Virginia has experimented with traffic light synchronization for many years with some success. Sequencing has had a dramatic impact upon congestion, for instance, in the heavily traveled U.S. 29 corridor north of Charlottesville. But the state is far from tapping the full potential of the technology. Traffic light sequencing is not deployed in all the situations in which it could help, and when it is deployed, it often relies upon outdated technology.
Installing cameras, sensors, wireless and Artificial Intelligence would enable traffic signals to adapt continually as a system to changing traffic conditions without the need for intensive human input.
The video above [since deleted -- editor], created by Rhythm Engineering, describes a case study in which its technology has reduced average travel time along a congested, 12-stoplight corridor in Lake Summit, Mo. by half. The technology costs a tiny fraction of what it would have cost to widen roads, build bypasses or otherwise pursue an asphalt-centered solution to the congestion. Assert Rhythm’s website:
Just ten years ago, most U.S. cities and states resisted adaptive traffic control systems that changed traffic lights based on actual demand because they were expensive, time-consuming to set up, and did little to alleviate congestion. The rise and rapid spread of InSync proved that the right approach to adaptive traffic control can dramatically improve traffic flow and safety. Motorists driving on InSync corridors typically see their stops reduced 60-90 percent, travel times reduced up to 50 percent, and fuel consumption and emissions reduced 20-30 percent. Most importantly, police reports from multiple states prove that InSync reduces vehicle accidents up to 30 percent.
Even if Rhythm is engaging in puffery, dynamic sequencing of traffic lights would offer a higher Return on Investment in many instances than widening roads and adding lanes. I’m certainly not endorsing Rhythm’s InSync technology over that of its competitors. And I’m not saying the technology should be applied at every intersection. But I am suggesting that the Virginia Department of Transportation should take a closer look at applying state-of-the-art sequencing technology at every intersection where it’s considering more pavement as a fix.
Advanced synchronization technology costs around $30,000 to $40,000 per stoplight to install. Entire traffic corridors can be upgraded for a few million dollars. The ROI is potentially so superior that it’s almost criminal to spend tens of millions on conventional remedies. If the McDonnell administration doesn’t initiate a re-evaluation of Virginia’s Six Year Improvement Program, government, business and civic leaders should insist upon it.