Networked Traffic Signals – a Step Towards Better Surface Transportation

As well as building efficient cars, Audi and BMW are taking steps to improve efficiency of driving.  Audi’s travolution project and BMW’s Traffic Technology and Traffic Management group are attempting to reduce unnecessary fuel consumption and congestion by working on “smart traffic lights”.

Audi’s “phase assistant” traffic lights are equipped with a Multi-Media Interface (MMI) screens, which use wireless networks to allow vehicles to communicate directly with the traffic-lights. Audi has recently tested their newest Travolution innovation in Ingolstadt, Germany.  The traffic light communicates a signal to the car, and displayed on the car’s information screen near the dashboard, is the ideal speed at which the driver should proceed. If the light is about to change from yellow to green, the driver will be informed to simply slow down, and to what speed; if the driver must stop at a red light, he will know how long he will be stopped.  By reducing the time at a standstill and cutting fuel consumption of acceleration, apparently, “exhaust emissions could be lowered by about two million tons of carbon dioxide [in Germany] annually, equivalent to a reduction of approximately 15 percent in carbon dioxide from motor vehicles in urban traffic”.

BMW is working on a system that adjusts traffic light signals depending on traffic volume.

“Simply by changing the timing of traffic lights on a test stretch of roadway in Munich, the engineers were able to nearly double the fuel efficiency of a BMW 530d test vehicle—from 22 mpg to 42 mpg. That being an idealized situation, the company expects an overall 10 to 15 percent decrease in urban fuel consumption due to smart traffic signaling.

BMW has been testing this system in Munich, Germany, and they have been recently collaborating with US DOT officials about bring these networked traffic signals to the US.

Hopefully, New York City adopts some of these programs.  But for now, the NYC DOT is in the midst of implementing a federally-funded “Smart Light” project to install traffic signals in 33 high-traffic arteries throughout Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx that are better timed according to traffic fluctuations, to reduce congestion and decrease fuel consumption.