London will be the first city to test a traffic light system
allowing extra time for pedestrians to cross streets. Finally, a possible win for walkers, not drivers.
Video cameras with sophisticated sensors will be installed at traffic lights in London to determine the number of pedestrians waiting for the red light to change to green. If many people are waiting, when the signal turns green it will remain green for longer than normal in order to give the pedestrians enough time to cross the street.
The trials will begin this summer near two busy London Tube (i.e., subway) stations, Balham and Tooting Bec. If they're successful, the cameras will be installed at other stations and locations with lots of pedestrian traffic, such as major shopping areas and sports stadiums.
The city also is working on another system that would use sensors to determine when a pedestrian pushed the "walk" button on the traffic light pole, but crossed before the light turned to green or just walked away and didn't cross. That information could, supposedly, improve the efficiency of the green/red timing sequence.
The traffic light trials are an offshoot of a vehicle-oriented system, SCOOT (Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique), that employs sensors to measure and improve traffic flow. The system that will be tested for walkers is called, appropriately enough, Pedestrian SCOOT.
SCOOT has been installed at some 3,000 locations in London and was expanded to help improve traffic congestion during the city's 2012 Summer Olympics.
It's all part of London's multi-billion pound program to dramatically transportation efficiency, including reducing the number of accidents. The "Safe Streets for London" plan lays out six major goals, including reducing the number of people killed and seriously injured in traffic accidents by 40% by 2020 and placing a priority on pedestrian, bicyclist, and motorcycle safety because these groups comprise 80% of deaths and serious injuries.
Some drivers might be concerned that Pedestrian SCOOT could adversely affect their God-given right to speed along the roads without worrying about stopping for walkers. The London Evening Standard reports that mayor Boris Johnson "insists it is more efficient and a safe way of funneling people across busy roads and will not lead to road congestion."
Johnson had better hope Pedestrian SCOOT doesn't interfere with vehicular traffic because drivers in many countries, including the UK, are represented by powerful lobbying groups to promote their interests. Indeed, traffic control is generally implemented to help drivers, not walkers.
But advanced technology, such as with Pedestrian SCOOT, could potentially help pedestrians in their battle against vehicular-centric systems.
A more fun pedestrian experience is provided in Manhattan by students working towards a master's degree in New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program. They've installed a "sentient" pedestrian traffic signal, of sorts, on a Manhattan street corner. Named Pop Pop, the contraption isn't designed to allow people to cross the street, but instead provides interesting information. The dual LED panels display "emotional" graphics on one side and messages on the other.
The graphics can display six emotions, such as happy, bored, and angry. The messages can show such text as "Have a fun day," "Stop jaywalking," and "Be safe. Look up from your phone." The so-called sentience is based on several sources, including the street corner digital camera feed that's sent to Amazon's crowd-sourced market, Mechanical Turk, for analysis, and such data as the weather, local news, and crime statistics.
Sam Slover, one of the students on the project, wrote that Pop Pop is somewhat reminiscent of Bristol, England's "Hello Lamp Post" venture that enabled more than 1,000 city objects to display SMS messages to passersby. Stover said:
Pop Pop can be imagined like a caring older gentleman who is protective of his intersection; he wants to make sure everyone is safe and happy as they cross through his intersection. For example, while Pop Pop is usually upbeat and attentive, too many jaywalkers will make him a bit distressed and especially bad weather will tend to deflate his mood.
I can't imagine that any city would implement anything like Pop Pop because of the potential for distracting pedestrians and causing accidents. But as technology continues to improve with high resolution cameras, sensors, displays, software analytics, and artificial intelligence, there are increasing opportunities for cities to provide traffic systems for the benefit of pedestrians, rather than almost always favoring vehicles.