Camera campers’ can’t quit keeping track of the traffic – SR 520 has most popular traffic cam

Each day, hundreds of Microsoft employees connect their computers to state-owned cameras that line State Route 520.

And they watch them all day. Every day. As if they didn’t see enough taillights to and from work.

The state Department of Transportation calls them “camera campers”.

“The patterns are overwhelming”, said Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald said.

“W have no explanation that’s official, because we can’t know.”

The DOT has 230 cameras watching Puget Sound roads.

“All this technology fits together to make better use of the roads we’ve got,” MacDonald said. “This stuff is cheap compared to building roads, but does cost computer systems and operators.”

Officials said they didn’t know how much the entire program cost each year because the costs are spread throughout the department.

MacDonald said he and other state leaders wanted to learn how people are using the system. For $100,000, the state hired the Bellevue firm Digimine to trace which cameras are most popular.

The No. 1 site viewed by surfers is the midspan of State Route 520. No. 2 is the midspan of interstate 90.

A person staring online at a single DOT camera for eight hours straight will see 320 individual traffic snapshots.

The state records as many as 13,000 hits a day for cameras along the 520 corridor; the road carries up to 120,000 cars a day.

MacDonald presumes that “people who commute back and forth are addicted to our cameras. We think this is fine.”

Interstate 5 at Northeast 45th Street is the third most-watched site, possibly for its unique territorial view of I-5 backups.

During the winter, Snoquaimie Pass becomes the most popular camera as people plan cross-Cascades drivers and ski trips, MacDonald said.

Web hits skyrocketed on a more obscure camera after a big crash in Kent snarled traffic on State Route 167 on Sept. 18. Commuters turned in to see the wreckage of two semi-trucks blocking traffic near Willis Street.

That camera attracts about 2,000 visits on a typical dat. Once word got out on the radio about the big wreck, a camera nearby at Willis and SR 167 drew 28,000 visits.

“We can find the data that people actually use our cameras because they heard about a particular backup or problem,” MacDonald said. “That is a very interesting cultural change and shows technology can help people in how they navigate through traffic challenges.”

For privacy reasons, MacDonald said the department doesn’t use cookies – files Web sites can put on a computer’s hard drive – to track individual users. Instead, they trace internet service providers.

The DOT has a popular and useful metric conversion table. Though it’s buried on a state engineering page, it attracts hits from all over the world.

When researchers would type “metric conversion factors” into the Google Internet search engine, the first choice would send users to the state Department of Transportation. MacDonald said the table was so popular, the state made a link to its tourism site.

By: Jeff Switzer

Source: Eastside Business Journal


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