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Los Angeles synchronizes all its traffic lights, lets a computer control the roads

Kevin Lee | April 4, 2013
Noticed a faster commute in LA? Thank the fully computerized and synchronized traffic light system that now controls the city streets.

Los Angeles, a city infamously known for rush hour congestion, is the first city in history to roll out a fully synchronized traffic light system. Right now, all road traffic is officially being controlled by a supercomputer grandmaster through 4500 synchronized traffic lights.

A synchronized traffic light system might sound like all the city's intersections are starting and stopping at the same time, but it's not quite like that. Instead, the system is surprisingly organic in the way it reacts on the fly and will even predict where congestion will occur before it even happens.

According to the New York Times, the system tracks real-time traffic through a set of magnetic sensors located at every intersection. It feeds all this information though a fiber-optic cable network to an underground computer bunker that analyzes the data to make adjustments as they are needed. All the while, it tried to predict where traffic could bunch up.

If the system sees that the avenues are particularly crowded, it will hold the green light for a longer period to clear out the intersection before giving the side streets a green light. The system is designed to be dynamic and able to constantly respond to demands of traffic at the time.

The system took 30 years to put together and cost $400 million, and it went live in February. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation says it's just started to see the results of its automated system.

According to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation study, this new automated system was designed to increased travel speed by 16 percent, while reducing travel time by 12 percent.

As for real-world numbers, the NY Times reports that the average driving time has fallen some. Driving 5 miles used to take 20 minutes on average, but now it just takes 17.2 minutes. Meanwhile the average speed has gone up from 15 miles per hour to 17.3mph.


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