Smarter Traffic Signals Can Save Time And Money

Interconnected system could give drivers relief and reduce pollution.
Karin Heineman, ISTV Executive Producer

Every year, the average American commuter spends a total of about one week of their life in traffic.

Traffic congestion and the resulting delays costs major U.S. cities $121 billion in fuel costs and productivity loss annually, the equivalent of about $800 per commuter. Now, computer scientists in Pennsylvania have a new smart traffic signal system that could help reduce traffic congestion, curb pollution and cut commuter time.

“Individual lights are part of a larger network, so that traffic moves as efficiently as possible through the network,” said Stephen Smith, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

The system – called  Smart Urban Traffic Control, or SURTRAC – gives lights at intersections the ability to adjust to changing traffic conditions in real time.

Video cameras at intersections communicate traffic flow information between intersections. The technology then adjusts the timing of the lights based on the information it receives from other stoplights to better move traffic through the intersections and minimize delays due to congestion.

“The system can be very responsive to things like traffic accidents or a vehicle parking in a lane to make a delivery and blocking traffic," said Smith. 

A study of the new system in action within nine Pittsburgh intersections showed a 40 percent reduction in vehicle wait time, a 26 percent reduction in travel time, and a 21 percent cut in emissions. City traffic managers are planning to expand the technology to include 45 intersections in Pittsburgh by the end of 2014.


Author Bio & Story Archive

Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV.