Nation's smart roads gaining traction

More than 3,500 kilometers of China's road network have been converted into smart roads able to utilize intelligent technologies to improve the flow of traffic and make people's journeys safer.

Details of the latest achievements in China's ever-expanding road network were discussed at the three-day 2023 Digital Transportation Conference and Expo, organized by China Communications and Transportation Association, that ended on Wednesday in Beijing.

More than 400 experts from the government, academia and industry discussed how to enhance the digitalization, networking and intelligence in transportation.

There was wide consensus that information infrastructure such as Beidou and 5G has drastically improved the quality of the transportation network, especially since 2021.

Chen Kun, deputy head of the Transport Planning and Research Institute of the Ministry of Transport, said a number of highways have been upgraded and made intelligent, such as the Beijing-Xiong'an Expressway's Hebei section, the Shanghai-Hangzhou-Ningbo Expressway and the Chengdu-Yibin Expressway.

More than 20 ports, either completed or under construction, use autonomous vehicles to handle containers more efficiently, and as of last year, over 10 million public transport and freight vehicles have been equipped with China's Beidou Navigation Satellite System, he noted.

The Beijing-Xiong'an Expressway, linking the capital and the new area in Hebei province, is at the forefront of the development of intelligent connected technology in transport.

The expressway has a "lab" for engineers to carry out intelligent transport trials. Along the road, 3,700 smart lamps have been installed that can adjust their own brightness based on prevailing conditions.

"The lamps will automatically dim when it is bright enough. They will switch to a power-saving mode when traffic levels are lower. This is to save energy and reduce carbon emissions," said Zhang Mengqiang, an engineer working on the Beijing-Xiong'an Expressway.

He noted that there is already a lane reserved for autonomous driving vehicles — ready for when they are legally allowed to drive on it.

The 5G network fully covers the Beijing section of the expressway, utilizing the Beidou navigation system and smart monitoring to reduce accidents.

Road safety warning lights have been placed at 30-meter intervals.

"The lights turn on automatically and flash when bad weather causes low visibility, such as in heavy fog, rainfall or snow," said Chen Yang, a manager at China Railway Jingxiong (Beijing) Expressway Development, which is in charge of the expressway's construction and operation in the capital.

When a vehicle is too close to the car in front, the lights will turn red to remind drivers to keep their distance, he added.

The expressway operator has cooperated with navigation service providers to provide real-time information for drivers, Chen said.

"Drivers can get up-to-date information when they use their navigation systems. We call it a 'housekeeping' service," he added.

In 2020 and 2021, the Ministry of Transport issued a guideline and an operation plan to promote China's intelligent development in the transport sector, including building smart roads, waterways, ports and transport hubs.

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