Cities Time Traffic Lights to Save Gas

May 05, 2008 12:48 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Commuters who fume at consistently ill-timed red lights and traffic snarls have some new allies: researchers hoping to reduce global warming.

30-Second Summary

A growing number of cities in the United States and Canada are testing innovative technologies like “smarter” traffic lights and buses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving traffic flow.

Both high gas prices and climate change concerns are accelerating research into improving traffic light timing as a way to decrease fuel consumption.

“We use very high-fidelity microscopic traffic simulation tools,” said traffic-light researcher Byungkyu “Brian” Park of the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. “We can then optimize traffic signals to maximize fuel efficiency and lower emissions, or to minimize delays.”

In Calgary, a wireless technology called “signal preemption” changes traffic lights depending on bus location. The system is saving thousands of gallons of fuel per year and reducing the pollution caused by idling cars, reports Forbes.

Other innovations include replacing standard intersections with roundabouts, and developing “intelligent” mass transit vehicles that use wireless technology to track and respond to traffic patterns.

Booming metropolises like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver “are completely enamored of the density that intelligent bus transit enables,” said Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution.

Portland, Oregon has used a smart traffic-light timing system for more than five years. The city also signed an agreement in 2005 with the environmental group The Climate Trust to implement a “transportation efficiency” project with a goal of reducing fuel consumption “equivalent to taking 34,220 cars off the road for a year.”

Headline Links: Traffic light timing picks up speed

Related Topics: Roundabouts and smart driving technologies

Reference: Portland’s five-year plan


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