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Government The Almighty Buck Transportation United Kingdom

London Hacked Its Own Traffic Lights To Make Sure It Got the Olympics 202

bmsleight writes "Does it count as a hack if you change your own system? Vanity Fair report that during the bidding process for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the London Streets Traffic Control Center followed each vehicle using CCTV, 'and when they came up to traffic lights,' [bid committee CEO Keith] Mills said, 'we turned them green.'"
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London Hacked Its Own Traffic Lights To Make Sure It Got the Olympics

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:13AM (#39985703)

    ...except without all the crashes and explosions and mini-coopers with gold bricks in them.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:46AM (#39985915)

      They are talking about the "bidding process". What makes you think there where no mini-coopers with gold bricks involved?

      But personally, i'd prefer a mini-cooper with a Charlise over the gold bricks anyway...

    • by bmsleight ( 710084 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @11:04AM (#39986025) Homepage

      (Article Submitter)
      The person who wrote the first Italian Job got the idea from London's first traffic control system.

    • by EdZ ( 755139 )
      All we've got are Mini-Coopers with regular old bricks in 'em.
    • I am the napster!
  • by Swampash ( 1131503 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:14AM (#39985719)

    Every Olympic bid since Sydney's bid for the 2000 games has done the same. This isn't anything new.

    • by dissy ( 172727 ) on Monday May 14, 2012 @07:14AM (#39993115)

      Exactly. Standard procedure is to close down the roads and block off the intersections, so it doesn't matter if the lights are green or not since the convoy will be the only ones on that road.

      After the mess that makes out of traffic changing the traffic lights for the few minutes needed is only a minor disrupt to traffic, no more than if an ambulance or police vehicle had their lights/siren running and needed to run light.

      This seems like the least annoying method compared to ones used in the past.

  • by santax ( 1541065 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:14AM (#39985721)
    Last thing any sane person would want is being constantly followed. Now we know the Brits are willing to do this if they think they can get something out of it. So far for privacy. Oh and next time you're in the car with your pregnant wife trying to get to an hospital but can't because the lights are red... Well, the police chief is probably on his way home and needed the lights to be green...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:51AM (#39985953)

      Brits? As in we, the people? Do you honestly think we asked to be spied upon? Protip: Nobody here really gives a crap about the Olympic games. It's been made a mockery of all over the media for wasting public money and for the fact that we're hosting the events and nobody actually knows anybody else that's allowed to go. It's going to cause mass disruption to the transport systems for millions of commuters, not to mention the mess the visitors themselves are going to make, and it's also predicited that the majority of new buildings and structures being created for this joke of an event will go to waste as soon as it's over.

      So I ask you again... do you truly believe that the British public volunteered to be spied on, just to increase the odds of having this happen to them? If you're talking specifically about the government, please say so, but I can guarantee ours isn't that much different to anyone elses.

    • by ragefan ( 267937 )

      The police don't bother with the central traffic control, they just flip their lights on to make all the lights turn green for them.

      I figure it means Krispy Kreme just turned on their sign.

    • In Auckland, New Zealand, the reason your light is red is because there's a late bus coming in the other direction - our buses are GPS equipped and if one is running behind schedule and is approaching a traffic light, the system will either short-phase the other directions to fast-track a green light for it, or hold a green light past the end of a phase for it. Funnily enough, emergency services vehicles do not trip the lights.

      Then again, if you speed enough to attract the attention of a police officer whi

      • by santax ( 1541065 )
        Truth to be told, here you would probably get the escort also. It's more the fact I can get frustrated about cctv and global following of citizens. I lost my nerve a bit when I posted my first comment.
  • Using CCTV (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BeerCat ( 685972 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:18AM (#39985749) Homepage

    using CCTV to change traffic lights (apart from showing just how widespread the coverage in London is) is almost minor compared to some of the other bid stunts - they took the motorcade through the (at that time, not yet opened) railway tunnels from St Pancras to Stratford, as if to demonstrate how easy it was to get to the Olympic site - provided you didn't see any of that "get in the way" stuff. Like the city...

    • by Dr. Evil ( 3501 )

      Overt use of power is less frightening than unchecked covert abuse of surveillance equipment.

      • Didn't I read a year or two ago that UK was planning to put cameras at every intersection everywhere in the country? If so, I would say that certainly meets the 'unchecked' part, if not the 'covert' part. While at present most of those cameras are probably not being 'looked through', if it's everywhere it's just as frightening as if it's hidden. A major characteristic of dictatorships and police states everywhere is that one never knows if someone is watching and listening.

