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Innovation & Startups

New real-time traffic signal technology to hit the streets this June

The city is soon extending its cutting-edge system of real-time traffic signals that adapt instantly to shifting traffic conditions. The new traffic signal technology is coming to the Baum-Centre corridor. This $1.8 million pilot project will provide the first-of-its-kind smart traffic technology from the city’s eastern edge almost to Downtown.
 
This work is being done in cooperation with the locations foundation community and two Carnegie Mellon University entities: the University Transportation Center (UTC), which explores cutting-edge technologies that could influence everything from the safety of vehicles and roads to the analysis of traffic flow, and Traffic 21, a multi-disciplinary research initiative addressing problems facing the transportation system of the Pittsburgh region. The UTC and Traffic21 project call the technology the Scalable Urban Traffic Control system, or Surtrac.
 
“Pittsburgh uses its quirks -- in this case a tight urban street grid packed with pedestrians, bikes and commuters -- to make itself great. We don’t have the resources to widen roads or buy up properties to solve our traffic issues -- we use brainpower to create efficiency instead,” says Mayor Peduto.
 
“What also makes Pittsburgh special is the way government works alongside university and private partners to make splashes, such as with this project, that get noticed on the world stage. This is a proud moment for CMU and our city.”
 
Traffic21’s Surtrac project has studied adaptive traffic signal control technology to control real-time optimization of urban traffic flows for the last four years. Prior adaptive signal technologies typically focused on straight-ahead traffic flows common to suburban areas. Surtrac senses constant shifts in crossflows of traffic that dominate urban areas and adjusts green lights on a second-by-second basis, accounting for changes in the traffic flow resulting from breakdowns, accidents, special events or street closures. The system is decentralized, meaning each intersection manages its own local traffic and neighboring intersections communicate to coordinate behavior.
 
“The Baum-Centre corridor serves as a critical gateway to Oakland, Shadyside, Bloomfield, Friendship and East Liberty," says Councilman Dan Gilman. "This project will not only improve traffic between these neighborhoods, but will also improve the health of residents and visitors by reducing vehicle emissions by over 20 percent."
 
According to the Mayor’s office, an existing UTC traffic signal project at 18 intersections in East Liberty and Shadyside has cut vehicle wait times by 42 percent, travel times by 24 percent and vehicle emissions by 21 percent.
 
The project will soon be expanded to another 23 intersections along Baum Boulevard and Centre Avenue going west to Craig Street. Installation of the system is scheduled from mid-June through the end of the year, and should be operational in early 2015.
 
The project is underwritten by UPMC, the Hillman Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the R.K. Mellon Foundation, as well as the city, U.S. Department of Transportation and PennDOT. The foundations are funding nearly $1.3 million of the work and government bodies are funding $512,000.
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