Russia Ramps Up Smart City Infrastructure

Russian state institutions are lagging behind the explosive intelligent transportation systems (ITS) dynamics of the emerging markets of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Central Asian countries.

The car fleet in Kazakhstan, the most prosperous country in the region, had grown three-fold in the 15 years from 2003 to 2018 while density of motorways had not changed or even marginally declined. Traffic congestion is a new reality of its capital Nur-Sultan, said Ruslan Assaubayev, managing partner and regional development director of Korkem Telecom: “Old street plans don’t match for the current number of vehicles on the roads.”

However, poor driving behavior has seen an upsetting road fatalities trend, added Assaubayev. “The common challenge of Central Asian cities is drivers’ low discipline and speed violation,” he said. According to the World Health Organization’s 2017 rankings, traffic-related mortality rates were 20+ persons killed per 100,000 population in countries such as Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Compare this the UK, one of the world’s safest road networks, with 2.58 traffic deaths per 100,000.

In spite of that, the economies aren’t strong enough yet to afford a thorough reconstruction of motorway networks. It explains the authorities’ focus on new mobility solutions as a relatively low-budget alternative. “In the aspect of systematically establishing bus lanes, Nur-Sultan has got ahead of New York,” said Roman Barabanov, sustainable transport specialist at Vision Zero of Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Nur-Sultan had set the digital trend in 2018 as well when it deployed an intelligent traffic detectors network, driving the town’s road death rate down 43% to 3.34 deaths per 100,000 population in just one year. A remarkable result indeed but there’s still a room for further growth. New York, for example, had 200 persons killed in traffic in the same year which makes 2.8 deaths per 100,000. We must also keep in mind that the US number of cars per capita is 3.5 times higher than that of Kazakhstan.

Uzbekistan is now following the digital trend with its capital Tashkent, the most populated city in Central Asia with 2.5M citizens, launched a pilot of the same technology developed by Korkem Telecom in 2019. Some 265 people were killed across the country in road accidents in this year’s first two months. According to Assaubayev, the vendor is currently in negotiations with authorities in four other cities in different states.

Driving freedom ends

Speed radar detectors in cars are still very popular with the post-Soviet drivers. To defeat the people’s need for speed, the network of traffic detectors must be quite dense, said Assaubayev. “There’s no other way to teach the drivers to obey the law. We need two speed cams per every mile of the road.” Around 13,000 cameras were installed at Nur-Sultan’s 400 intersections and 300 roads.

Notably, this sentiment might serve as a manifest to Chinese influence on Kazakhstan with China’s huge reliance on digital surveillance systems. In many cases globally, city authorities gravitate towards an affordable solution based on speed detection devices which is also the most straightforward way to tackle road safety. Assaubayev argues: “We think that big data and AI-based analysis of video footage are of the same importance”.

Some applications of big data analysis include early detection of drunk driving or spotting stolen cars, he said: “If the system reveals, say, obscure driving, it sends an alert to the nearest highway patrol. It might want, say, to inspect the driver for soberness. In an example of car theft, we can detect a vehicle entering a certain area while never leaving it but, instead, there comes a fully identical vehicle with a different number plate.”

Barabanov said: “Capturing the red light and white stop line offences improved conditions for pedestrians. It deprived the drivers of the temptation to cross an intersection in the last three seconds of the green light and stop on zebra in case they’d failed.”

To negate the higher cost of a denser system, the company eliminates expensive construction works wherever possible. Battery-powered cameras and radars are mounted on streetlight poles and recharge from the illumination power-grid when illumination is on. Accounting for the region’s poor quality of telecommunication, the technology features a variety of connectivity options such as fiber-optic, radio and most recently mobile connection, to downsize the cable-laying operations.

Big data over fine-issuing features

So far yet, the authorities and business are undervaluing the role of big data in smart cities. Assaubayev said: “Big data’s best application is transportation planning.”

“In future, the data collected by the complex system can be used to support the drivers with individual recommendations on an optimal route while, also, to model traffic parameters accurately for adaptive traffic management with anticipation,” said Rustam Khalilev, project chief engineer at MosTransProject SBI. “The technology also establishes a basis for deployment of autonomous transport,” he said.

One comment

  1. Avatar Jussi Sauna-aho, Vemosim Ltd, Finland 19th May 2020 @ 7:35 am

    It was interesting to read and hear how you have started to utilize new available technology in your cities. In that way many benefits will be generated: traffic safety and the fluency of traffic flows in city areas will be improved. Traffic speeds will be more stable; the “stop and go” phenomena will be reduced and, as a consequence, fuel consumption, emissions and noise will be reduced while the efficiency of transportation will be improved.

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