        • Didn't I read a year or two ago that UK was planning to put cameras at every intersection everywhere in the country?

          If you did, it must have been somewhere like The Onion. More probably you misremembered. Every motorway intersection, perhaps.

    • Re:Using CCTV (Score:5, Interesting)

      by asdf7890 ( 1518587 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @11:46AM (#39986277)
      The bit that gets me riled is that to even be permitted to bid we had to create legislation protecting the commercial interests of the little jamboree we are funding this year.

      Since I learned that I went from keeping my disinterest to myself and just not paying any attention to the proceedings to actively telling people that fact (people tend to either be shocked or simply refuse to believe it) and making sure I know who the sponsors are (aside from us tax payers that it) so when I have a choice between two products I pick the one that isn't involved in the thing.

      (Petty, yes, but in the absence of decent victories to speak of I enjoy my petty little stabs.)
      • New Zealand had to do the same for the Rugby World Cup, and by comparison to the Olympics it's a bake sale. Basically we included laws on the books preventing ticket scalping (but only for major international events - nothing local), preventing the use of even non-trademarked phrases which might be potentially interpreted as endorsement (such as the word "Rugby") in advertising, preventing any local businesses advertising anywhere near the stadiums hosting it (even sausage sizzles by scout groups could hav

        • The Olympics has all the same.

          There is a full team of people who go around the stadia and their local area putting stickers over all brand names. Even maker's names on toilet seats.
    • Odd that that quite long exposé of the bid didn't mention it. Do you have a citation?

  • by Alex Belits ( 437 ) * on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:19AM (#39985755) Homepage

    It's "Potemkin village".

  • Still better than (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hentes ( 2461350 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:23AM (#39985783)

    closing down the whole street for the convoy.

    • by Inda ( 580031 )
      We only close streets when very important people need their minions to praise them (queen's jubilee).
  • by ehiris ( 214677 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:23AM (#39985785) Homepage

    It was really difficult to find which cars they allowed through in Vanity Fair for those who don't feel like reading the rest of the article about the most boring subjects on the planet: olympic sports, and London

    "Near the end of the application process, an I.O.C. evaluation committee was permitted to visit London. Bid-committee officials knew that London’s transportation system was a weak spot on the city’s application. “Our nightmare was it would take forever to get to the venues,” Mills recalled. A bid-committee team planned the routes that I.O.C. members would travel around the city, and G.P.S. transmitters were planted in all of the I.O.C. members’ vehicles so they could be tracked. From the London Traffic Control Center, near Victoria Station, where hundreds of monitors display live feeds from London’s comprehensive CCTV surveillance system, each vehicle was followed, from camera to camera, “and when they came up to traffic lights,” Mills said, “we turned them green.”

    • by Jeremy Erwin ( 2054 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @11:54AM (#39986315) Journal

      Pick one.

      A. During the Olympics, traffic will be a nightmare
      B. During the Olympics, all traffic lights will be green
      C. Both A and B

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        D. The Olympics is a nightmare.

        It starts soon after your city has won their bid to host. It sucks the soul out of local culture, as all sponsors start saving up for the event. It makes people super greedy as they think everybody will become mega-rich off the Olympics. It sucks the money out of the city and the country to put into "security..." And after the event, you keep on paying for all those new venues that have little use outside the Olympics, for many many years until they fall apart from disuse.

        If y

      • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @01:49PM (#39987169)


        D. Traffic for Londoners and visitors will be a nightmare. But olympic athletes, officials and VIPS have designated lanes all over London that will be kept free for them to get around quickly.

        Fines for using these lanes without a permit are £200. Even for cyclists - which will be interesting, as London cyclists mostly disregard traffic laws and ordinarily are not dealt with.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 13, 2012 @04:48PM (#39988699)
          Traffic for Londoners and visitors will be a nightmare

          It already is. Last week Tuesday, the A406 was closed for 24 hours because of an accident. This happened very close to the Olympic park. The emergency services have no plan at all for handling traffic accidents which are absolutely certain to happen, however, they have Rapier missiles (what could possibly go wrong?) in case of terrorist attacks! and sonic cannons in case of Somali Pirates (we have a few rivers, and quite a lot of Somali run Internet cafes in East London, so it is not impossible one of them may launch a ship-born act of piracy on the Olympics, but I think the take-away food is probably a bigger risk.

  • Nevada is mulling the concept of paying to drive over the limit.
    While I think thats immoral, I can see legislators drooling over the possibility of allowing drivers to pay to get more green lights.

