TRAFFIC SIGNALS: Boston on cusp of algorithm-based light system management

July 3, 2017

Program is presently in the design phase, study is being conducted

Boston city officials are in the planning stages of upgrading the city’s traffic management system from its present manual control, which scans literally hundreds of cameras citywide, to a second-by-second micromanagement of the stoplights handled by an algorithm.

Computers will measure the city’s traffic patterns and systematically adjust the timing of traffic lights throughout a given corridor, intersection or neighborhood. One traffic signal will be automatically changed with the intent to influence another, and another, along a corridor.

“It will be more intuitive,” Gina Fiandaca, commissioner of the Boston Transportation Department, told the Boston Globe. “It’s more of an adaptive system that will allow a rhythmic-based algorithm to make the adjustment.”

At present, the program is still in its design stage as engineers study the city’s overall traffic patterns. Officials said they cannot determine how much the project will cost until the design is complete. The software will eventually be test-piloted in neighborhoods such as the Seaport District, where evening traffic regularly approaches standstill at the ingress to I-93.

Chris Osgood, chief of streets, transportation and sanitation for the city, said the reassessment of the traffic center is part of the Go Boston 2030 plan, in which resident feedback helped direct priorities for more reliable roads, the goal being to better move traffic along, reduce incidents caused by drivers trying to beat a light, and address safety concerns in general, for drivers as well as bicyclists and pedestrians.

“It’s not so much about the signals, as it is about the streets,” Osgood told the paper. “We try to balance all the needs at the intersection to the best of our ability.”