When the northbound Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive was shut down from about 10:25 to 11 a.m. on Thursday so that President Bush could get from the downtown heliport to the United Nations, the video screens at the newly opened Joint Traffic Management Center in Long Island City, Queens, showed the unusual sight of a city roadway absolutely free of traffic.
Technicians at the center could watch through the video links, but because drivers could not, they had programmed electronic signs as far away as the Staten Island Expressway to alert drivers that the F.D.R. would be closed.
The traffic center was officially opened on Thursday, although it has been in operation for about two weeks. It allows police officers and technicians from the city and state (they each control different portions of the city road network) to track traffic patterns, respond to accidents or other complications (like presidential visits) and distribute information to the public about road conditions.
About 500 cameras posted on streets around the city send digital video feeds to the traffic center and technicians can access the images and even change the camera angles.
They also receive data from roadside sensors that measure vehicle speeds, so they know how fast traffic is moving. That information is used to create a color-coded digital map of the city, known as the flow map, which shows vehicle speeds on major roadways.
(The city plans to put the flow map on the Internet in the next few weeks so that anyone can check traffic speeds on their computer or cellphone.)
Technicians at the center can also control about half of the city’s 12,300 traffic signals from the center.
The center was built over the last five years at a cost of $16 million, most of it paid by the federal government.
Much of the information on display at the center was already available to traffic managers, but the city and state previously operated in different rooms in the Long Island City building where the center is housed. Having them in the same room, along with the police, is meant to foster greater coordination and faster responses to problems.
“The faster we can detect an incident, respond to it and pass the information to the motorist so they can choose an alternate route, the more we minimize the impact of that incident,” said Mohamed Talas, an operations manager at the center.
An example: If an accident ties up traffic on the Gowanus Expressway in Brooklyn, traffic often spills onto Third and Fourth Avenues as drivers seek an alternate route. Technicians at the traffic center can change the traffic signal patterns on those avenues to help keep the higher volume of vehicles moving.
The center is in a windowless ground floor room with the lights turned down low to accentuate the computer images on multiple screens. The smell of new carpeting hangs in the air. The ceiling is made out of a undulating metal panels.
One wall is covered with video screens displaying dozens of video images of city roadways. Technicians at long desks sit before numerous computer screens, displaying yet more video images.
The center was officially opened by a number of public officials, including the state transportation commissioner, Astrid C. Glynn; the city transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan; and Michael Scagnelli, chief of transportation for the Police Department.