Two independent projects are rolling out in Buckhead that officials say could ease traffic congestion on main corridors in the coming months.
One project by the city involves two systems that use cameras to monitor traffic and adjust signals in real time. Another by the state transportation department will broadcast traffic updates to equipped vehicles.
Known as “smart corridor” technology, the software uses a network of cameras, radios and internet connectivity to adapt to traffic in real time and is sold on the promise of reducing bottlenecks and inefficient intersections.
Software systems that optimize traffic signal timing and prioritize lights for emergency and transit vehicles are rolling out this summer in a city project at the intersections of Lenox, Piedmont and Peachtree roads. They will later have a wider rollout on those main corridors and surrounding roads.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has installed and is testing software that communicates the status of traffic signals to equipped vehicles at 39 intersections on Peachtree Road from Roswell Road to I-285.
“Buckhead drivers will ultimately experience reduced travel times, less time waiting at traffic signals, fewer stops and a reduction in emissions,” said Jim Durrett, the executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District.
Meanwhile, there is a study underway on the most congested and used roads in Buckhead to study how to modify traffic signals, District 7 Councilmember Howard Shook said.
“This is the first time Buckhead is going to be studied east, west, north and south,” he said.
Joseph Hacker, a professor at Georgia State University, said the technology is not the definitive solution to addressing all traffic problems, but helps makes roads much more efficient.
“This technology lets you squeeze out as much benefit as possible from roads you already have,” he said.
The alternatives are much more costly and disruptive, he said, such as building new roads.
“Is it the definitive technology? No,” he said. “But the alternatives are much more intrusive and expensive.”
Although privacy concerns are frequently cited as possible cons to the technology, Hacker said the data the technology collects is, for the most part, anonymous.
The cameras are using radar and thermal imaging and don’t collect details such as faces or license plates, he said.
“The era of big data is upon us. If we want this kind of connectivity, it will require us to accept that,” he said.
GDOT’s project, called Signal Phase and Timing, or SPaT, uses radios to communicate traffic information to capable cars. The technology used to receive the traffic updates comes standard on most modern cars, Durrett said.
The technology is also geared to the probable future prevalence of autonomous cars so the cars’ speed can automatically adjust to hit green lights.
The project, which costs about $1 million, is mostly installed and GDOT plans to complete testing the week of June 11, spokesperson Natalie Dale said.
The Buckhead CID discussed the projects at its May 23 meeting and received positive feedback from board members. Board chair David Allman joked that Buckhead’s traffic problems need the most sophisticated technology possible.
“We need an iteration that hasn’t been invented yet,” Allman said.
Durrett said drivers may not initially notice the traffic notifications received by their cars, but the technology will have greater affects as it is more widely rolled out.
“That is something that most people won’t recognize, but over time it will help people change their behavior on the roads,” Durrett said. “You will know how long a light will remain green, when a light will turn green and when there is a pedestrian who has pressed a pedestrian crossing button.”
The city expects to install the first phase of Surtrac, the technology that adaptively times traffic signals, by August. The first phase will also be installed along Phipps Boulevard between Lenox and Wieuca roads.
The first phase of the system that prioritizes lights from emergency and transit vehicles, called Glance, is also planned to be installed by August, according to a city document.
Both projects have a combined estimated cost of $425,000.
The second phase of Surtrac and Glance, which will include a wider rollout along Peachtree, Roswell, Wieuca, Lenox and Roxboro roads, is expected to be installed by December. The estimated cost is $1,675,000.
The city projects are being paid for with TSPLOST funds.
The technologies have been tested in the North Avenue smart corridor project that is led by the AT&T Smart Cities initiative, but the Buckhead projects are not being coordinated by AT&T, according to Zinzi Sebunya, a city spokesperson.
Both Surtrac and Glance use radar and thermal imaging cameras to detect traffic flows and adjust lights to the most efficient timing. Glance can detect emergency and transit vehicles to prioritize their light and move them through intersections quicker.
Once the intersection adjusts to the traffic flows, the data is communicated to neighboring intersections to increase their visibility of future incoming traffic, Durrett said.
Shook said that this technology will collect data and help traffic engineers determine how to further improve Buckhead congestion.
“For the first time, we’ll actually have data that we’ll be basing those decisions on,” he said.