Office of Operations
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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Traffic Bottlenecks

Combating Bottlenecks

New York

"Midtown in Motion" will enable downtown Manhattan traffic signals to respond to real-time conditions

July, 2011 — New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, along with FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez, and others, announced recently that 110 mid-town blocks will benefit from hi-tech upgrades to 23 of Manhattan's traffic signals and/or physical improvements (turn lanes, et al) at 53 intersections. The improvements, called "Midtown in Motion", some of which are already in place, are part of a $1.6M improvement plan ($1M in city funding and $600K paid by the Federal Government) to enable these signals to receive real-time data from 100 microwave sensors, 32 traffic video cameras and EZ Pass readers, and then make real-time adjustments to the traffic signal cycles. The wireless technology fits within the city's "NYCWiN" wireless network, which was developed to integrate many of the NYC departments, and is managed by the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. Once city workers have consolidated this data via the city's Traffic Operations Center in Long Island City, they plan to identify the most troubled traffic patterns from Second Avenue to Avenue of the Americas, and from 42nd to 57th Streets. That way they can remotely alter the lengths of lights by a few seconds to help improve traffic flow. Earlier generations of traffic signals could only accommodate preset cycles, the operation of which was laborious and was only manually responsive to incidents, seemingly constant special events (UN General Assemblies and myriad "Broadway style" NY events were especially noted) and congestion saturation periods that went beyond the preset peak hour timings. The new technology employs Advanced Solid State Traffic Controllers, a new generation of state-of-the-art technology that is also more weather resistant and tamper proof, and requires less maintenance. Further, much of the new data will also be made available to motorists and app developers for use on PDA's and smart phones. "I don't want anybody to think that starting tomorrow there won't be another traffic jam (in mid-town)," said Mayor Bloomberg, "but we can make it better." Mr. Bloomberg estimates that the current traffic delays cost the city's economy $13B, although he didn't say over what length of time or elaborate how that figure was arrived at. Once in operation, the city will test and tweak the system by using GPS data collected from taxi cabs, by comparing how long it takes to make certain trips then and now. Shortly after the Mayor left the control center, Mohamad Talas, deputy director for system engineering, leaned over a computer screen and studied a map of mid-town. His staff noticed that traffic that had been clogging Third Avenue had cleared up. The computer wanted to verify that they could lengthen the lights' waiting times by a couple seconds. Talas clicked "OK" and the traffic lights simply changed. Mr. Talas smiled with satisfaction and said, "now we have the ability to do this in real time." Presently, half of the city's 6200+ signals have been at-least computerized and integrated with (i.e., monitored by) the TOC and the goal is to complete integration of all signals by 2013.