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Intelligent Transportation Systems and Winter Operations In Japan
FHWA International Technology Exchange Programs

September 2003


Click on a link below to go to a specific topic in this chapter:
General Observations
Background on Hokkaido
Hokkaido ITS
Major Road Authorities in Hokkaido
Civil Engineering Research Institute of Hokkaido
Hokkaido Development Engineering Center and Hokkaido University
Private Weather Forecasting Agencies in Hokkaido
SIRWEC and PIARC Conferences



The team members gathered valuable information throughout the study, during both the formal presentations by their hosts and the question-and-answer sessions that followed. The team met with the four major Japanese road authorities in Hokkaido (Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau, Hokkaido Prefecture Department of Construction, Hokkaido Branch of the Japan Highway Public Corporation, and the City of Sapporo Development and Construction Department), Civil Engineering Research Institute of Hokkaido (CERI), Hokkaido University, private sector organizations, and two private weather agencies involved in ITS and winter operations. The team also had in-depth technical discussions on advanced technologies with European counterparts at the SIRWEC and PIARC Conferences in Sapporo, Japan, immediately before the meetings with the Japanese agencies and organizations. General observations made during these formal and informal meetings are outlined in this chapter. A brief description of Hokkaido, Japan, and the ITS initiative under way in Hokkaido is followed by information categorized by agency and conference proceedings.

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Hokkaido is one of 47 prefectures in Japan. It is Japan's largest and northernmost prefecture, accounting for 22 percent of the nation's land area. About the size of Austria, Hokkaido is half flat and half mountainous. It lies roughly between the latitudes of 41 and 45 degrees north and is surrounded by the Sea of Japan on the west, the North Pacific Ocean on the east and south, and the Sea of Okhotsk on the north.

Hokkaido is in the northern limit of the temperate zone and the southern limit of the subarctic zone. The temperate zone is characterized by mild weather, some precipitation, and four distinct seasons. The subarctic zone is characterized by abundant precipitation throughout the year, with heavy snowfall in winter.

In winter, cold air masses from Siberia cause the temperature in Hokkaido to drop. In many areas of the prefecture, the average daily high temperature in the January-February period is below freezing and the average monthly temperatures in winter range from 18 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

The first snowfall of the season normally arrives between late October and early November. The snow cover remains for four or five months, before disappearing between late March and early April.

Hokkaido has 34 cities, 154 towns, and 24 villages-the largest number of municipalities of any prefecture in Japan.

Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido, is located in the southwestern part of the island near the Sea of Japan. In the winter, Sapporo experiences strong northwesterly winds and heavy snowfalls, and the air temperature drops below freezing almost every day. Sapporo, a city of almost 2 million residents, receives more than 16 feet of snowfall a year-about the same as Buffalo, New York. The cold and snowy region of Hokkaido, in general, and of Sapporo, in particular, poses many challenges to the transportation needs of the residents during wintertime. A number of ITS programs are being developed to address the safety and mobility of Hokkaido residents, especially during winter.

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A Hokkaido ITS Planning Committee was established to address problems associated with traffic hazards from severe winter weather conditions and emergency management issues. The committee is composed of members from the four major road authorities in Hokkaido, CERI, four universities or schools of higher learning, Hokkaido Economic Federation, and a Hokkaido town mayor's office. Dr. Keiichi Sato, professor of urban and environmental engineering at Hokkaido University, is the committee chairman.

The committee formulated the Hokkaido ITS Promotion Plan to broadly and systematically promote the introduction of ITS in Hokkaido. Hokkaido ITS refers to a consolidated social system linking people, roads, and vehicles by means of the latest information and communication technology. The promotion plan contains nine categories of ITS development:

The ITS work under way that relates to winter operations falls into two of the above categories: advances in navigation systems and public assistance for safe wintertime driving. In the first category, a light-emitting roadside delineator and millimeter wave sensor for detecting obstacles in front of moving vehicles under low-visibility conditions have been developed and are being evaluated at a special test site. In the other category, road weather information is provided to the wintertime traveler both before departure and while en route. Drivers can obtain real-time image data, information about road surfaces, and weather conditions around mountain passes before departure using Internet and communication line terminals at home, in the office, and in roadside rest areas. These modes of communication make it possible for wintertime travelers to adjust departure times and change routes appropriately. Storm and related road weather information can be provided automatically through mobile phone and the Internet to drivers for a user fee. Road information also can be transmitted automatically to drivers (and passengers) through mobile terminals, such as car navigation systems. Information provision services using vehicle information and communication systems (VICS) have been put into operation in Hokkaido.

