Automation

Gainesville, Fla., Greenlights Countdown App for Traffic Signals

A majority of the city's traffic signals are part of a network that uses predictive algorithms and other technology to send real-time information to drivers about signal wait times.

by / August 22, 2018
Traffic signals in Gainesville, Fla. are part of a Connected Signals network that uses real-time information, predictive algorithms and other technology to send information to drivers. Shutterstock

Motorists in Gainesville, Fla., can now watch the traffic signal they are sitting at count down from red to green.

Most of the city’s signals are part of a connected network that uses real-time information, predictive algorithms and other technology to send information to drivers via the Enlighten mobile app. The system is powered by Connected Signals Inc. of Eugene, Ore.

The technology, known as “signal, phasing and timing,” or SPAT, communicates to drivers signal information such as how much time is left on a green light, explained Emmanuel Posadas, Gainesville Traffic Operations Manager. The system is live with 150 signals in Gainesville out of the city’s 248.

The project grew out of a smaller pilot project in 2017 with the University of Florida’s Transportation Institute’s I-STREET test bed, which was formed as a partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) Connected Vehicle Initiative, and includes numerous projects across the state, as Florida experiments with autonomous and connected vehicles and the infrastructure needed to support them.

In Gainesville, the signal timing project is part of the city’s overall Vision Zero plan, a concept taken up by many cities across the country to reduce traffic-related fatalities to zero. The technology is already leading to the development of traffic signal prioritization for emergency vehicles, said Daniel Hoffman, assistant city manager overseeing public works, transportation, fire and rescue, parks and recreation and other areas.

“The Vision Zero program is meant to provide us metrics, and targets, that we intend to hit through intelligent design, through additional technology, and by beginning to balance out our priorities a little bit,” said Hoffman.

Gainesville, a college town of about 132,000 residents, is treating transportation as less of a system to move cars, and more as a system to move people, said Hoffman. That means giving equal weight to pedestrians, cyclists and public transit.

“We are not so dense that we have even a method to completely move away from single-passenger vehicles,” said Hoffman. “But we’re starting to think more broadly around — particularly in parts of downtown — how does the overall system operate for all users.”

Improving transportation efficiencies for all users is part of the goal of the Connected Signals project. When signal timing takes into consideration traffic volume, speed and other data points — and then relays that signal timing information to drivers — that means less idling time at red lights and less greenhouse gas emissions, say officials.

 

“Lowering fuel emissions, reducing carbon footprint, increasing safety are all hugely noble efforts worth pursuing and that’s why we are thrilled to provide this service to municipalities and agencies at no charge,” said Matt Ginsberg, CEO and co-founder of Connected Signals, in a statement.

The company, working with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, is conducting signal research in Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., Phoenix and San Jose, Calif.

“We’re small enough so that you can pilot and test things out with a greater degree of ease than a bigger city,” said Hoffman. “But we’re still big enough and still have a sophisticated enough transportation system that you can try out different things.”

In another project with the university, Gainesville launched a pilot in December 2017, to conduct a three-year pilot with three driverless shuttles in a project know as GAToRS.

Intelligent traffic signal technologies are also being explored in Las Vegas; Columbus, Ohio; Denver, Colo., and other cities.

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.