The City of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are expanding a network of ‘smart’ traffic signals that monitor flow and instantly react, changing their timings to move vehicles through intersections more efficiently. The expansion of the project, which is due to be done by early next year, will add the signals to several intersections along Baum Boulevard and Centre Avenue, stretching from East Liberty to Oakland. When the installation work is done, the system will extend from Penn and Braddock avenues in Point Breeze through Larimer, East Liberty, Friendship, Bloomfield, Shadyside and Oakland, with 49 intersections equipped with the smarter signals. The signals use cameras or radar to monitor traffic and are able to communicate wirelessly with one another to minimize wait times for drivers. The system formulates a flow plan based on traffic observations and communicates it to neighboring intersections, instantly adjusting to accommodate surges caused by disabled vehicles, crashes, street closures or sudden increases of traffic after events in the city.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), the Hillman Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and RK Mellon Foundation are funding about US$1.3m of the US$1.8m total project cost, with federal, state and city money covering the remainder. Announcing the expansion of the project, Mayor Bill Peduto said, “Imagine if traffic signals had the ability to see the traffic that was there. Then imagine the traffic signals had the ability to talk to each other, second by second. It’s not something from George Jetson. It’s something that’s happening right here in Pittsburgh today. We’re in a part of the city that’s growing very quickly. We don’t have the capacity to tear down houses and make wider roads to speed traffic. We do have the ability to think about it and do it smarter.”

The pilot project that upgraded 18 signals to the new technology in East Liberty is credited with reducing wait times by 42% and travel time by 24%.“The East Liberty pilot produced some really surprising results,” said Allen Biehler, executive director of the University Transportation Center at CMU. “You’ve got to kind of pinch yourself and say, ‘Is this for real?’.” CMU expects further expansion of the signal network in the future and will also work on ways to improve the city’s pedestrian and public transit flow.