For all the mishegas about self-driving cars in the sunny, techie Silicon Valley, the future of the automobile may still live in a colder clime. At least, the Wolverine State hasn’t loosened its grip on the future of traffic.
Ann Arbor plays home to the University of Michigan, and with the football games, Kid Rock concerts, and daily commuters comes traffic, and lots of it. On the average weekday, the 125,000-person town swells to hold 200,000 people, most of whom travel in by personal car. The city is exploring buses, commuter rail, and carpool options to clear up its roads, but knows it can’t drive the car out of its home state anytime soon.
So it turned to tech to manage its streets.
Intelligent traffic systems have been adjusting traffic lights and signs to smooth out congestion in real time for more than three decades, all over the world. More than 100 cities, including London, Santiago, and Toronto, use the same car-corralling program as Ann Arbor.
Now, that tech is getting smarter—and it’s winning the battle. New numbers from Siemens, which co-owns the Ann Arbor program with UK company Imtech, show the city’s more advanced software puts a serious dent in local traffic.
Cities program your standard traffic light by observing traffic patterns for a few hours, extrapolating what local vehicles need, and then letting lights do their thing for years, even decades. More advanced systems will be able to sense if a vehicle is stopped, and turn the light green to help it along. The most advanced systems—like Ann Arbor’s—will know how many vehicles are stopped, in which lane, and how many vehicles are coming down the pike.
Ann Arbor’s adaptive traffic signal control system has been playing god for more than a decade, but fiddling engineers continue to tweak its inputs and algorithms. Now it reduces weekday travel times on affected corridors by 12 percent, and weekend travel time by 21 percent. A trip along one busy corridor that took under three minutes just 15 percent of the time in 2005 now comes in under that mark 70 percent of the time. That’s enough to convince Ann Arbor’s traffic engineers, who just announced they’ll extend this system to all its downtown traffic lights and its most trafficked corridors.
To combat congestion, each hopped-up signal uses pavement-embedded sensors or cameras to spot cars waiting at red lights. The signals send that information via fiber network to the Big Computer back at traffic management base, which compiles the data.
Read more of the original article at Wired.