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Pilot project featuring LiDAR sensors, 5G network, to study traffic patterns in downtown Kelowna

The intersection of Water Street and Bernard Avenue in downtown Kelowna. The city says a pilot project will explore how the public moves in the downtown area. Global News

The City of Kelowna says it will embark on a pilot project next week that will study the flow of traffic and pedestrians in the downtown core.

On Thursday, the city announced that it will soon be installing two light (LiDAR) sensors along Bernard Avenue, with more sensors to be installed at three other intersections at a later date.

The project, according to the city, will study how people move downtown and how to increase pedestrian and cyclist safety.

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“This is an exciting opportunity for Kelowna to build on the work we’re doing to bring smart city technologies to our city,” Kelowna mayor Colin Basran said in a press release.

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The mayor added that as the city grows, “we need to better understand what these travel interactions look like and how can we ensure the safe management of everyone using our streets, curbsides, sidewalks and pathways.”

The city said Rogers Communications, its 5G network and the University of B.C. are also involved in the project.

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The city said LiDAR sensors supplied by Blue City Technology will be installed at Bernard Avenue and Water Street, and Bernard Avenue and Pandosy Street. It added that the sensors will be wireless and that their infrastructure follows Health Canada’s radiofrequency exposure guidelines.

The idea, said the city, came from a virtual hackathon on March 27, when approximately 50 UBC students gathered to explore how technology and wireless connectivity could lead to studying downtown traffic.

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The city said unlike traffic cameras, the LiDAR senors will capture consistent data during a 24-hour period, “regardless of changes in lighting or weather,” but added “the resolution of the data is insufficient to capture or reveal identifying details about people or permit facial recognition.”

It added that the data will be collected anonymously and will be stored on a Microsoft platform.

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Global News reached out to the city regarding the data and privacy concerns.

The city says it takes privacy very seriously.

It says this project is appealing because the LiDAR sensors that will be used can identify objects such as a vehicle, a pedestrian, bike or scooter. However, the city said those objects will be vague in shape and won’t offer anything recognizable, such as faces or licence plates.

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The city added that it will be collecting and storing data during the project’s duration, which will be until December.

The city said students from UBC will use the data to to answer questions about:

  • What modes of transportation are being used in Kelowna and where.
  • Where near misses are occurring between different modes of transportation.
  • How transit users navigate other corridors when arriving at their stop.
  • How effective are unsignalized crosswalks.
  • What parts of a block lend themselves best for pick/up drop off, re: ride sharing.
  • Increasing knowledge of emergency responders reporting to a crash scene.

“Until now, detailed information about the way cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles move and behave in urban environments has been surprisingly difficult to collect and, importantly, share in real time,” said UBC associate professor David Michelson.

“This is as close to a perfect academic, public sector and private enterprise partnership as one can imagine. None of us could have done this on our own.”

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