Q: I just wanted to write to you because I have a few questions regarding the online "traffic cams" around the Capital District.
Question No. 1: Why is it that every time there is a traffic accident on, say, the Northway or 787, when I try to view the camera nearest the accident, almost without fail that particular camera feed says: "Camera Temporarily Unavailable?" Is it that the DOT or whoever controls the cameras is trying to protect us from seeing the "carnage" on our Capital District highways? (I'm half-joking with this question, of course.) However, on numerous occasions, for example, I'd be listening to a radio or TV traffic report, and then immediately I'd check the camera closest to that incident, but the "Camera Temporarily Unavailable" picture is shown. What gives here?
Question No. 2: In most other metropolitan cities such as Philadelphia, NYC, etc ... the Internet traffic cams show real-time streaming (or close to real-time) video of the traffic cam feeds. However, here in the Capital District, we only get one still image every few minutes. Why is this the case? On local TV stations they show streaming video from those exact same traffic cam feeds; why do all the Internet feeds only show a still picture? This just doesn't make any sense to me.
Question No. 3: Why are there no traffic cams between exits 23 and 24 of the Thruway? I should hope that with the new widening of the Thruway to six lanes, that cameras will be installed near the more heavily traveled sections, such as near the Delaware Avenue overpass or at the overpass of Route 85.
— Anthony B. Martino, Cohoes
A: We'll tackle your questions as you asked them, one at a time.
As to the first question, the camera angles may change for police purposes or to protect privacy.
"Typically, during an incident involving an accident our camera operators will work with State Police to determine the severity of the accident and to evaluate if injuries are present," she said. "This may involve moving the camera from its wide-angle view and zooming in close to the accident scene. Operators may at this point restrict the camera to the NYSDOT 511 website because they are prohibited from transmitting any personal identifier information. For privacy reasons, traffic cameras cannot show images that: identify an individual, driver or passenger; identify license plates of vehicles; identify contents of the enclosed interior of passenger vehicles; or track the individual travel pattern of a specific vehicle."
Once an assessment has been made, Breen said, the camera operator will zoom back out to the original wide angle view so no identifying information can be seen. The image would then return to unrestricted.
"If an image is deemed disturbing, or inappropriate for public view, the camera image will be restricted until the incident is cleared," she said.
R.W. Groneman, spokesman for the Thruway Authority, agreed the main purpose of the camera is not for public consumption.
"The reason we put the cameras up is for traffic control and management," he said.
The camera shots are provided on the web as a public benefit, he said, but the chosen angles and views are meant to help control traffic. The views shown are for the benefit of traffic engineers and may differ from what the public might want to see at any moment.
As for your second question, Breen said, the reason for the still images on the 511 site is that the technology is old.
"The video system for the Capital Region was first installed more than a decade ago before many of the advances in streaming video were available," she said. "Recently, we have upgraded the roadside traffic system with fiber-optic cabling and network cameras, reducing maintenance costs and increasing stability. An added advantage has been high-quality video that is easily delivered to local TV stations on their video network. Getting video to the 511 system on the NYSDOT network is a bit more complex due to information security concerns. We are reviewing the 511 feeds as part of our total system upgrade, and plan a system update later this year."
And to answer your final question, Groneman said a new camera will be added on the Thruway.
"As part of the reconstruction of the Thruway between Exit 23 and Exit 24 in Albany, a new traffic camera will be installed near the Delaware Avenue overpass," he said. "It should be operational in the near future."