Louisville tests smarter traffic signal management

Louisville tests smarter traffic signal management

Kentucky’s Louisville metro area typically relies on its citizens to report traffic signal outages before deploying repair crews, but that could change with the adoption of smart city technologies.

The city’s Public Works Traffic Department maintains 1,020 traffic signals and their timing plans across a city-county jurisdiction of 380 square miles, according to a post on the Louisville Office of Performance Improvement and Innovation’s blog.

However, maintaining traffic signal communications is a challenge. While the city does have a traffic control center in downtown Louisville that allows maintenance teams to make near real-time changes to traffic signals, it only covers those traffic signals connected to its fiber-optic cable network. Signals outside the fiber footprint must be manually adjusted, which requires  time and travel from traffic engineers and crews.  

Running fiber cables through all the intersections for traffic signal communication would be ideal, but the county’s mix of urban, inner-ring suburb and traditional suburb areas made that solution too expensive.  So the traffic team depends on citizens to report traffic signal outages or flashing lights for those areas not directly connected to the command center. That means it could take days before a citizen reports the problem and dispatch crews are on the scene.

To address this “capability gap,” the Office of Performance Improvement and Innovation decided on a no-cost pilot project with Verizon and its partner, Digi, a provider of wireless data and machine-to-machine technologies such as radio frequency modules, gateways and cellular routers. The project put cell phone-like communication platforms on 14 signals on an outlying corridor in Louisville that can communicate signal malfunctions to the traffic team using cellular data.

“It’s like giving the [signal] controller a cell phone to talk to the command center,” Ed Blayney told GCN. Blayney is the Innovation Project Manager at the Office of Performance Improvement and Innovation. A cellular connection, he explained, requires less infrastructure and is far cheaper to build out in comparison to actual fiber cables.

While still in its early stages, the deployed units use the cellular connectivity to alert traffic teams of problems in near real-time, which means crews can be dispatched right away  rather than having to wait until a mistimed signal was reported. The free pilot will last six months, after which the city will buy the cell phone-like devices, according to Blayney. Louisville anticipates the project scaling to more than 300 signals in the community.

Eventually, the city plans to pair this capability with big data from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Waze to make traffic patterns safer and more efficient throughout the area.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.

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