Workers in Broward County’s traffic control room can manually adjust signals to improve traffic flow, but new adaptive sensor technology being installed on county roads will be able to adjust traffic signals automatically based on demand. (Mike Stocker / Sun Sentinel) With little room left to widen roads to reduce congestion, Broward County is turning to artificial intelligence to shorten commuter drive times.
The county is building a network of cameras and sensors on its roads that will quickly adjust signals to reduce delays as changing traffic patterns are detected.
It’s also feeding that intersection information — along with data from traffic apps like Waze and city information on road closures — into a “county brain.” That data repository will analyze what’s happening on the roads to help planners determine where turn-lane changes or other road projects could improve traffic flow.
The technology also can be used to make crossing streets safer for pedestrians, let people waiting for a bus use their smartphones to know when theirs will arrive, and connect with automobile computers so drivers will know how long before the red light they’re at turns green.
Officials hope to reduce driver frustration, even if they can’t eliminate gridlock on roads during rush hour, when some streets have just too many cars on them at one time.
“When you look at these sensors, you start to be able to determine where are people coming from, where are they going to, how are they really using our roadways,” said Lenny Vialpondo, the county’s chief innovation officer. “If we’re building improvements or new routes or new bus service, we can use this information to quantify whether or not there was an actual benefit.” Adaptive signal timing cameras, combined with other sensors, are used to automatically adjust the length of time before a signal changes color based on current traffic. (Ashley Mackin) The current situation: The county has traffic signal synchronization that can be adjusted based on the time of day and the day of the week. Manual changes are made by workers at the county’s traffic control center to address major tie-ups, but drivers can still be stuck at red lights for lengthy periods, even when there is no traffic on cross streets.
How it will change: The cameras and sensors being installed will record everything that is happening at an intersection and adjust signals based on demand. The system will also have information from other intersections along each corridor, enabling it to make changes to improve overall traffic flow.
The technology will learn as it goes, identifying similar situations it has handled previously to help it determine the best ways to lessen back-ups.
The equipment won’t be focused only on automotive vehicles. It can also discern people out walking, on bicycles, on scooters or anything else — and can make adjustments based on their needs. On some heavily used bike routes, cyclists could get their own set of signals. Broward County is adding technology that can communicate with cars to let drivers know how long they have before a light changes color. (Dennis Wall / Orlando Sentinel) The current situation: Drivers stopped at red lights have little way of knowing how long before their light turns green. If there are crosswalk signals, drivers can get a clue as the displayed time left to cross approaches zero.
How it will change: Some manufacturers have begun equipping their vehicles with more advanced technology that can receive information from the county system. The automobiles will be able to let their drivers know how long before a light signal changes color. The systems can also suggest what speed a driver should use to continue hitting green lights along a corridor.
One such car system, Traffic Technology Services, is already available in some Audi and BMW models. Vialpondo said the county’s connection will initially be available in Fort Lauderdale and then presented to other cities, to first make sure local officials don’t have a problem with having the technology used on their streets. How safe is an intersection? Broward officials will be able to count near-misses to help determine if changes are needed to make an intersection safer. (Luis Sinco / XX) The current situation: Traffic engineers gather information about problem intersections from reported incidents involving pedestrians, bicyclists and autos. The county relies on the reported number of fatalities and injuries to determine which intersections need attention.
How it will change: New technology won’t only record accidents. The county will be working with the University of Florida, which is developing smart intersection technology that also will detect panic braking by drivers and near misses. The technology will be able to detect any patterns to those close calls, which can then be used by the county to make changes to improve safety.
As work proceeds on the $15.6 billion sales tax plan, officials also will be able to use the data to judge if the changes being made are working as predicted or if alternatives are needed for future projects.
Officials have not picked a site for the innovation zone yet, but Vialpondo said it likely would be in a place with trains, heavier traffic and frequent mass transit vehicles.
Larry Barszewski covers Broward County issues and the impact they have on residents’ lives. Over 30 years at the Sun Sentinel, his beats have included cities, schools, social issues and the state legislature. He grew up in Ludlow, Mass., received a master’s degree from Northwestern, and lives in Boca Raton with his wife, Maggie, and two daughters.