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Manhattan to Get New Traffic-Monitoring System Aimed at Reducing Congestion

Source: WSJ - Andrew Grossman

Posted on 19 Jul 2011

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New York City is set to bring online a new traffic-monitoring system aimed to reduce Midtown congestion in Manhattan.

Over the past year, crews have been outfitting Midtown streets with new hardware that detects traffic flow. Microwave sensors installed in the middle of blocks determine whether a line of cars is waiting at a stoplight, and EZPass readers at intersections measure how long it takes a vehicle to get from one street corner to the next.

Those sensors feed information back to the city's traffic-command center in Queens, where computers ingest the real-time traffic data and make recommendations for engineers, who can remotely adjust stoplights to ease flow.

"We'll be able to have different patterns adjust to different conditions that we see on the street," Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said. "So that should do a lot to sort of feather the traffic in and keep it from reaching the sort of boiling point that it sometimes reaches in Midtown."

No other city is using a system like New York's, she said.

In a six-month test, traffic sensors are collecting data in 110 square blocks between Second and Sixth avenues and 42nd and 57th streets. If it works well during the test period, the city plans to expand the monitoring program to more of Midtown. The city has also installed thousands of stoplights in Midtown and other neighborhoods that can be controlled remotely, instead of requiring workers to go to intersections to program them.

"It is the beginning of what we can do for the entire city," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday. "Midtown is the heart of New York City's economy and traffic is its lifeblood."

Drivers interviewed Monday were cautiously optimistic.

"It would be good as long as there are no glitches," said Taher Tayeb, a 21-year-old Manhattanite who was riding in a car driven by a friend. "It would help police and people. It would make things run smoother for millions of people in Manhattan."

The city paid $1 million for the system, and the federal government contributed an additional $600,000.

Officials announced the new system Monday at the Traffic Management Center in Long Island City. There, hundreds of traffic cameras feed dozens of screens that employees monitor for backups.

The new sensors have allowed engineers to create a live map of travel speeds in Midtown. At midday on a July Monday, most the streets on it were green, meaning that traffic was flowing well. But if the streets start turning red, engineers can increase the length of green lights on a certain avenue or stagger the pattern of changing lights. The city also plans to use the traffic data to tell emergency vehicles the quickest route to their destination.

Some drivers may notice smoother going through the heart of the city, but Bloomberg warned Monday that Midtown traffic isn't about to disappear.

"I don't want anybody to think that starting tomorrow morning there will never be another traffic jam between Second and Sixth, 42nd to 57th," Mr. Bloomberg said. "That's not the real world. But we can make it better. And that's what you try to do. And there'll be some days where it'll work better than others."