7/8/2014

Traffic Light Timing System Cuts Commute Time 22%

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A new system for adjusting the timing of urban traffic lights could reduce commute times by one-fifth, say developers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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A new system for adjusting the timing of urban traffic lights could reduce commute times by one-fifth, say developers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Their technique blends traditional simplistic traffic-light timing software with computer-intensive but more realistic high-resolution or microscopic simulators that predict driver behavior on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis.

The MIT team, led by Carolina Osorio, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, will describe a detailed simulation of traffic in Lausanne, Switzerland, in an upcoming paper in Transportation Science.

Many cities fine-tune traffic lights for an intersection or traffic corridor, Osorio says. But she notes that changes in one place can have ripple effects on traffic flow elsewhere. For example, chronic slowdowns on one road may prompt drivers to take another route.

Osorio notes that few cities look at the dynamics of traffic flow across the entire city. She says the MIT system enables traffic managers to efficiently optimize traffic flow regionally. The technique also can be used to determine the best locations for vehicle-sharing hubs.

The MIT team currently is working with New York City's Dept. of Transportation to develop timing systems that can adapt to changing traffic conditions.