Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
article
Feature
District 7 is upgrading 60 percent of its 464 traffic cameras, many of which motorists can view on the Caltrans website.

Traffic Never Looked So Good: Project Upgrades District’s Traffic Cameras
by  Kelly Markham
Issue Date: 03/2012

Click on photos to read captions.

If traffic cameras are the eyes of the district, peering endlessly at freeway conditions, you might say that District 7 just underwent Lasik – its vision now crisper, clearer, and more colorful than ever before.

Mostly, anyway. The Division of Operations will finish upgrading 279 of its 464 traffic cameras by the end of the April. Normally, cameras get upgraded when a freeway project requires relocation or when a camera breaks down. But funding from the State Highway Operations and Protection Program (SHOPP) has enabled District 7 to proactively swap out 60 percent of its cameras as part of an upgrading initiative that has been in the works since 2005, with construction beginning in 2010.

Take one look at images from some of the traffic cams, and you’ll know why the project is necessary. Some of the feeds look like 20-year-old VHS footage – grainy, barely focused and washed out. And there’s a good reason for that: many of the cameras are really old.

“The average life span of a traffic cam is about seven to 10 years, though there are a lot of factors that can shorten or lengthen its useful life,” said ITS Chief Peter Wong. “The oldest camera in operation in District 7 is about 20 years.”

So how did ITS decide which cameras to upgrade? They chose the oldest (and worst) cameras on a particular route. For you tech types, the new cameras are Cohu SD Helios. In addition to producing clearer images with better color, the new Helios can switch to IP with built-in H.264 video compression. Translation: the new cameras can feed images compatible with digital television format over the internet.

Like the old cameras, the feeds from the new cameras are not recorded and they’re not used for law enforcement purposes — two common questions motorists ask. Contrary to Orwellian urban legends, there is no zooming in on license plates or drivers. The cameras are used to monitor freeway conditions, verify reported incidents and dispatch an appropriate response.

Additionally, live camera video images are used by media outlets across Southern California in their traffic reports, and motorists can access snapshots from about 100 cameras online through the 511 travel information service, Caltrans Quickmap and other websites.

District 7 already has the most traffic cameras in the nation, but eventually ITS would like to add more. “We’d like more coverage on several key routes, specifically on I-5 from SR-126 to the county line, on SR-14, on freeways in Ventura County, and major arterials such as Pacific Coast Highway,” said Wong. “It’s just a matter of funding.”

Someday that funding might come. In the meantime, traffic cams play a valuable role in District 7’s traffic operations, particularly on the most congested freeways — I-5, I-10 and I-405. Much like death and taxes, congestion will always be with us. But thanks to SHOPP and the upgraded cameras, traffic never looked so good. Still annoying, yes, but now it’s extra crisp, clear and colorful.

You can check out District 7 traffic cams for yourself on the Caltrans Quickmap (http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov) or at www.go511.com.

One of the NEW cameras: northbound I-405 at Newland. The new cameras offer crisper, clearer, more colorful images. One of the OLD cameras: Eastbound SR-91 at Euclid. Note the lower image quality when compared with the I-405 camera. Data from all 464 traffic cams is routed to the Transportation Management Center in Glendale. Images and video from the traffic cams are made available to broadcasters and traveler information services, such as 511.