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Eyes on the City: Our Traffic Control Centre

October 18, 2013
Feature Stories

Have you ever wondered how we help keep traffic moving in Ottawa? We invite you to come along for a tour of our very own Traffic Control Centre!

The City of Ottawa’s Traffic Control Centre is considered one of the most advanced in North America. Using two main types of technology, traffic cameras and a computerized traffic system, the Centre monitors and controls over 1,100 signalized intersections in Ottawa.

There are currently over 200 cameras across the city, located at the busiest intersections. The cameras are used to continuously monitor traffic in Ottawa. Traffic operators can pan the cameras 360 degrees and tilt and zoom up to two kilometres using a joystick. This allows them to observe traffic conditions from all directions at a particular intersection, on top of adjacent intersections and corridors. In the Traffic Control Centre, video feeds from approximately 20 cameras can be displayed on television screens.

Joystick used to pan, tilt and zoom traffic cameras

In addition to allowing us to monitor intersections, the computerized traffic system is used to change the traffic signal timing and phasing at these intersections. Within mere minutes, signal timing can be adjusted to alleviate congestion and reduce delays. This is especially important in the case of incidents and unexpected events, such as collisions, watermain breaks and demonstrations, where roads may be closed and traffic detoured.

Even when traffic is flowing normally, the City of Ottawa has several different signal schedules in place according to traffic volumes within the city. During the week, there are schedules for the morning peak period, the middle of the day, the afternoon rush hour, the evening and overnight. The weekend has its own set of schedules. Some regular events, like hockey games and the holiday shopping season, also have specific schedules.

Signal timing adjustment in action

Each traffic signal has its own controller which is a small computer housed in a metal box at the site of the intersection. Every second, these computers communicate with servers at the Traffic Control Centre to ensure the transmission of information.

Controller for traffic signals


Servers at the Traffic Control Centre communicating with controllers

Did you know that we’ve had our very own unique traffic system (rather than a commercial off-the-shelf system) since 1990? This comes with several advantages! First, the City is able to continually develop its system by adding new features to it, and by directly troubleshooting any issue that may arise. Our system also includes transit priority which is a feature that uses sensors set in the ground to detect the presence of a bus on the road, and then changes the signal timing to give preference to the bus. A second benefit of an in-house traffic system over an off-the-shelf one is a lower year-over-year cost for taxpayers.

You can get your own view of the Traffic Control Centre’s cameras online here, using our interactive traffic map.

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