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The four major road authorities in Hokkaido are the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau, Hokkaido Prefecture Department of Construction, City of Sapporo Development and Construction Department, and Hokkaido Branch of the Japan Highway Public Corporation (JHPC). Formal meetings with these agencies were preceded by a formal greeting and welcome by Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau Director General Michio Hirano. He provided a brief overview of the road system in Hokkaido.

In 1950, the government of Japan created the Hokkaido Development Agency with headquarters in Tokyo to promote comprehensive improvements in infrastructure in Hokkaido. A year later, the Hokkaido Development Bureau was established as a local organization to implement public works of the national government. The Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau, as it is now called, is a local branch office of the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport.

Roads in Hokkaido range from national highways to municipal roads and cover a distance of more than 53,400 centerline miles. The Hokkaido Regional
Development Bureau manages the national highways, which consist of almost 4,000 centerline miles. The bureau promotes improvements for high-speed traffic networks and enhancement of road management. It also ensures efficient traffic flow, especially during periods of severe winter weather. It works closely with the other three major road authorities in Hokkaido.

The bureau also promotes research and development on new ITS-related technologies, such as the advanced cruise-assist highway system (AHS) being tested by CERI at the Ishikari Snowstorm Experiment Site. The system includes light-emitting roadside delineators, roadside message signs, and various sensors, including the millimeter wave radar, visual sensors, and infrared sensors.

Following the meeting with the director general, a formal meeting was held with representatives of the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau, Hokkaido Prefecture Department of Construction, City of Sapporo Development and Construction Department, and CERI. The purpose of this meeting was for our Japanese hosts to provide answers to the amplifying questions listed in Appendix A. These questions covered six areas of interest to the scanning team:

Copies of the amplifying questions were sent to various Japanese agencies and research contacts before the scanning trip.

The Japanese hosts did an excellent job of thoroughly answering each question. The meeting with the Hokkaido road authorities provided the team with a good overview and details of Japanese ITS and winter operations programs and progress. Items covered in significant detail included the following:

A number of the items covered during the presentation are discussed further in the following sections of this report.

A meeting between representatives of the Hokkaido Branch of the Japan Highway Public Corporation (JHPC) and the team members followed the meeting with the other three major highway agencies of Hokkaido. The JHPC was established in 1956 as an organization that designs, builds, operates, and maintains all the expressways and other toll roads in Japan.

The headquarters of the JHPC is in Tokyo. It uses tolls collected on the expressways and other roads in its operation. It has installed more than 800 road weather stations on its expressway network both in and out of snowy regions.

The Hokkaido Branch of JHPC operates and maintains more than 1,100 miles of expressways. In the winter, this includes conducting snow- and ice-control operations and disseminating traffic guidance. Snow- and ice-control operations include plowing and spreading both solid and pre-wetted sodium chloride. Liquid brine is also applied when appropriate.

The JHPC is conducting research and development associated with new ITS technology for the economical and efficient management of snow- and ice-control operations. The technology includes advanced weather forecasting capability, global positioning system (GPS) sensors, satellite communications, mobile road surface condition measurements, and reporting of snow- and ice-control vehicle operations.

The JHPC uses special orange patrol vehicles (see Figure 2) to monitor wintertime road surface conditions. These passenger-type vehicles contain a laptop computer, GPS equipment, a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera, sensors to measure air and road surface temperature, a road surface screening device, and a salinity indicator. The screening device classifies road surface conditions as dry, damp, or frozen and snowy based on the illumination and unevenness of the road surface. The salinity indicator, still under development, collects water and ice mixtures splashed from the road surface by the vehicle's rear tire and measures the mixture's residual salinity in the range of 0 to 15 percent concentration. A light refraction technique is used to determine salinity.

