Photo courtesy city of Bellevue
                                Visual of Brisk algorithms detecting a close-call traffic event downtown.

Photo courtesy city of Bellevue Visual of Brisk algorithms detecting a close-call traffic event downtown.

Bellevue pioneering road safety analysis project

High-tech process will identify near-miss intersections, could lead the way for other cities.

Bellevue, Brisk Synergies and other entities recently announced a new collaborative project seeking to improve transportation safety in Bellevue.

Utilizing closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera footage in the city, road-safety analysis company and Together for Safer Roads (TSR) member Brisk uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze roadway activity in 40 locations over a prescribed period. The AI tracks where car crashes have occurred or are most likely to occur. Once the footage is examined, officials can determine what changes can be made to specific areas to lower the potential for injuries or fatalities, such as improved signage or renovations.

Results from the project will be available at the end of the year. Though Brisk has worked with other cities to conduct similar near-miss analysis projects, the Bellevue collaboration is the first time it’s been done on a network scale.

“It’s a pretty amazing, detailed look at the data,” TSR program manager Noah Budnick said. “We think this technology is promising and we’re excited about it. Even five or so years ago, this kind of near-miss analysis wasn’t possible. It was very labor-intensive. It made it expensive and time-consuming.”

Near-miss analyses quicken the data-collection process for crashes and potential crashes. According to Charles Chung, the CEO of Brisk, it can take years to get results from and see patterns in police crash data, which has long been a relied-on source for roadway injury and fatality statistics.

“The challenges that we face is that we’re waiting for up to five years for crash data … what our solution provides ultimately is essentially expediting the knowledge into the matter of a few days,” Chung said.

The project is an extension of the city’s 2015 adoption of Vision Zero, an international road traffic safety initiative that aims to entirely eliminate roadway injuries and fatalities. Bellevue is working to achieve Vision Zero’s goal by 2030.

Franz Loewenherz, Bellevue’s principal transportation planner, said the new collaboration is a continuation of a project set in motion a few years ago with Microsoft.

With the tech company’s assistance, the city had initially sought to do something similar to what it’s currently doing with TSR. But with Microsoft, the city only got to the early stages of the process, which entailed the identification of pixel patterns on city cameras. Before the collaborators could move to the next step of the partnership, which was slated to involve trajectory analysis of key visual data, Microsoft’s priorities changed. The collaboration ended late last year.

Loewenherz said the city first reached out to Brisk to extend what had been started with Microsoft. Then TSR and the University of Washington — which, according to a press release, is advising the development of the research and helping guide the analysis — got involved. Brisk was an appealing partner because its technology complemented Bellevue’s interest in optimizing road-safety improvement, according to Loewenherz.

“It was a natural choice to continue in a collaboration with them in this network-wide assessment,” Loewenherz said of Brisk.

Because of near-miss analysis, Loewenherz said the city will be able to further its goal of being proactive rather than being reactive in how it responds to road safety.

“We need new tools to help us get there,” he said. “This is one of those tools.”

During the analysis period, Brisk will be processing as many as 34,000 hours of footage representing 21 terabytes of data, and making use of the 100 CCTV cameras currently installed in Bellevue. (By the end of the year, 20 more will be implemented.)

The collaboration has drawn attention from other communities. Loewenherz said that officials from New York City and Melbourne have reached out to learn more about near-miss analysis.

“We’re at the cutting edge of this road safety realm,” he said. “Ultimately, we hope that this pioneering work will meet cities large, small, in our country and in other areas.”

Budnick echoed ideas of the project as potentially being influential. He also noted that the collaboration could help Bellevue move toward its Vision Zero goal more quickly.

“Our goal here is to prove the value of this type of analysis,” he said. “I think the unique thing about near-miss analysis is that it has the potential to accelerate progress to Vision Zero and other safety programs. It’s additive in terms of the detail and depth it provides. We’re not saying near-miss analysis should replace crash analysis … but what we are saying is that by adding near-miss analysis on top of these other types of data we’ll get much more detail about the contributing factors that lead to collisions. That will give planners and engineers a head start in terms of putting effective interventions on the ground.”

For more information about the project, go to the city of Bellevue’s website (https://bit.ly/2l7fGGf).

Data collection map. Visual courtesy city of Bellevue

Data collection map. Visual courtesy city of Bellevue

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