Toronto Begins Pilot of Smart Traffic Signals

Trying to alleviate traffic concerns in big cities can be stop and go at times.

The city of Toronto installed a new smart traffic signal pilot project today designed to test how the latest traffic light system technology will fare in one of the busiest cities in North America.

First announced in September, the signals can adjust in real-time based on congestion rates and act as a much more effective option than traditional time- or pedestrian-based signals.

“The City is finally moving into the 21st century and embracing technology that can improve traffic,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory. “Over the last three years, we have finally focused on fighting traffic in Toronto and improving commute times. I am determined to build on the progress we’ve made and continue the fight each and every day.”

The first smart traffic signal went up at the intersection of Yonge Street and Yonge Boulevard. Usually, traffic signals are set to standard intervals and adjusted during peak periods like rush hour, but the new ones can look at traffic patterns and update live, say if there is an accident on the highway and a massive amount of traffic is being diverted to city roads. The signals can even communicate and synchronize with other smart signals to further alleviate congestion.

Toronto was actually the first city in North America to deploy a computerized traffic signal program when the program launched in the 1960s, but since then the 2,400 signals in the city have become outdated, with some not seeing updates in the last 20 years. This pilot project will let Toronto see if smart signalling is the next logical step forward.

“The City will test two technologies over the next year to determine which works best for Toronto,” a city statement reads. “At 10 locations on Yonge Street between Yonge Boulevard and Castlefield Avenue, the City will pilot a technology called InSync which is used in the United States.”

The InSync technology makes decisions based on video detection, analyzing the number of cars waiting at an intersection then relaying that to the signal itself.

At 12 more locations along Sheppard Avenue East, between Neilson and Meadowvale in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, the city will employ a technology called SCATS which uses radar detection to measure traffic flow.

Both systems will be tested thoroughly and then the city will decide if it wants to move forward with InSync or SCATS depending on the best cost and benefits.

According to a 2016 study by traffic analytics company INRIX, Toronto commuters spent 45 hours on average in congestion per year, second only to Montreal’s average of 52 hours.