, implementations of ITS are estimated to reduce fatalities by 30 per-cent and reduce congestion by 15 per-cent in the next five years alone.”

Today traffic management centers rely on information coming from sensors or cameras that are fixed to the road to detect incidents and other events helping them re-route and manage traffic.

Car sensors can collect more precise and real-time information

Meyer sees a future where these centers will get the information directly from sensors in the vehicle providing even more accurate, real-time information so that traffic centers can even predict where congestion will occur and proactively take action to minimize it in advance.

Or, whereas today a traffic light is notified when a car passes over a sensor placed underneath the roadway, in the future the traffic light will get information directly from the sensors in the car, not just those directly in front of the light, but those further down the road as well, and can adjust the signal phase accordingly. Similarly, based on the input the signal gets in real time, the traffic light would transmit information back to the cars and give the driver a recommendation of when to slow down or speed up based on when the light will change.

“Ertico supports ITS early adopter cities in their implementations. London provides one model to follow with an open data policy that has enabled numerous transit apps for commuters and travelers or interactive maps of everything from primary schools to startups. Bordeaux, Vigo and other cities are currently testing services for drivers that will inform them of green lights ahead so they can travel more smoothly,” continues Meyer. “We are also one of the 25 partners of the OPTICITIES project which is testing the interoperability of ITS solutions in real-world conditions.”

OPTICITIES is currently running in six pilot cities - Lyon (the coordinator), Madrid, Torino, Gothenburg, Birmingham and Wrocław – and is testing different ways to give urban dwellers access to the best possible journey information and ways to optimize urban logistics operations.

If data is collected, what about privacy?

Of course, a lot of this is predicated on a technical, organizational and legal framework for the appropriate and necessary access to data to provide the related services.

“Appropriate and necessary are really the keywords when it comes to data access,” says Meyer, “To address concerns of privacy and security, we believe that most ITS deployments don’t require access to personal data. The information can be anonymized and is still highly valid and relevant. For implementations that would require some personal data we should give the individual the right to opt-out.”


In addition to the organization’s activities coordinating ITS projects with its members, of which HERE is counted, and advocacy with the European Parliament, Ertico is also busy planning the annual ITS World Congress. This fall’s congress to be held in Bordeaux is all about “Towards Intelligent Mobility – Better Use of Space.”

“At this year’s congress we want to demonstrate how cities can use legacy infrastructure in the smartest way,” elaborates Meyer. “We realize that ITS will be a step-change for many established cities where they will need to layer these new technologies as seamlessly as possible into sometimes centuries old street networks and infrastructure, rather than making massive infrastructure changes all at once.”

Stay tuned to HERE 360 to learn more about our participation at the ITS World Congress in October.

Topics: Features, Smart cities