    I am not surprised that London had to resort to CCTV to achieve that. (The movie Brazil comes to mind).

    Help eliminate speeding tickets []
    • by _Shad0w_ ( 127912 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @11:07AM (#39986033)

      You can already pay to drive over the limit, it's called a fine :)

    • This idea would be especially enticing if the price was right. If the fuel savings were to come out to more than the price of admission, I'd buy in!

      Just a quick napkin calculation on that . . . morning commute is 20 miles each way, making 40 miles a day, 200 miles a week . . . My fuel economy is 29 MPG at worst case (hit every light and worst traffic) and 38 at best (all green lights and no congestion), so . . . worst case is 200/29 = 6.9 gallons; best is 200/38=5.3 gallons; difference is 1.6 gallons per w

  • All's fair (Score:5, Informative)

    by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:28AM (#39985807)

    I consider this fair play.

    fact, this is one of the capabilities that the Olympic Committee should specifically look for. The ability of a city to dynamically change its traffic lights and alter traffic flow to deal with a special situation is an important one in a city hosting an major event like this. It means that if they manage it properly, they can reduce congestion around the site, get atheletes and fans in and out quicker and have a better chance of having everything go on schedule. It's also a safety issue. If there are emergencies (and there always are when you have that many people in one place) you can get emergency vehicles in and out quickly.

    London can probably do this better than most cities in the world because of its Big Brother system of pervasive security cameras. The cameras can be used for good, too, if they use them to reduce traffic congestion, detect that the crowd is starting to leave the event so they can begin adapting the traffic flow before people even leave the parking lot, etc.

    • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:50AM (#39985941)
      The little people get to wait for the important people -- like the Olympic committee, or in the future perhaps anyone with enough money -- when the city changes its traffic patterns for them. After all, it is not really equality if the important people have to wait for red lights just like everyone else, right?

      As for emergency vehicles, I live in a small city right now that manages to give them green lights without a special CCTV system. Each traffic light has a sensor that detects sirens/flashers and changes the light appropriately; it may sound surprising, but this is actually a reliable, well-engineered system.

      We have big events here too -- the college football team's games draw big crowds from neighboring towns. CCTV is not needed for that either; police can simply disable traffic lights at appropriate locations and direct traffic as needed. Perhaps this is more than London could be expected to do, given how large of a city they are, but somehow I doubt it -- they have a much larger police force than we have.

      Really, the benefit of the CCTV system for traffic control is overstated here. What London is really showing the world is that when important people are in their city, they can give those people priority as if they were an emergency vehicle, and they can do so discretely. People might complain if police officers started waving through businessmen and politicians, but nobody can complain about the light changing, and there is no need for rich people to attach flashers to their cars.
      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Disrupting traffic flow by manipulating light patterns will simply result in ever increasing levels of failure due to complexity. Once traffic jams occur, a green light has no affect as the road in front beyond the traffic light is blocked by other traffic.

        To bias every light in a single individuals simply generates a traffic jam in the perpendicular direction obstructing other individuals. In more rush hour just one car break down at critical points can generate a traffic jam that delays people half an

        • Absolute rubbish. Change the "green lights", behind the jam/incident will slow the flow into the congested area. Making it easier to get relieve the congestion. This with the use of VMS, encourages people to take alternative routes. Also upstream from the incident long green times will help traffic get away from the congestion.

          Guess what - it is complex, but computer system and good algorithm can handle complexity.

      • As for emergency vehicles, I live in a small city right now that manages to give them green lights without a special CCTV system. Each traffic light has a sensor that detects sirens/flashers and changes the light appropriately; it may sound surprising, but this is actually a reliable, well-engineered system.

        Man, I love those. I miss them terribly. We used to have them in Santa Cruz, but they took them out because we all figured out you can trigger them with your brights, especially if your headlights are misadjusted.

    • Putting thousands of factories off line to turn the sky back to blue. Talk about false advertising!
      • It was not false advertizing. They delivered the blue sky for the people whatching the games, didn't they? The fact that a few days latter the sky was brown again isn't relevant for those visitors.

    • This is only true if they have a system to make systemic alterations like this easy. If it takes a man on the control of every traffic light, it won't work... and from TFA, this was a completely manual and centralized to one person task, so it demonstrates no ability to scale up to managing the lights for the whole city.

  • Olympics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Cancel it, it sucks.

