Carnegie Mellon University
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Adaptive Traffic Signals Reduce Pollution, Traffic Clogs
September 24, 2012

Adaptive traffic signals deployed as a pilot project by the Robotics Institute’s Stephen Smith have demonstrated they can reduce both harmful vehicle emissions and frustratingly long travel times in Pittsburgh’s busy East Liberty neighborhood.

The pilot project was sponsored by three Pittsburgh foundations and deployed in cooperation with the City of Pittsburgh and East Liberty Development Inc. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covered the announcement of the project.

“The reductions of 40 percent in vehicle wait time, nearly 26 percent in travel time and 21 percent in projected vehicle emissions realized in this pilot are remarkable,” Jared L. Cohon, Carnegie Mellon University president, said at a news conference on Monday Sept. 24. “I’m proud of CMU’s team, which developed this first-in-the-world technology, and am equally proud of the partnership approach typical of Pittsburgh that made this pilot possible.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl cheered the pilot’s success as “a breakthrough in making our city’s traffic system work far more efficiently without having to resort to expensive widening roads, eliminating street parking, or re-routing. It makes the City more attractive to employers and residents alike.”

Smith, research professor and director of the Intelligent Coordination and Logistics Laboratory, led the team that developed the technology. By combining concepts from the fields of artificial intelligence and traffic theory, they enabled the traffic signals to communicate with one another and collaboratively adapt to actual traffic conditions in real time.

In the pilot deployment, they successfully demonstrated that traffic signals have the ability to react to quickly changing conditions, reducing traffic congestion and the resulting extra vehicle emissions. The next step will be to expand the pilot to demonstrate the technology on a bigger scale.

The groundbreaking technology was sponsored by the Traffic21 Initiative at CMU’s H. John Heinz III College. Traffic21 was launched in 2009 with funding from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. Grants to Traffic21 from The Heinz Endowments’ Breathe Project and from the Richard King Mellon Foundation provided the funding for the pilot.

“This type of technological breakthrough is just what we hoped could happen when Traffic21 was created with a broad community partnership led by CMU,” said Pittsburgh business leader and philanthropist Henry Hillman. “We are now beginning to see how Pittsburgh can be positioned to be a leading city on an international scale in demonstrating how low-cost, easy-to-implement technological solutions can reduce traffic congestion, vehicle fuel consumption and emissions while also improving safety and air quality.”

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