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Smart Signals Cut Pollution and Travel Time

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they have been able to reduce travel time through an area of Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood by 26-percent and reduce car emissions by 20-percent through the installation of a smart signal system.  The project is part of the Traffic 21 Initiative looking at the place where traffic management and information management collide.

The project spent a little more than $150,000 to add video cameras and other technology to nine intersections around the Target store near Penn Circle in East Liberty.

“We have traffic signals that can sense the traffic situation and adapt to that traffic situation in real-time, communicating with other traffic signals in the area,” said CMU President Jared Cohon.  “Pretty cool, and it works.”

Along with reducing the travel times and emissions, researchers say they were able to cut waiting times at the lights by 40 percent. 

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl praised the system saying it will eventually allow police officers that spend hours controlling signals throughout the city to use their time on “higher and better” uses. “Sometimes I think they make the traffic problem worse instead of better and so nothing will excite me more than to expand from this intersection to hopefully all 600 traffic lights and signals throughout the city of Pittsburgh and get those fine police officers back on the streets,” said Ravenstahl.

Former PennDOT Secretary and current Carnegie Mellon University Transportation Center Executive Director Allen Biehler said the short-term goal is to add another nine intersections along Penn and Center Avenues. He said that might be possible some time in the next year.  After that, Biehler hopes to expand on to Baum Blvd., which he said offers some complex traffic patterns that will serve as a good test for the system.  His ultimate goal is to prove the system to the point that it can be commercialized and sold by local start-up companies to cities around the world.

The nine-signal phase moving along Penn Ave. would come with an estimated $250,000 price tag.  Biehler said using smart signal controls to improve traffic flow is much cheaper than the millions of dollars that would be needed to widen roads, which is the more traditional solution.