City of Toronto trials two new rival adaptive traffic signal technologies

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Mayor John Tory has announced that the City of Toronto is launching two smart traffic signal pilot projects to test the latest adaptive traffic management technologies, in order to evaluate which of two rival systems is most suitable for Canada’s largest city.

As its fourth largest city, Toronto was the first in North America to deploy a computerized traffic signal control system when it introduced the technology in the 1960s. The city currently uses a mix of earlier generation traffic systems, some of which are over 20 years old, to control about 2,400 traffic signals.

However, the equipment is aging, it is hard to get replacement parts, and the old communications infrastructure makes it difficult to connect with the signals in the field. Toronto is now testing new smart signal technology to modernize and expand the city’s traffic management network.

Unlike the existing legacy traffic signals that are fixed to a set timing cycle for morning and afternoon rush hours and off-peak times, the new adaptive systems will be able to adjust traffic lights independently to respond to real-time flow patterns at any time of the day, and will also be able to communicate and synchronize with other smart signals in the vicinity to alleviate congestion. Toronto will test two rival technologies over the next year to determine which works best for the city.

At 10 locations on Yonge Street, the city will pilot the CCTV-based InSync system from Rhythm Engineering, which is currently used by 139 agencies at 2,591 intersections in the USA. The technology makes decisions based on video-analysis camera detection that measures queue lengths on the approach to the intersection and relays that data to the signal.

At 12 locations on Sheppard Avenue East, the city will pilot the SCATS (Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System) technology, which was originally developed in Australia, and is now also used in Asia and the USA. The system makes decisions using radar detection or induction loops to measure traffic flow up and downstream of the intersection.

Both technologies will be tested and compared, and their performance and effectiveness will be measured by comparing before-and-after traffic volumes and travel times using new count stations and Bluetooth detectors. Transportation staff will also use commercial GPS data provided by Here that will offer traffic flow and travel time information. The output of the study will allow the city to identify the technological solution that offers the best cost and benefits for Toronto.

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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