It’s a fancy name for stop lights that are individually controlled by a central computer system. It’s actually not a new idea at all, but some “Popular Science” writer in 2011 thought he could get a story out of it, apparently!
In fact, the author knows very little about his subject. Traffic flow has been the subject of intense study for many decades, and there are whole books published about it.
For those who are interested in urban planning, or community development, or even Sim City, the subject can be quite engrossing. Consider this scenario: You are a mayor in a small town, and you’ve just decided to put in the first stop light. The installation crew asks: How would you like to set the light? Heh, heh, heh. At first you’re surprised. Just turn it on, you think. Heh, heh. Not. “What are you talking about?” you say. Then they give you a few of the options.
– Have it change regularly, every 1 minute.
– Have it change regularly, but give the bigger street a bigger share of the green light.
– Have it change only when a car comes up. Otherwise, have it red both directions. (Essentially a smart stop sign. I have one of these at the crossing near our local high school.)
– Have the signal be red long enough, that on the average, there’s a line of at least a few cars. That way, people who would otherwise just blast through town have a chance to look at all the nice local businesses, and consider whether it’s time to stop for a burger.
– Optimize the light for traffic flow, so that people don’t stop. Cars are noisy and polluting. Strangers cause trouble, the town doesn’t need their business.
– Have the light work two different ways. When children are coming and going to school, slow traffic down, and make sure they can cross safely. During rush hour, and at other times, have the lights optimize maximum traffic flow.
So you can see the “Popular Science” writer was pretty naive. He was thinking that self-conscious lights would automatically improve the thing he was most interested in: driving fast. But very often, that isn’t the only point of stop lights at all.
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