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Study: Traffic lights should respond to cars, not other way around

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Study: Traffic lights should respond to cars, not other way around

by Jonathon Ramsey (RSS feed) on Sep 23rd 2010 at 9:59AM

Anyone who's sat at a red light for minutes on end in the middle of the night when there's no cross traffic can cheer on science for proving what we already knew: lights that adapt to the flow of traffic, instead of dictating the flow of traffic, can improve the flow of traffic. A team of researchers discovered that if you let lights locally decide how to time their signals based on how much traffic they're dealing with, and then communicate that with nearby lights, you get closer to the "green wave" of lights that keeps thing moving smoothly.

The issue with the centralized, top-down system of control is that it is geared to address an average traffic situation that rarely occurs as planned. The variations in rush hour traffic mean that lights are trying to apply one solution to a vast number of situations. In their trial in Dresden, Germany the team found that traffic congestion was eased by nine percent, pedestrian congestion by 36 percent, and bus and tram traffic by 56 percent. With rush hours spreading in time and distance, the proof and implementation of this can't come soon enough. Thanks for the tip, Toy!



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Then there is the 5 boros of NYC... where virtually every traffic light is 40+ years old and uses a timer so antique you can hear it clunking in your car with the windows rolled up. Need to go 3 blocks against the lights... you WILL sit for 4 minutes each int he middle of the night.

There are a few lights that use sensors, but its rare... mostly in Staten Island, from my experience... where the sprawl, and lights are somewhat more recent.

Even new lights in some area are deliberately put up without sensors... I saw a few go up in Brooklyn during my time there... the only cuts in the road were for running the electrical.

NYC extends its middle finger to your traffic study.


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This is an amazing idea. Could it really be possible?

To a certain degree, I've always felt that a series of lights using sensors will communicate with each other. The traveling cars are the communication medium.

It would be nice to give traffic control devices more intelligence, though.

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