Traffic signals expert and Smart Highways columnist Mark Pleydell has sought to correct a prominent story in the Daily Telegraph which trumpeted new smart traffic lights in Milton Keynes.
The story featured a sentence saying that, “At the moment traffic lights run in sequences but are not designed to react to the vehicles passing through them.”
Appearing in such a widely-read newspaper, it could give the general public the impression that there is no intelligence behind traffic light phasing despite the multitude of ITS solutions which exist.
Pleydell told Smart Highways, “For over 30 years the UK has used intelligent systems both across its cities and at isolated junctions and pedestrian crossings. These systems respond to traffic and pedestrian flows to adjust the signal timings to reduce hold ups and keep us all moving. The underlying technology is highly dependent firstly on the quality of the traffic data it receives and secondly on smart algorithms and processes to turn vehicle and traffic data into relevant and timely controls of the traffic lights.
“The company referred in the Telegraph article is not the only provider of such detection. There are many detection technologies of varying levels of sophistication already available and under development in this sector. Furthermore, it is not enough just to have a smart vehicle detector, admirable as that may be. Over the last few decades the UK’s local authorities have invested huge amounts in their existing traffic control equipment and rightly want to get best value from it. Any new piece of equipment has to be compatible and fit in to existing systems smoothly and without fuss. It also has to show that it works under all weather conditions, day and night and continues to do so for 15 – 20 years.
“While I am enthusiastic about innovation I am much more enthusiastic about innovation that understands a problem and the constraints and limits that make it a difficult problem to solve. Inevitably if the UK is undertaking a lot of innovation some will repeat work done elsewhere or will miss pools of knowledge that could have directed the efforts better. Similarly while I welcome any discussion in the media of the technologies that keep the UK moving I would be so much more welcoming if the reporting set the context and history to support an industry where the UK has been and still is at the forefront across the sector.”