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'Smart' Traffic Lights Expanding Into Bloomfield

Michael Lynch
90.5 WESA

Blame it on the roads, the drivers or the cars. Any way you spin it, Pittsburgh and traffic seem to go hand-in-hand.

But nearly two years after “smart traffic signals” were introduced in East Liberty, Mayor Bill Peduto said the project is ready for expansion.

“It’s not something for George Jetson,” he said. “It’s something that’s happening right here in Pittsburgh today and the beautiful thing about it is there’s no other urban environment in the world that has this level of technology to help to move traffic in the most efficient and effective method.”

The traffic signal control technology, developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, uses cameras, in-road sensors and radar to measure traffic at each intersection. That information is relayed to nearby traffic signals, and the lights adjust to the flow of traffic.

Starting mid-June, the smart lights will be installed at 23 intersections along Baum Boulevard and Centre Avenue towards Craig Street in Bloomfield and Shadyside. The lights are expected to be operational at the start of 2015.

Peduto said this is the next step towards getting the lights installed at all intersections within the city limits.

“This is part of what’s going to be an entire system all the way to the city’s border up at Braddock and Penn as you come off the parkway all the way to downtown as you’re getting off of Bigelow Boulevard,” he said.

Since the project began in 2012, 18 intersections in East Liberty and Shadyside have been equipped with the smart signals, cutting vehicle wait times by 42 percent, travel times by 24 percent, and emissions by 21 percent.

Peduto said the project doesn’t just manage traffic, it also saves money.

“If we were just to upgrade the timing of these signals, we’d be spending double what we’re spending to do this,” he said.

Allen Biehler, executive director of CMU’s University Transportation Center, said the lights work without any human assistance and operate like any other traffic lights.

“This system will automatically adapt and change as flows change,” he said. “It’s sort of agnostic. If there’s some kind of a problem that causes one street to have a blockage — there’s a fire, there’s an emergency of some sort — the system simply readjusts.”

The $1.8 million project is being funded by the Heinz Endowments, the Hillman Foundation, the R.K. Mellon Foundation, UPMC, as well as PennDOT and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."