First UK city plans smart traffic lights installation

Milton Keynes could be the first UK city to install smart traffic lights that are capable of easing congestion.
Published: Thu 15 Jun 2017

Innovate UK and Tracsis is supporting Milton Keynes city to put up smart traffic lights that will help ease traffic congestion and reduce carbon emissions.

Together, they plan to invest £3m in the technology that will become operational by September 2018. Of this amount, Innovate UK has invested £1.7 million.  

Tracsis specialises in solving a variety of data capture, reporting and resource optimisation problems along with the provision of a range of associated professional services while Innovate UK is the operating name of the Technology Strategy Board, the UK's innovation agency.

Detailed understanding of transport systems

Traffic lights in the city currently run in sequences but are not designed to react to passing vehicles, according to Vivacity Labs, a company that provides mobility tracking services and promotes a detailed understanding of transport systems through video analytics.

Currently, there is ‘very limited intelligence to the current management of urban roads’, according to Yang Lu, chief technology officer at Vivacity Labs.

Traffic lights are sequenced but rarely reactive to the levels of traffic around them. Traffic monitoring is still done manually. But, with the artificial intelligence (AI) camera, road usage can be more accurately monitored.

Yu added: "The AI camera accurately identifies and reports road usage, removing the need for cumbersome manual interpretation and significantly reducing the potential for human error."

Smart traffic lights to better manage traffic

Vivacity Labs will install 2,500 AI-powered cameras into the lights to monitor traffic around the city. The sensors, covering 129km2, will monitor all major junctions and car parking areas.

The retrofitted smart traffic lights will also help prioritise ambulances, buses and cyclists and generally ease the flow of traffic to avoid bottlenecks.

"It can improve traffic today as it can be linked with existing management systems to keep vulnerable road users, such as cyclists, safe by giving priority at lights, or alter signs to direct traffic away from congestion," said Yu.

It is hoped that with the aid of artificial intelligence, the smart traffic lights could spell the end of rush hour queues in British cities.

Smart traffic lights reducing emissions

The City of Copenhagen installed 380 new smart traffic lights in February of this year. According to the estimations, these intelligent traffic lights will allow drivers and public transport passengers to save between 5% and 20% on their travel time. Cyclists can expect to save up to 10%.

The city has set the goal to become carbon neutral by 2025 and to achieve this, it is investing in smart city solutions to alleviate traffic and to encourage citizens to switch cars for bikes, such as the installation of intelligent traffic signals which started as a pilot project in Valby district.

New traffic lights will spot and prioritize buses and bikes. The buses communicate their location, number of passengers and delays to the signals. The traffic signals will also be online and allow for better green waves and a general improvement in controlling Copenhagen’s traffic.

Smart urban mobility market supports emissions reduction plans

According to Navigant Research, the market for Smart Urban Mobility Infrastructure and Services is expected to exceed $25b in 2024. New forms of smart mobility are helping cities address congestion and reduce emissions.

“In an increasingly connected environment, cities have now become the focal point for a range of new mobility tools such as carsharing, rideshare apps, and advanced traffic management—key elements of a smart city mobility strategy,” says Lisa Jerram, principal research analyst with Navigant Research.

“Some cities are now going a step further by connecting different mobility modes to create on-demand, sustainable, and flexible urban transportation systems.”