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Pittsburgh expanding system of ‘smart’ traffic lights to ease congestion

481272Trafficsignals
Traffic signal installation.

About a third of Pittsburgh’s 610 intersections will be equipped over the next two years with smart traffic signals designed to ease congestion and allow for a smoother commute along key city corridors, an official said.

Karina Ricks, who heads the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, said the city will add more than 150 new signals along five “smart spines” that mostly lead in and out of Downtown.

Mayor Bill Peduto earmarked $11.3 million for the project in 2019 and plans to set aside another $15.1 million in 2020, according to the city’s 2019 capital budget. Ricks said the state and federal governments are picking up 75 percent of the tab with grants.

“We have 610 signaled intersections right now. After this, 200 of the 610 will have smart signals,” Ricks said.

Smart spines include Bigelow Boulevard from Downtown to Centre Avenue; Centre Avenue from Downtown to Bloomfield; Fifth and Forbes avenues from Downtown to Oakland; Second Avenue and Irvine Street from Downtown to the Glenwood Bridge; and West Liberty Avenue from the Liberty Tunnel to the city border.

Ricks said sensors at the intersections determine traffic volume and adjust stop-and-go times based on the number of vehicles.

Fifty intersections in the East End since 2012 have been equipped with sensors as part of a program of Traffic21, a CMU research institute. CMU’s research indicates vehicles in East Liberty intersections spend 40 percent less time idling, resulting in a 21 percent emissions reduction.

“There’s greater efficiency,” Ricks said. “I wouldn’t necessarily guarantee that traffic is going to move quicker. It depends on which route you’re using, but vehicles should move more smoothly.”

She said the system would eliminate waits at major intersections when no vehicles are passing through from a cross street.

“You’ll be at the signal and the green light is still going for a side street, but there’s no traffic in that section,” she said. “It’s just wasted time. That doesn’t happen. The sensors adjust the system in real time.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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