Technology on Park Street intersections will communicate with passing vehicles

Technology on Park Street intersections will communicate with passing vehicles

This month the first radio communication system will be installed at the intersection of Park Street and University Avenue. It will allow traffic lights to essentially talk with passing cars and pedestrians.

In the next six months, three more units will be connected, sending signals back and forth with city buses and maintenance vehicles.

“If they’re behind by say five minutes on their schedule and they have people either trying to get to a location on time, trying to get to work on time, or trying to get picked up on time, they can actually preempt the signal so the signal knows by the time it gets here it needs to be green,” said Jonathan Riehl, transportation systems engineer at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

But Riehl said this is just the beginning. In the future, the technology could turn all traffic lights green for emergency vehicles or alert drivers when an ambulance in coming up behind them.

“Any bit of information we can clue in other drivers to an incident or an event that they might be coming upon is a good thing. It gives people some advanced warning and time to react,” said Chris Hammes, a Madison firefighter and paramedic.

Park Street is home to two of the city’s major hospitals. The area sees a lot of traffic, especially on game days. These are some of the reasons why it was chosen for the project.

Madison is one of ten federally-designated automated vehicles proving grounds.

The first four radio units have been donated to the team of researchers at UW-Madison, but they will need additional funding to continue the project and fill the 6.2-mile corridor.

Other cities are using money from their state’s department of transportation budget to fund the project, but the Park Street project is dependent on private investors.

Once short-range communication radios are installed at all 26 intersections, the software can be developed to do hundreds of things, including curve speed warnings and red light violation warnings.

“If a pedestrian has a smart phone, they can link into that traffic signal and they can get notified if there’s, say, a vehicle that looks like they’re going to run the red light and hit them in the pedestrian cross walk,” Riehl said.

Although the technology could help get ambulances to the hospital faster, Hammes said EMS services won’t be able to rely on it. They will still need to stop at each intersection to make sure it is clear before passing through.

“My best guess is it’s not going to be a major time saver, but it’s something that can be a whole part of the big picture in making that intersection safer,” he said.

But Reihl believes this is a big step towards the future.

“If you start to think about autonomous vehicles that can think at the speed with all that information, that’s going to be where this is ultimately going,” Riehl said.