Infrastructure

Massachusetts City Looks at Smart Traffic Light Software to Ease Congestion

The city hopes to install traffic software to control a dozen major intersections in a bid to coordinate them more efficiently.

by Sean Philip Cotter, The Patriot Ledger / February 2, 2018
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(TNS) — QUINCY — The city of Quincy, Mass., hopes its upcoming smart traffic light system will reduce people's travel time by the end of the year.

The city is aiming to have new traffic software controlling a dozen major Quincy intersections, said Chris Cassani, the director of the city's Department of Traffic, Parking, Alarm and Lighting, commonly known as TPAL.

Cassani said the city is looking at using the new software, likely from a company called Surtrac, for areas such as the Hancock Street corridor, the Wollaston area and Southern Artery. The city hopes the software eases traffic, which is one of the most common complaints among Quincy resident.

Surtrac was created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. The team behind it says studies showed the system reduced traffic on some main roads in Pittsburgh by 25 percent. Cassani, who took over as director of the city department at the start of the year, said every few minutes shaved off people's commutes is important.

"Five or six minutes every day makes a big difference over time," he said.

Cassani said the system allows the light cycles to become more efficient. For example, if no one is turning left at an intersection but a line of cars is waiting to go straight, it can skip the left turn and lengthen the normal green to help with the flow of traffic.

Several of the city's big intersections have sensors and cameras to detect cars already, but they trigger one of a limited set of predetermined actions. The new system doesn't just draw from a set of predetermined options; it figures out what the best thing to do is on the spot, he said.

"Every time, it's making a unique decision based on all the information that's collected at it," he said. "The Surtrac system is using algorithms to optimize traffic patterns on a second-by-second basis."

He said one of the reasons why the city believes it will work well is it involves all of the intersections communicating with each other.

"The next intersection knows how many cars, roughly, are going to be coming through it," he said. "It's anticipating what's going to be happening."

That helps traffic flow more smoothly, he said.

"What's happening at the intersection of Hancock Street and Squantum Street is really important to what's going on at Hancock and Beale," he said, referring to major North Quincy and Wollaston intersections, respectively.

The money to pay for the software and some new sensing infrastructure is coming from the $2.3 million the city allocated for a traffic plan last fall as part of Mayor Thomas Koch's capital improvement plan. Cassani said it's too early to estimate how much of that traffic allocation this will eat up, but it likely will be several hundred thousand dollars.

©2018 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.