TRAFFIC SIGNALS: Austin, Texas, going mobile with signal timing

Aug. 29, 2014

New system will adjust traffic-signal timing based on real-time data from smartphones

The city of Austin, Texas, is preparing to implement a new advanced traffic management system (ATMS) that will monitor location data from drivers’ smartphones and adjust traffic-signal timing accordingly to reduce congestion.

As explained by the Austin Department of Transportation, the ATMS will be able to note vehicle speed, direction and how many drivers are gathered in a particular location. From there the system—which may communicate with Austin DOT and the signal network via mobile app—will be able to assess where backups may occur and adjust the traffic lights accordingly.

In addition to the vehicle app, Austin DOT and development partner Kimley-Horn are working on a similar technology for cyclists. The concept is largely the same: When the app is activated, the phone’s GPS will communicate with traffic signals, which can shorten or lengthen lights as needed. The department reports that the signal network will utilize a set of parameters, including speed, to distinguish cyclists from cars and pedestrians.

Funding for the ATMS will largely come from transportation bond packages passed by the city in 2006, 2010 and 2012. Beyond developing the technology, the funding will also be used to upgrade city infrastructure, including replacement of 700 traffic switches.