Edmonton to explore smart signals despite pilot that showed slower traffic

Edmonton will keep exploring the use of smart technology at intersections even though a four-month pilot project in the central part of the city resulted in slower traffic.

City tested smart signals on 101st street between 103A and 111th avenues

Edmonton tested smart signals at nine intersections along 101st Street from October 2019 to the end of January 2020. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Edmonton will continue to explore the use of smart technology at intersections even though a four-month pilot project resulted in slower traffic.

The city tested adaptive traffic signal controls at nine intersections along 101st Street between 103A and 111th avenues. 

From Oct. 1 2019, to Jan. 31, 2020, the technology adjusted the timing of traffic signals based on the arrival patterns of vehicles.

Smart signals are meant to optimize vehicle flow and reduce congestion but the pilot project results showed they did the opposite, a new report said. 

"During the ATSC pilot, travel times increased along the corridor and their intersecting streets," the report said. 

Council's urban planning committee reviewed the report at a meeting on Tuesday. 

Coun. Moe Banga said it wasn't clear what the city would do with the test results. 

"What's the conclusion of the pilot project?" Banga asked city managers. 

It may be that computers aren't quite as smart yet as we think they are- Coun. Ben Henderson

Gord Cebryk, the city's deputy manager of operations, said the pilot was a short-term test and that the city needs more time to integrate it. 

"We know that it has potential," Cebryk said. "But for us to really understand its potential longer-term, we need to work with it more," 

Cebryk said when integrated into the city's system, the signals should be able to make real-time adjustments. 

"[They're] more responsive to changing demands, certainly more easily or more quickly than a human can action," Cebryk said. "It's just understanding how you would really optimize it."

The pilot showed travel times increased during weekday morning peak hours, non-peak hours and afternoon peak hours. 

At 103A Avenue, east and westbound travel times lagged more than 20 per cent, the results showed.

New technology

Olga Messinis, the city's director of traffic operations, said problems arose around the transition of the signal timing and co-ordination. 

"Because it is still relatively new and in a testing phase, it's that transition period that actually increased travel time," Messinis said. "So the transition from identifying a new pattern and implementing a new timing was one of our biggest issues."

Coun. Ben Henderson also wondered why the signals didn't yield better results.

"So it's not that this will never give us benefits but it's just either we haven't played with it enough yet or it's not quite sophisticated enough to give us the benefits," Henderson said. 

Messinis agreed and said the city continues to use smart equipment to measure traffic patterns and volume. 

"I'm just surprised there weren't advantages but it may be that computers aren't quite as smart yet as we think they are," Henderson said. 

The city will examine other corridors to see where the smart technology can be used in future, Cebryk said. 

The pilot was an opportunity to delve into the new technology. 

"It's a starting point," Cebryk said. "We've got kind of a base level of understanding now and we can use that to grow on." 

Edmonton will consult Pittsburgh, which has implemented a successful smart signal system, he said. 

Smarter transportation requires integrating various data from static, real-time and dynamic sources with sensors, meters and software in a holistic framework, the report said

Cebryk said his team can give the committee regular updates as part of the city's smart transportation action plan.