City looks to infrared technology and microwave radar to problem-solve congestion

Nov. 24, 2017

By Arianne Robinson

It’s been more than a year since Mayor John Tory announced a plan to relieve congestion with adaptive traffic signals. At the time, the only traffic data being used by the city from the provider Inrix was historical from 2014 and 2015, while billboard companies were using actual real-time traffic data (from Inrix) to adjust the speed of the advertisements on the DVP with real-time traffic flow.

On Friday a new adaptive traffic signal pilot was announced, which could result in major changes to traffic build-up that results from accidents and unexpected events. Contracts with the two technology companies for the “smart” traffic light signal software were procured in October, with final agreements being negotiated this month. The adaptive software relies on video-image analysis and infrared detection to detect traffic build-up and microwave radar that looks at how dense traffic is in an area.

Early Friday morning the mayor held a press conference on Yonge between Wilson and Lawrence where one of the cameras was being installed.

“Today behind me here, there is actually a new technology being installed that is going to help traffic move better – the first time this new up-to-date smart-traffic technology is going to be installed in the city of Toronto,” Tory said.

“[Both softwares] in the end have a brain that does the same thing; they interpret the vehicle traffic and decide which direction is most in need of more green time. Fundamentally, that’s what they both do, but they do that using two different methods that are actually proprietary to their technology, but they also use different technologies for the sensors,” said Gregg Loane, manager of ITS Capital Delivery, on Friday.

The smart signals will be implemented for evaluation in early 2018, and will have 10 locations on Yonge Street between Yonge Boulevard and Castlefield Avenue, and 12 locations on Sheppard Avenue East between Neilson Road and Meadowvale Road.

Loann says the two routes were selected because of their locations. “This technology is of most value when applied in locations that experience these unusual traffic volumes – sudden and unanticipated. Locations that are parallel or coming off of an expressway are primary targets for this type of technology, but also commuter routes that might be very sensitive to disruptions if it’s a collision or something and you really want to keep things moving along in a particular route, because it is a commuter route.

“So Sheppard is a great example because it’s parallel to the 401 and it will from time to time take a a lot of diverted traffic. Yonge happens to be both of those things. It takes diverted traffic when there’s a problem on the 401, and it’s a sensitive commuter route. That’s why we choose those two.”

“We all know the experience of sitting at a light that is red, noticing that the traffic going across the other way is non-existent and saying, ‘Why is this light red?’ ” Tory said. “ ‘Why can’t it be green?  Because I’m sitting and waiting to go and maybe a lot of other people [are] lined up behind me.’ Well this technology is going to finally allow us to have an answer to that question. We won’t be sitting at a red light when there’s no traffic going the other way because the signal will stay green.”