Traffic lights and ants

traffic signal boxInteresting: Sanjay Goel, a UAlbany professor, has gotten a $378,375 grant to study how traffic light systems might be designed to produce emergent behavior. In other words, could traffic lights self-organize -- like ant colonies -- to enable better traffic flows.

From the press release:

Goel believes that each traffic light, like each ant, should make its own decision to communicate with the next light. That way, a driver crossing the intersection at midnight wouldn't have to wait for long minutes at a red light while there is no other traffic. ...
"The goal is to develop self-organizing algorithms and conduct simulation and modeling that would involve selection of intersections in Albany to test some algorithms," said Goel. "The focus of the study is to understand the limitations of this approach and find out where such techniques can fail or under what conditions we may get bottlenecks or chaos in traffic," he said.
Goel is looking for just the right intersections. "We will pick a variety of places where there is fast-moving traffic in the city," he said.

If someone can figure out how to make the traffic lights on Western Ave work together so as not to induce road-rage-levels of frustration in drivers along that stretch -- well, that person would deserve some sort of prize.

By the way: Have you stood next to one of the old traffic signal boxes around Albany (pic on the right)? If you listen carefully, you can hear the parts moving in there as the lights change.

[via @omarjpeters]


I'm so happy Sanjay got the green light for this...

I've got one of the mechanical ones outside my window and I can heard it at night. Like waves at the beach.

I don't think you have to listen all that closely... then again, maybe I just have kind of good hearing... :)

yeah, but when ants run into each other it don't hurt

I used to pass one of those older boxes on the way to school when I was in my teens. On quiet mornings, I could here the soft click and whir. I'd forgotten about the box until it was removed as part of the Delaware Avenue improvements. The lack of the whirring and clicking stood out to me even more than the box used to.

As for improving traffic flow, they recently made changes to the intersection of Lark Street and Madison and Delaware Avenues. I cross there several times a day and I can't say the changes made things any better.

I second Lark/Deleware and Madison Avenue. They've turned it into a bloody mess.

The green arrows aren't smart (they hold up oncoming traffic for turning traffic that doesn't exist).

This afternoon a tractor trailer parked on Deleware northbound caused the light to malfunction, skipping the full green for at least ten cycles before anarchy set in and drivers ignored the light and double solid center stripe.

The magnetic sensors that they put into the road are a godsend for side streets. especially in not as high travel areas.

People also need to visit Detroit and check out Telegraph Road. You can go 12 miles and only hit one red light, if you just go the posted speed limit, and there is not an excess of traffic. The road is 8 lanes and has about 8-10 lights per mile(a low estimate maybe? it has been 4-5 years since I've been on the road)

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