'Smart' lights could speed up traffic on Mercer, waterfront

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by LINDA BRILL / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on February 13, 2013 at 6:42 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 13 at 7:34 PM

Smarter traffic lights may be coming to Seattle.  It would mean shorter waits at red lights, especially in congested areas.

The Emerald City is known as green, but not when it comes to traffic signals.  Waiting too long can make you red in the face.

"I just spent five minutes at the last light, so I agree, we've gotta get things moving," said a driver waiting at a light on Mercer Street on Wednesday.

Seattle's signal grid is "old fashioned," said Peter Hahn, director of Seattle Department of Transportation. He wants to upgrade at some intersections to what is called an adaptive system. 

"It just adapts quicker to the actual demand at an intersection from conflicting movements," said Hahn.

In downtown Seattle, many lights are fixed based on a timer.  Pedestrians, who always get priority, get a walk-signal during every cycle.

The upgrades are being considered at Mercer Street and Seattle's waterfront, where construction is clogging traffic.

Three years ago, Bellevue addressed the problem.  Bellevue installed adaptive traffic lights that seem to be working.  At Northeast 8th Street, travel times are down about 40 percent.

"There are still going to be red lights," said Brian Kemper, Seattle's signal operations manager. But, Kemper said the software upgrade will make Seattle's lights more tolerable.  "If green time had value, distribute that green time around equitably."

There are more than 1,000 signaled itnersections in Seattle.  It's not yet known how many will get smarter. 

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