NYC Traffic System Is Enhanced With Network-Based CCTV

The ability to view traffic conditions on the Internet before hitting the road has been extremely helpful to thousands of drivers, especially to those whose commute consists of driving in and out of New York City.

With heavy traffic entering and leaving the five boroughs daily, the New York City Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Traffic Management Center (TMC) keeps busy monitoring traffic at key locations and main arteries via CCTV cameras and network video technology from Axis Communications. The cameras transmit the most current traffic conditions as live images back to the TMC and are posted on the DOT’s Web site for the public to view.

Although the DOT had been using streaming media to transmit the images over the Internet, officials realized how costly this method had become for them to provide 24 hours a day. As a result, DOT officials decided to do their homework and, after studying the latest in video technology offerings, looked to Visual Security of Great Neck, N.Y., to help them configure their traffic management system.

What first began as an adjunct camera project led to the installation of network-based video servers and additional cameras.

Streaming Media Is Too Costly to Maintain

The TMC presently monitors more than 100 cameras and transmits live traffic images from its Long Island City headquarters in Queens. The images are first accessed through video servers, installed by Visual Security, and then broadcast live over the Internet through a standard Web browser.

Originally, the DOT used streaming media to transmit the images, which was the only type of technology at the time to perform this function. But this method eventually became too costly. Sleicher adds that, with streaming media, the DOT had to have a dedicated PC with a video capture card for each camera, which resulted in some of the PCs crashing and in need of rebooting.

In 2000, the DOT decided to change its existing streaming media solution to an Internet Protocol (IP) network-based system. At first, DOT officials began its upgrade with a cellular data packet data (CDPD) camera adjunct project, but that soon resulted in the addition of video servers and network-based cameras.

Adjunct Project Helps Company Win Award

The DOT first contacted Visual Security in January 2000 to assist it on the CDPD camera project. Sleicher says officials there wanted to place cameras in Staten Island, where there were no physical lines available, as well as outer areas of Brooklyn.

Visual Security was able to demonstrate how video servers from Axis Communications could convert all of the DOT’s analog cameras into IP-addressable, network-based cameras, which would result in less bandwidth usage and greater stability.

Soon after the CDPD project, the DOT’s upgrade project went out to bid and was awarded to Visual Security. The upgrade began in March 2001.

Upgrade Makes the System Low-Maintenance

Sleicher says the DOT chose Visual Security, an Axis reseller, after seeing the Axis prototype camera in action during the initial CDPD project. Another factor was the reputation Axis products’ have in connection with these types of applications.

After consulting with the DOT, Visual Security’s sales and design team concluded that Axis 2400 video servers would be simple to integrate into the DOT’s existing network infrastructure. The servers would be more cost-effective than having a separate PC for each camera and would be reliable because they would operate on the Linux system, Sleicher says.

A total of 20 video servers were installed inside the TMC for the 80 cameras that were up and running at the time. (The DOT is continuing to add cameras on an ongoing, as-needed basis.) Two 2401 video servers were also specified; one for a Pelco PTZ wireless camera installed on top of Shea Stadium and another for an existing analog camera not installed by Visual Security.

Relatively small in size, each server is a single-box solution that can accommodate four analog video inputs, and all servers fit in the same space where the DOT had two of its original PCs. The servers feed the analog video from the cameras through fiber-optic cable.

As for the Linux operating system application, Visual Security and engineers from Axis custom-wrote a Perl script to enable DOT officials to pull out JPEG images from each video server at one per second and distribute the images to the live Web server for the public to view.

Securing True Line-of-Sight Was Main Challenge

In areas such as Staten Island and the far reaches of Brooklyn, Visual Security realized that the DOT could not provide Internet connectivity due to the unavailability of physical lines and the loss of line-of-sight.

So the DOT gave Visual Security the OK to have eight Axis 2120 network cameras with wireless modems installed at different locations. Each camera transmits a signal live through a CDPD digital modem and is secured in an outdoor enclosure.

Due to the location’s height, four of Visual Security’s technicians had to be very careful with mounting a pole and installing the PTZ wireless camera on top of Shea Stadium, which overlooks some main intersections and expressways.

This particular camera is hooked to a Trango wireless transmitter and sends signals approximately seven miles to a wireless receiver antenna located on the rooftop of the DOT building by the 59th Street bridge. From there, the signal is converted back to analog and fed into the 2401 video server to transmit the DOT’s Web server.

The DOT crew was very helpful to Visual Security and assisted the technicians in gaining access to restricted buildings, bridges and highways. “They were familiar with the rooftops for the receiving antenna and they were familiar with how the fiber-optic wire was run,” adds Sleicher.

DOT Upgrade Continues; Higher Bandwidth Wanted

With the upgrade completed more than a year ago, the total bill for the DOT at the time was $60,000. The upgrade, however, is considered ongoing. Sleicher says, most recently, the DOT placed an order for additional Axis network cameras, including four with CDPD technology.

With plans to continue the upgrade, the DOT is now looking to implement higher bandwidth methods for the CDPD cameras that overlook the outer borough areas (DOT officials say these need to be replaced soon) along with upgraded cameras to place in those locations.

“We’re hoping something other than 14.4KPS will be available with wireless bandwidth in the future to upgrade the CDPD cameras,” Sleicher says. But for now, “the DOT is happy with having a system that is not quite as fussy.”

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