  • by stomv ( 80392 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:32AM (#39985837) Homepage

    1. Giving IOC Observers the lights didn't "Make Sure" that London got the Olympics. A major overstatement to be sure.
    2. While London may have used CCTV, it surely wasn't necessary. A few motorcyclists or taxi drivers with mobile phones and headsets could have just as easily kept tabs on the IOC Observers [so could GPS, though perhaps not as accurately as humans].
    3. The idea of prioritizing traffic in a network should not be novel to /.ers. Not only do we do it with packets, we already to it on roads. Vehicles with sirens and lights have first priority, and at least in tUSA we give funeral parades second priority. Third priority goes to buses which have TSP [traffic signal prioritization] systems, thereby holding a light green or turning it green when a bus approaches. Last priority: us regular users. Giving a higher priority to IOC Observers might not be a great use of taxpayer dollars or appropriate for fairness, but that's a local political decision and certainly not a novel application of technology.

    But hey, the story involves CCTV, traffic lights, and sports which don't always involve a ball or a puck. Perfect fodder for a silly /. article.

    • They were using a combination of GPS and CCTV. For the Olympics the system is automated, afaik - I'm fairly sure the ability is already there for emergency vehicles to use anyway, so they're probably just giving official Olympic vehicles the same doobie they have.

  • by mschaffer ( 97223 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:39AM (#39985877)

    It's not's optimization.

    • It's not's optimization.

      Actually ... it's cheating.

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        It's not's optimization.

        Actually ... it's cheating.

        well.. apparently such green light hijinx is a necessity for getting the chance to host the olympics. it's sort of a hack/crack/cheat if they told the olympic officials the system was automatic though.

        legally I don't get though why one organization at bidding stage should get such favorites - who would I need to call to get in on the action? - though but they're moving the army for the thing too so..

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:46AM (#39985911) Homepage
    250 miles of (arguably) the most congested roads in the world being zoned off for use of executives of BMW and McDonalds could finally trigger mass civil disobedience on a scale that's simply too big to suppress. CCTV might ensure that all 'crimes' are detected, but whether they can be punished is another question.
    • 250 miles of (arguably) the most congested roads in the world being zoned off for use of executives of BMW and McDonalds could finally trigger mass civil disobedience on a scale that's simply too big to suppress.

      Uh, the unused bus lanes didn't do it, why would this?

  • Since nobody's yet posted the comment (or it's below my viewing threshold):

    Premise: The International Olympic Committee's job/duty during the selection process is (at least officially) to make sure a place will be decent for those going to see the Olympics to stay and travel in. Also, it's supposed to check for logistical concerns relative to safety, access to venues, etc. A place that's not suitable is to be rejected, and a more/the most suitable place chosen.

    Premise: Allowing bidders to "rig" a showing

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They must have been driving BMWs, they always have green lights - or their driver behaves like they had.

  • A: Traffic system can be hacked (from inside but these days how hard could it be?)
    B: CCTV can be used to track cars and most likely people
    C: CCTV solves and/or prevents almost 0 crime (See Wiki) [] []

    • C: CCTV solves and/or prevents almost 0 crime (See Wiki)

      Yes, I did. It confirms that your claim is wrong. And indeed we see stories everyday of crimes that have been solved by CCTV footage.

      "A more recent analysis by Northeastern University and the University of Cambridge, "Public Area CCTV and Crime Prevention: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis," examined 44 different studies that collectively surveyed areas from the United Kingdom to U.S. cities such as Cincinnati and New York. The analysis found that: 1) Surveillance systems were most effective in

  • by geogob ( 569250 ) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @12:09PM (#39986413)

    That word definitely lost all its meaning... since when does manually intervening in an automated process (and that through interfaces there by design for this purpose) can be thought of as "hacking". From all editors in the world, those on Slashdot should know better.

    The goal of this action has nothing to do with whether you can call it hacking or not. In this case, I believe "fraud" would be more appropriate. This is a textbook case of it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Samaranch killed them. Please shut them down for good.
    The IOC and their behaviour are disgusting and should be illegal. (no taxes, influencing and hampering the national sovereignty, monopoly, frivolous law suits, bribery, etc, etc, etc.)

    I hate the "new" IOC (post-Samaranch) and the stupid olympic games. It is completely contrary to the original olympic idea.

  • It's Hackling (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ze_jua ( 910531 ) <[jailh] [at] []> on Sunday May 13, 2012 @03:10PM (#39987817)

    One of my favourite definitions of hacking : Using things in a unique way outside their intended purpose is often perceived as having hack value []. (It's not me who posted this on WP).

    They did is a hack with their CCTV+green-lights.

Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. -- Christopher Morley