Delaware intersections get smart

Combination of traffic sensors, cameras help reduce congestion along busy corridors

December 27, 2011

More intersections in Delaware are using a system of traffic sensors and cameras to reduce congestion and synchronize traffic signals, according to

Roads conditions are notoriously hard to predict, as they change daily as a result of weather, accidents and seasonal influences like holiday shopping. Having real-time information can help give motorists the most accurate traffic conditions.

The data collected from the intersections is fed into a statewide computer network maintained by the state Department of Transportation (DelDOT).

The technology at "responsive" intersections automatically adapts to road conditions, allowing traffic to flow more smoothly and reducing stop-and-go driving.

For transportation officials, controlling traffic lights is a better alternative to widening roads or adding turning lanes, especially when the space or funding is unavailable. The state works with area transportation planners and consultants to determine which corridors are higher priorities.

Since 1999, DelDOT has been gradually adding intersections to the network, which now includes about 650 of the 1,000 traffic signals controlled by the agency statewide, said traffic engineer Gene Donaldson. He helps run DelDOT's Traffic Management Center near Smyrna, from which signal operations can be remotely monitored and adjusted.

"Our goal is to review all signal timings in the state and coordinate them in the system, so you have the green, the green, the green and the green," Donaldson said.

This does not mean that drivers will never see a red light again.

Even when signals are coordinated, the light cycle allows a certain amount of time for "green" in a certain direction. Pedestrians crossing the road, cross traffic and heavy left-turn traffic can also affect the length of a light cycle.

Years ago, traffic managers could only tinker with a signal's internal gears to alter its timing. Most signals that are not in DelDOT's computer network still operate on a preset schedule that expects traffic to peak and diminish based on commuting trends.

Technicians must manually alter that "time-of-day" schedule to adjust for seasonal changes. DelDOT also reacts to motorists' feedback, which Donaldson welcomes.

Anyone can check out real-time traffic data––including delays, advisories and estimated travel times––on DelDOT's website.

Within the next year, motorists will be able to download that real-time info on a smartphone or tablet with a voice-controlled app that DelDOT is developing, Donaldson said.

It is hoped that this will increase the number of people reporting traffic conditions and incidents back to the agency––all of which help improve operations and efficiency.

"People are part of this system," he said. "I'd like to have 100,000 junior traffic 'engineers' out there, reporting information back to us."

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