City-wide traffic flow forecasting is a significant function of the Intelligent Transport System (ITS), which plays an important role in city traffic management and public travel safety. However, this remains a very challenging task that is affected by many complex factors, such as road network distribution and external factors (e.g., weather, accidents, and holidays). In this paper, we propose a deep-learning-based multi-branch model called TFFNet (Traffic Flow Forecasting Network) to forecast the short-term traffic status (flow) throughout a city. The model uses spatiotemporal traffic flow matrices and external factors as its input and then infers and outputs the future short-term traffic status (flow) of the whole road network. For modelling the spatial correlations of the traffic flows between current and adjacent road segments, we employ a multi-layer fully convolutional framework to perform cross-correlation calculation and extract the hierarchical spatial dependencies from local to global scales. Also, we extract the temporal closeness and periodicity of traffic flow from historical observations by constructing a high-dimensional tensor comprised of traffic flow matrices from three fragments of the time axis: recent time, near history, and distant history. External factors are also considered and trained with a fully connected neural network and then fused with the output of the main component of TFFNet. The multi-branch model is automatically trained to fit complex patterns hidden in the traffic flow matrices until reaching pre-defined convergent criteria via the back-propagation method. By constructing a rational model input and network architecture, TFFNet can capture spatial and temporal dependencies simultaneously from traffic flow matrices during model training and outperforms other typical traffic flow forecasting methods in the experimental dataset.
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