‘Smart’ Lights on City’s Wish List

Worth A Look, Transportation, Frontier Centre

FRUSTRATED on the drive to work by long waits at what feels like every single stoplight? The mayor’s powerful cabinet of councillors feels your road rage.

Expanding the system of computerized lights and software that has eased traffic in the congested Polo Park shopping district was quietly added Wednesday to the city’s wish list of projects that could dip into a new $82-million pot of government funding earmarked for Manitoba.

For $2 million, busy streets such as Bishop Grandin Boulevard, Lagimodiere Boulevard, Kenaston Boulevard, and St. Anne’s and St. Mary’s roads could get the new “smart” signal lights. The new technology could help eliminate the most common complaint from Winnipeg motorists — street lights that are out of synch, forcing drivers to stop and start at each intersection.

“It would give us virtually limitless traffic light sequencing scenarios that would be based on known traffic patterns and volumes for different periods in the day or different days of the week on given streets,” said public works spokesman Bob MacDonald.

“But very importantly, the system would give us real- time information on traffic volumes and flow. That would allow us to put in pre-programed adjustments to signal sequences that would be triggered by this real- time information.” The technology was installed at 30 intersections around Polo Park shopping mall at Christmas in 2003. At the time, customers and businesses owners said they noticed a difference.

In Winnipeg, light timing is controlled by grey signal boxes at every intersection. About 200 of the city’s 590 intersections are still run by old mechanical turn-wheels in the signal boxes, which tend to freeze in cold weather and are tough to fix because replacement parts are no longer manufactured.

The new technology gives city staff the ability to program more variations in timing patterns, so even the most minor changes in daily traffic patterns can be reflected in the lights.

Software connected to the signal boxes allows city staff to count cars lined up at a particular light for the first time. With such detailed data, staff can tweak light times even more precisely.

And the software takes real-time data from sensors on or under the road at each intersection and relays it back to a computer at the city’s Elgin Avenue control centre. So, if city staff notice an influx of cars to the Empress and Ellice intersection at 12:10 p.m. every day, they can alter the signal times to move traffic more quickly.


    Red lights in Western Canada cities Winnipeg

  • Stoplights 603
  • Population 650,000
  • Traffic signals per thousand people .93

  • Stoplights 631
  • Population 741,000
  • Traffic signals per thousand .88

  • Stoplights 730 * Population 900,000
  • Traffic signals per thousand .81

  • Stoplights 430
  • Population 560,000
  • Traffic signals per thousand .77

Source: City of Winnipeg