Call it Big Citizen.

In Wisconsin, Madison’s traffic engineering department has been using a growing network of video cameras to monitor traffic for more than six years. Now, the video feeds from many of those cameras are available to anyone with a computer or smartphone.

Since Wednesday, the city has been streaming live online the traffic flow from 34 intersections around Madison. The feeds, which can be found at go.madison.com/traffic-cams, are intended to help motorists avoid congested areas. (Feeds from 20 or so other cameras that are used by police and traffic engineering are not being made public.)

“What we hope is that drivers can make informed decisions. If they can go to work a half-hour earlier or later they can see what a difference that makes in their travel,” said Scott Langer, an assistant city traffic engineer. “The roadway system isn’t getting bigger, but it needs to get smarter.”

The city maintains the video from the cameras for about two weeks before it is recorded over, Langer said. Cameras cannot be controlled by public viewers, and video cannot be recorded directly from the site. The system is similar to that used by the state Department of Transportation, which has offered live feeds of parts of major roadways and Interstates in 22 counties for years.

The state system offers still images every two to three minutes, but the city of Madison system provides a live video stream. Users can watch a single intersection or use a feature on the website to watch multiple locations at one time. The city’s decision to make the video feeds public came after requests from a few Dane County departments that wanted to see traffic flow.

The city began installing traffic cameras in 2008 and has been adding a few each year at a cost of about $3,000 each. This year, for example, John Nolen Drive will get cameras that are expected to be installed before Rhythm & Booms on June 28.

In general, the city uses the cameras to monitor flow and make adjustment to traffic signals without sending a traffic engineer out to an intersection to study a problem. The cameras are also added to major construction zones and are typically left in place once construction is done, Langer said.

“I think major intersections will (eventually) have them,” Langer said. “It’s those major intersections where they’re a big benefit from a city standpoint.”

©2014 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)