Pantops Equipped with Intelligent Traffic Lights

Some clever new traffic signals have been installed along 250 on Pantops Mountain, Courtney Beale writes for Charlottesville Tomorrow. They’re Rhythm Engineering’s InSync traffic signal controllers, which use video cameras and a small computer to tally the rate of traffic on both streets at an intersection and, in collaboration with nearby traffic signals that are similarly equipped, adapts the light timing to get the most cars through the intersection as efficiently as possible. Technologically, it’s no fancier than the standard hardware in an Xbox 360, but the application of this concept to a $30,000 traffic light controller stands to save a lot of people a lot of time. Beale doesn’t say exactly which intersections are now equipped with an InSync controller, but since VDOT’s impetus for the change was the move of Martha Jefferson, presumably it includes the major three intersections between the intersection with 20 and the turn for Martha Jefferson.

13 thoughts on “Pantops Equipped with Intelligent Traffic Lights”

  1. Does anyone actually wait 20 minutes at a red light? I would give up on waiting long before that.

  2. Ah 30k for specialty computers (and cameras and such)! Governments are such good customers for that sort of thing. That said it could be a very cheap and taxpayers savings bonanza if they work as designed.

    The funny thing is most people won’t even know they are there.

  3. Driver: Hello, PAL. Do you read me, PAL? (Pantops Area Light)

    PAL: Affirmative, Driver. I read you.

    Driver: Open the pod bay doors, PAL.

    PAL: I’m sorry, Driver. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

    Driver: What’s the problem?

    PAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

  4. when are they going to do something about the “dumb” traffic lights in town, the ones that NEVER change to green if you’re waiting at the wrong side of the intersection late at night? Off the top of my head I can think of three intersections on Emmett Street, one at Garrett and Avon, and one on Water St, but I’m sure there’s a dozen more.

    I think they’re rigged to wait for a car to pass in the opposing direction before they’ll change, but late at night that can sometimes take 20 minutes to happen, and even then it sometimes doesn’t work. I’ve gotten in the habit of either going the long way around these lights or running the red if I’m driving after Midnight or so.

  5. I’ve often wondered, in my simple-minded world, why traffic lights don’t do this more often. If there is a large group of cars coming, keep it green a little longer. You need to have caveats, it can’t stay green forever, but by “seeing” the traffic farther up the road the light can time for the gap to let the cross-traffic through.

    Glad to hear it’s being implemented.

  6. James – IMHO, at least some, perhaps many, maybe even most, traffic lights downtown could flash after 10pm. Then you wouldn’t have to wait so long.

  7. There are no 20 minute traffic light cycles in Cville. Some are “tripped” base on the time of day, but you need to actually stop where your supposed to stop.

    And here is a curious fact… the green lights on 29 between Best buy and Walmart are programmed for 58 MPH. Hit that, and you do not see a red, unless its the Po-Po pulling you over for speeding. Ironic huh?

  8. Danpri — sure, pulling up to the light “trips” the sensor — but these lights won’t actually change until a car crosses from the other direction and trips the other sensor, which can take quite a long time if it’s a late night when there’s no other cars on the road. Try to make a left from Emmett St. onto Arlington Blvd. (or vice versa), or from Garrett St. onto Avon late at night and you’ll see what I’m talking about. I’ve probably never actually waited more than 9 or 10 minutes myself before deciding to run the light.

  9. Some are very sensitive about the exact place you stop, since they started using the overhead detectors. Often people do not go far enough in their cars. (I bet they test them with trucks.) Before that, the pavement detectors would not work if you went too far!

  10. I think the most interesting thing about this is that these devices are so expensive. Presumably it’s a simple matter of market forces at this point—not enough competition combined with high insurance rates for product liability coverage for the manufacturers of these. I’ll bet a couple of kids at the MIT Media Lab could rig up a device that would do this with $500 in parts.

  11. Waldo, maybe they could just use an XBox and a Kinect with a lens on it to get the range…

  12. I’m sure that some smart kids at MIT could hack a cheap solution, but they couldn’t hack the service contract that stipulated they would lose their subsidized tuition should the device fail even one time.

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