The information collected by patrol vehicles is transmitted to traffic control centers, which operate 24 hours a day (see Figure 3). The centers also receive road weather information collected by weather observation equipment along the expressways and direct feeds from closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at critical locations. The centers then transmit the information to emergency vehicles, winter maintenance vehicles, roadside variable message signs, rest area kiosk terminals, and the highway radio system. Information such as wind speed and air and pavement temperature is displayed digitally on selected roadside message signs on a real-time basis. Vehicle information and communication system (VICS) service has been available on the expressway network since early 1996 to provide road weather information to drivers and passengers through car navigation systems installed in vehicles.

Expressways have variable speed limit signs that the traffic control centers can change in response to wind speed, visibility, air, and road temperature conditions. The variable speed limit signs, which have replaced static signs, use colored light emitting delineators (LEDs) to mimic the look of static signs so that drivers know they are regulatory and not advisory signs.

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CERI was founded in 1937 as the Testing Laboratory of the Civil Engineering Department of the Hokkaido Prefectural Government. In 1947, it was renamed the Civil Engineering Institute, Hokkaido Prefectural Government. In 1951, it became part of the newly established Hokkaido Development Bureau. The institute was reorganized and renamed the Civil Engineering Research Institute in 1988. In 2001, it was again renamed the Independent Administrative Institute Civil Engineering Research Institute of Hokkaido. CERI's objective is to improve civil engineering technologies that contribute to the development of Hokkaido through investigations, experiments, research, and development of civil engineering technologies related to projects performed by the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau.

Institute activities are conducted by specialists organized into four research departments and 13 divisions working on projects involving rivers, dams, erosion control, ports, airports, roads, bridges, land improvement, agricultural land development, and marine and coastal development. The institute also is involved in technological development of plans, design, construction, and operation and maintenance of the infrastructure in cold, snowy districts.

The team held a formal meeting with representatives of the three divisions of CERI's Road Department-Traffic Engineering, Disaster Prevention and Snow Engineering, and Maintenance and Management. The meeting's purpose was for CERI division directors and researchers to provide an overview of division programs and answer in more detail selected amplifying questions covered briefly during the meeting with the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau.

The research focus of the Traffic Engineering Division is on road structures, road maintenance (including winter maintenance), traffic flow characteristics (capacity, speed, etc.), safety measurements, and road information. Selected areas of investigation include the following:

The pavement friction tests conducted by this division are mainly for research purposes. Some work is still under way on how to use friction measurements in making decisions on chemical and abrasive application treatments. The division also operates a cold-region test-driving course in Tomakomai.

The research focus of the Disaster Prevention and Snow Engineering Division is on studies involving cold region ITS and advanced cruise-assist highway systems (AHS), development of RWML based on XML, behavior of drivers during low visibility snowstorms, and the use of road weather information for better road management in the Sapporo area. The division conducts field experiments using the millimeter wave radar and ground view sensors plus light-emitting roadside delineators at the Ishikari Snowstorm Experiment Site near Sapporo. The division, as such, is the focus of many cold region ITS research projects conducted by CERI.

The research focus of the Maintenance and Management Division is on studies involving noise countermeasures for roads in snowy regions; advanced, inexpensive construction and maintenance techniques for roads in snowy regions; sidewalk pavement structures and maintenance techniques to enhance snow removal, use by mobility-impaired pedestrians, and resistance to frost-heave damage; use of recycled materials in road construction; and freeze-resistant pavements and road heating systems.

The CERI hosts did an excellent job of describing their research activities and answering the team's questions. The CERI meeting provided the team with significant details of the progress of ITS and winter operations programs in Hokkaido.

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The panel met jointly with representatives of the Hokkaido Development Engineering Center (DEC) and Hokkaido University to learn about their activities related to ITS and winter operations management. Selected members of both organizations made formal presentations on activities.

DEC was founded in 1982 by Hokkaido civic leaders to play an important role in supporting and promoting engineering for cold regions development. DEC conducts research and planning studies, and disseminates the results of its activities. It also conducts international exchanges and holds lectures, short courses, symposia, and other events to distribute and promote relevant knowledge and information on engineering in snowy areas.

