Smart city of Sunderland leads urban transport progress


14th July 2020

Topic Transport
Sector Transport

Aligned to the Department for Transport’s national initiative intended to help “solve local transport issues”, Sunderland City Council hopes the use of tech can help reduce the costs to the economy resulting from congestion. By utilising data to manage and predict traffic flow and reduce rush hour traffic – as well as refining air quality and improving road safety for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians – the latest digital technologies are driving forward solutions in the city.

Patrick Melia, Chief Executive at Sunderland City Council, explains the council’s investment in intelligent traffic mapping in the city centre, alongside his commitment to public safety and environmental sustainability.

Congestion is a problem that impacts all levels of society, with significant implications from an individual level through to businesses’ productivity and global environmental issues. As a local authority, we recognise the need to tackle this issue, utilising all the latest technological enhancements available to us in our growing smart, digitally-equipped city.

Our expert team of urban transport specialists at Sunderland City Council are using digital technologies to predict the city’s road use for years to come. The system has been built with a keen eye on data protection. Design principles and intelligent use of the technology can assist decision making, consider the needs of multiple road users and the environment whilst simultaneously protecting individuals’ privacy by not gathering any personal data.

This traffic mapping project is a joint initiative funded by Sunderland City Council in partnership with KBR and Vivacity. Our joint aim is to revolutionise how transport is managed via Vivacity’s award-winning Artificial Intelligence technology, enabling us to capture, analyse and classify live transport usage, 24/7.

The innovative city centre project will gain insights into road usage and the movement of vehicles to enhance future plans, inform accurate predictions and minimise congestion. All underpinned by an eco-conscious drive to help the environment and lessen the damaging effects of congestion and inefficient road use.

Via the installation of two antennae and eleven traffic mapping sensors, the data obtained from this exercise has already brought immediate insights and improved intelligence around the traffic flow in the city centre, including:

  • The ability to track vehicle times between junctions and see when there are delays, traffic build ups or the impact of temporary road works
  • Observe vehicle movements and clearly differentiate the different types of vehicles using the road at any given time, including private cars vs public transport and commercial vehicles
  • Monitor the use of public transport as well as other non-vehicular road users such as cyclists and pedestrians

Traffic mapping and prediction plays an important role in forecasting traffic, helping to optimise route planning and provide accurate estimates of road usage.

Traffic on St Mary's Boulevard, Sunderland

Traffic on St Mary’s Boulevard, Sunderland

As part of the Covid-19 response, Sunderland City Council are leveraging the existing deployment of the traffic mapping sensors, to compare day by day 24-hour traffic flows and identify trends, such as the rise and fall of certain vehicle types in response to announcements from Central Government.

Monitoring traffic in selected areas by running daily reports, demonstrates how overall traffic declined sharply at the end of March and has gradually risen since.

Mark Jackson, Assistant Director of Infrastructure, Planning and Transportation, explains how the use of the sensors have helped the city respond to the Government’s Covid-19 safety guidelines.

“With the ability to break down into timeslots as small as five minutes, we can see how peak demand has changed as people’s work habits continue to adjust and they shift modes of transport – for example, we have seen an increase in cycling in the city.

“The smart video sensor devices are used to capture, classify, and track pedestrian, cyclist, and vehicular traffic, all whilst maintaining the anonymity of highway users. By automatically measuring the distance between individual pedestrians, we have been able to provide analysis of the number of <2m interactions between pedestrians for different times and locations in the city centre.

“We receive graphical data from the operating software that shows which of our sensors are providing the highest numbers of interactions of less than two metres. We are then able to explore what is causing this behaviour and see if any physical measures can be implemented to provide more space for pedestrians where needed.”

As the data collected is analysed and put into use, more details will follow about the learnings and insights that are informing our future initiatives and urban planning.

To find out more about the Sunderland’s Smart City Programme visit