One of the biggest perceptions, which is widely felt by many in the city of Austin, Texas, is that the city’s traffic lights are never completely synchronized with one another. Another logical question asked by many in the city is why the signals themselves aren’t times automatically by any actual traffic.
Austin’s current traffic light control system was funded by a transportation bond issue that was approved by voters back in 1998. That bond totaled $26.5 million and also included a control room containing more than a dozen screens, all showing different intersections. Prior to this setup, everything was controlled by a single person with a single computer in a tiny room.
The bond issue also helped cover the overhaul of traffic control signal software, as well as better vehicle detection equipment.. The city then spent an additional $2 million beginning in 2012 towards software changes, which will help with better data collection and quicker light adjustment in one corridor instead of one intersection at a time. Back in August, City Council approved an additional $2.1 million for intersection control box updates.
Approximately 80% of the intersections in Austin contain sensors embedded within the pavement or cameras that are designed to observe the general flow of traffic. These allow for timing adjustments at these specific locations.
The only traffic lights that are completely pre-timed are the ones located within the core of the city. However, with that being said, there is currently no indication that intersections containing either cameras or sensors are fully coordinated with others that are located nearby.
Although engineers have worked hard to synchronize different intersections with each other, it really won’t take a lot to disrupt the flow of things. For instance, one intersection’s sensors could allow some extra time for either a pedestrian or long line of cars coming down a side street. This could leave some people wondering if an actual person designed that particular traffic system.
Austin is said to be currently experimenting with adaptive signal timing, which is designed to perceive various levels of traffic at intersections, including networks of intersections. As a result, the red and green light time reactions are automatically adjusted in terms of ongoing traffic without intervention from people. This specific system does, however, have its own benefits; however, there’s doubt regarding whether the benefits are actually worth all of the extra resources and effort.
According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, adaptive signals work best in city where there are traffic fluctuations daily and weekly. Installing these types of signals all across Austin, according to the institute, isn’t generally needed.
The overall goal is to improve times of travel on corridors that have been re-timed by 5%, regardless of the increase of population and vehicles. Last year, this number was broken, as travel times were improved by 7%.
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