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Smarter Traffic Lights, Calmer Commuters

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Traffic in Los Angeles.

Artificial intelligence and other advances in traffic systems hold promise to ease commuters headaches.

Credit: Monica Almeida/The New York Times

How often have you cursed out a traffic light that took forever to change? Or the lights on a long stretch of road made you stop at every cross street, just when you felt you might actually make it to work on time? Take heart: Less painful commutes may be ahead, with advanced electronic control systems that apply artificial intelligence to the task of keeping traffic moving.

The benefits promised are more than just tamping down some road rage. Less time stuck in traffic, multiplied by many thousands of commuters, can lead to less fuel burned and less carbon emitted.

The first known attempt to control traffic with signal devices, over 150 years ago, did not end well. To manage the city's growing volume of horse and buggy traffic, the London police used manually operated, gas-powered signal lights. That experiment concluded with a gas lamp explosion, injuring the policeman operating it.

About 40 years later, with Ford's Model T killing residents at record rates, Detroit installed stop signs and traffic signals and formed a police squad charged with controlling traffic. Soon, Cleveland upped the ante and installed the first electric traffic light.


From The New York Times
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