Archived: Inside the Tokyo Traffic Control Center

Tokyo traffic can be crazy. Perhaps not as crazy as it is frustrating, but it’s certainly a lot easier to get through the mess on a Monkey rather than in a car.

However, despite our gripes about traffic lights that seem very poorly timed, it turns out that the entire system is much more centralized than we could have imagined.

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We recently had the opportunity to visit the Tokyo Traffic Control Center and get an in-depth look at how traffic operates in Tokyo minute-by-minute. Staffed by several officials working 24-hour shifts, Tokyo’s traffic landscape is broadcast on a towering bank of integrated monitors.

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From left to right, the Expressway Display Board, Central Display Board, and Information Display Board paint a picture of the immediate traffic situation by compiling information from cameras, helicopters, police, citizen reports, and over 17,000 vehicle detectors all around the city.

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Seated in the middle is the Commander of the Control Center, with operators on the sides to collect information. The Information Board on the far right can display anything from handwritten notes to additional maps brought up on the computers.

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The Central Display Board highlights 1,000 intersections, and has 15,154 traffic signals in the system. When traffic jams are detected or reported, the affected area turns from green to red. It also displays traffic accidents and closed streets.

Information is passed on to Tokyoites live through radio reports and 300 traffic information boards on the roadways. To directly influence traffic, it’s possible to manually adjust the signal intervals for 7,000 of the traffic lights, and communicate directly with traffic officers in the field.

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Tokyo may not be the most traffic-friendly place in the world, but it’s not nearly as bad as what we’ve seen elsewhere. It’s our opinion that much has been accomplished through the use of vehicle detectors to monitor flow, and we discussed future developments with officials, such as integrating the detectors with car navigational systems to better inform drivers.

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