Monterey’s new signal system decreases traffic jams, toxic emissions

Peninsula Premier Admin

MONTEREY — A traffic light control system being installed in Monterey is being heralded as a means to help alleviate congestion while also cutting down on dangerous pollutants generated by idling cars.

The new system is important because it can help alleviate the bumper-to-bumper traffic that can make traveling in Monterey at the height of the tourist season enough to crank up anyone’s blood pressure.

“The last thing we want is fossil fuel automobiles sitting there idling,” said Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson. “So if we can keep them moving, it has the advantage of fighting over-tourism, which translates to traffic problems and secondly it does cut down on fossil fuel emissions.”

The new system moves traffic through major arteries such as Lighthouse and Del Monte avenues by using a video computer system at intersections that records traffic flow and sends that information through fiber-optic lines back to the city’s servers where algorithms compute light-cycle timing and shoot that data back to the controllers inside the lights to adjusts those cycles.

At that point, green lights can remain lit longer until the unanticipated volume has moved through the intersections.

Imagine traveling in your car approaching the tunnel on Lighthouse Avenue and what you don’t know is that an unanticipated number of cars had just spilled out of the parking lot at Fisherman’s Wharf onto Del Monte Avenue. By the time you get up to the wharf, you’re already in a traffic jam.

But the new system, called the Split Cycle Offset Optimization Technique, will see the cars coming out of the parking lot at that intersection and start adjusting the light cycles — red, yellow, green — at other intersections down the road to move that volume along so it wouldn’t bottleneck at any particular stoplight. By the time you get up to the wharf, the traffic is rolling along fairly well.

Andrea Renny, the city of Monterey’s traffic engineer, explained that the old technology was based on a predictive system. For example, every day at 5 p.m. the traffic volume picks up on Del Monte as people leave work. So the current controllers are programmed to adjust to that predicted volume. It’s fixed rather than nimble. But traffic is rarely consistent.

“Weekend traffic can be very unpredictable,” Renny said. “It can depend on things like the weather. The adaptive system is able to delay the onset of congestion and recover more quickly.”

A before and after study on Lighthouse has shown that the average travel time has decreased by an average of 10%, average delay has decreased by 30%, average stops have declined by 32% and the average speed has increased by 13%.

The system is currently in place along Lighthouse, Del Monte and North First Street. Installation is underway along Munras, Foam, Pacific and Franklin streets.

As for the excess toxic pollutants that spew out of tailpipes while cars are sitting idle at stoplights, the new system can have a profound effect on decreasing those amounts.

Alan Romero, an air quality planner at Monterey Bay Air Pollution Control District, said the system can reduce 20 tons of reactive organic gases, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, the latter is released when fuel is burned at high temperatures and is highly poisonous.

”Our role is to go out there and reduce emissions,” Romero said. “We don’t regulate them but we certainly fund projects that mitigate mobile source emissions.”

The project is funded at $5.2 million and is receiving grant money — the most recent being $400,000 — as well as funding from other sources. The air district has previously awarded the project $1.56 million.

The new system technology is built by Siemens AG, a global company based in Munich.

This map of Monterey shows where the traffic signal system has been installed and where it will be installed next. (Courtesy city of Monterey)

Contributed by local news sources

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