Environmental observation networks for smart traffic management

Danny Johns
Business Development Manager
Published: Dec 8, 2021
Aviation and Road Solutions
Weather & Environment

In our last blog titled “Street level weather and its effect on congestion”, I mentioned the project we are currently undertaking on behalf of Transport for West Midlands and West Midlands 5G (WM5G) where we are co-locating Vaisala weather stations with a network of AI-powered traffic sensors as provided by our partners Vivacity Labs.

From a weather station point of view the requirement is to place 62 of our new Beacon weather stations that have the capability of reporting both air quality and atmospheric weather information across the whole of the West Midlands Districts which sits right at the heart of the UK, home to nearly three million people.

Where to locate a weather station?

At first glance, siting of a weather station seems to be a simple exercise by just putting them in a suitably sized grid across the region. However, in fact, it is far more complicated than that as there are a number of key considerations that need to be factored in.

Firstly, the climate of the region itself – where does the prevailing wind come from, what kind of weather is expected day-to-day and season-to-season? If you start to look at the station network in this way you soon start to think of something called climatic domains. These are areas where the weather is for all intents and purposes broadly similar. For instance, a ridge of high ground versus a low-level river valley will have differing weather conditions, such as snow rather than rain on the high ground or river fog patches lower down.

Looking at a region this way means that some stations could be quite close to each other as the crow flies, but actually be measuring quite different conditions. The important thing to recognise though is that they each are representative from a weather point of view of the area around them.

However, it does not stop there. What about land use cases? In our project, we also think about how the weather effects transportation, and of course how that transport effects our climate. Ultimately, we want to enable a more optimized and holistic approach to transport across a city whilst minimising its impact on the environment. 

Hence, looking at areas from the point of view of where people live and travel is also an important factor that needs to be considered when designing an environmental sensing network. So, we now start to look at things through a lens that focuses on residential areas, shopping zones, recreation parks etc. Understanding the weather at these places then helps us map to differing demand for these locations on differing days and different weather conditions. One clear outcome of this is of course the need for parking spaces to be available – on a rainy day park as close as possible, on a sunny day happy to walk a bit further?

Not all considerations are a straightforward either. We have political requirements to take into account, such as administrative boundaries or areas of regeneration where investment is being focused. In addition, we may also be asked to look at other items, such as resilience and response to naturally occurring disasters and of course those that may be due to human activity.

Once you look at all of the above, getting the location of your weather station network right is actually an exercise in optimization and a certain amount of compromise. Luckily within Vaisala, we have many experts in this field who are able to weave through these often-competing requirements to help our customers get the most out of their investments.

The practical reality

All the above is the theory but when you get down to the fine detail then we also must be very flexible. Choosing the exact location is fraught with potential pitfalls. For instance, if we want to utilise existing street furniture on which to mount our Beacon weather stations then we need to carefully assess whether, for instance, the lamp column is too close to the trees which would make the readings somewhat suspect.

So, getting the most out of a network of city-based sensors is not for the faint-hearted. However, it can be extremely rewarding if done correctly as it will give valuable data upon which to first learn about how daily life in the city responds to the weather, and how it effects the environment thereafter. Once understood, the final piece of the jigsaw comes when you are able to take an evidence-based approach to putting in place processes that enable a more optimized and holistic approach to transport across a city whilst minimising its impact on the environment.

You can find out more about Beacon weather stations on our website.

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