New traffic light technology

New traffic light technology
28 Mar, 2012 1:00pm Julie Sinclair

New traffic light system adjusts itself depending on the number of people waiting, but could mean drivers wait longer for pedestrians

If you feel like you’ve been stuck at the traffic lights for longer than usual, it’s probably for a good reason. Clever new software being introduced at pedestrian crossings can now adjust itself depending on the number of people waiting.

The system is an evolution of existing technology that gauges car traffic volumes to dictate light sequences. It can detect the number of people waiting on the path and automatically keep lights red – and drivers waiting – for longer the more pedestrians there are.

The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), which developed the system with traffic software companies Peek and Siemens, claims it can be adjusted depending on how busy the junction is.

Andy Kirkham, adaptive traffic signals consultant at TRL, explained: “Usually, pedestrians get a fixed amount of time to cross, but this system will keep the lights red for longer to allow everyone to cross.”

Transport for London is already sold on the idea and has installed it at busy junctions such as Victoria Station. TRL says it expects another 50 local authorities across the UK to adopt it by the end of this year.

The technology has been designed to improve safety at crossings, and has already been shortlisted for an award at a major traffic technology expo in the Netherlands.

But drivers will be dismayed to learn that TRL is not stopping with pedestrians. Next on the agenda is cyclists. Kirkham  says they could soon be given priority at lights, too. That could mean separate traffic lights for cyclists, or simply more favourable sequences.

“We are looking at the cycle network from a cyclist’s point of view, and seeing whether there’s a way to allow them to cycle without stopping at lights,” Kirkham explained.

To achieve this, sequences could be primed to stay green if cyclists approach them at a set safe speed – a system that’s already in operation at some signals for cars.