The presentations by DEC researchers focused on issues related to pedestrian clothing protection and falling accidents in Sapporo during wintertime conditions. All sidewalks in downtown Sapporo are equipped with roadway heating, but the systems are not being used to their full capacity for economic reasons. The unheated surfaces permit ice to accumulate and create slippery, dangerous surfaces that contribute to falling accidents, particularly for elderly and physically handicapped pedestrians. DEC officials hope that improved forecasting and warning of slippery road and sidewalk conditions through ITS initiatives will improve the safety and mobility of Sapporo pedestrians. Other DEC presentations covered economic issues associated with snow removal and environment-oriented traffic education.

The presentations given by the researchers at Hokkaido University concerned traffic safety issues during wintertime driving conditions. One study is a joint project with CERI that covers two areas: the influence of road surface conditions on traffic characteristics and driver behavior; and the analytical prediction of pavement surface skid resistance under a known range of weather, road, and traffic conditions.

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The team had separate meetings with two private weather forecasting agencies in Hokkaido, Japan Weather Association (JWA) and Sapporo Information Network Co., Ltd (SNET). The purpose of these meetings was to understand the coordinated use of weather forecast data in Hokkaido and to get additional background on selected amplifying questions covered during the meeting with the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau.

JWA was established in 1950 as a private public-service corporation and is under the supervision of the Japan Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. JWA is Japan's biggest private sector organization in the meteorological field. It provides all kinds of commercial meteorological, hydrological, oceanographic, geological, and environmental services, such as making observations, processing and analyzing data, and providing forecasting, disseminating, engineering, and consulting services to domestic users. It receives global and regional atmospheric forecasts down to a 20-kilometer grid provided by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), and provides atmospheric forecasts down to a 10-kilometer-and in some cases a 1-kilometer-grid using its own models. JWA has 250 weather reporting stations in Hokkaido.

The specific weather forecast information developed by JWA is for road management purposes and is not provided to the traveling public. JWA provides detailed weather forecast information to the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau and JHPC through dedicated terminals installed in the office of the road administrators and to other members of these agencies through Internet Web sites and mobile I-mode phones by means of the meteorological information comprehensive online service (MICOS) developed by JWA.

SNET is a licensed private weather forecast service. It was founded to conduct research and development on improved snowfall forecasts and obtain data on Sapporo's winter weather conditions. SNET provides weather forecasts based on weather data from JMA; snow cloud movement monitored by meteorological radar; and real-time data of atmospheric conditions, snowfall intensity, and snow depth from 52 weather observation sites in and around Sapporo. Snowfall prediction information is used by the city of Sapporo to plan its snow removal operations. Current and forecasted weather information provided by SNET is used also in the automatic control of Sapporo's 680 road-heating systems.

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The panel had an excellent opportunity to have in-depth technical discussions on advanced technologies with European counterparts in connection with its participation in the SIRWEC and PIARC Conferences. These discussions were held in response to presentations made at both conferences and in specially arranged meetings. Presentations were made in six technical areas at the 11th International Road Weather Conference of SIRWEC:

Presentations also were made in six technical areas at the 11th International Winter Road Congress of PIARC:

Team members learned from the conferences that European developments in ITS and winter operations are worthy of further investigation. Developments of most interest to the panel include winter maintenance equipment, measuring and communicating winter road conditions, coordinated use of weather forecast data, use of winter maintenance decision support systems, and performance evaluation of winter maintenance operations. Selected items of interest include the following:

More information about the proceedings of both conferences is available at the following Web sites:

Following the conferences, the team obtained information about driver education for winter conditions from Swedish researchers. Both Sweden and Norway include winter driving techniques, such as controlled skidding, in their driver-education classes. Officials believe that training and practice on a skidpan is the best educational method for teaching winter driving skills. Classes in Norway for private driver's licensing include a compulsory two-hour practice on a skidpan and an hour of theory on skidding. Classes for commercial driver's licensing include a compulsory nine-hour practice on the skidpan and associated theory. In the fall, skidpans in Sweden offer training to the public and highway maintenance workers.

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