Dallas-Fort Worth looks to AI to reduce accidents, improve congestion – The Dallas Morning News

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As Dallas-area cities contend with traffic problems ancillary to growth and commit to reducing fatalities, several are turning to AI.

Cities such as Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Garland and McKinney have already started using AI-powered technology to lengthen yellow lights if an approaching car isn’t slowing or to give the green to police, ambulance and fire vehicles.

Arlington announced this month it would expand a platform called NoTraffic it has piloted at several intersections over the past year. Powered by sensors and cameras, it allows signals to sync and adjust to traffic conditions in real-time. Dallas, Fort Worth, Garland and McKinney have already begun using the technology according to NoTraffic, developers of the platform.

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NoTraffic claims use of its tech results in “enhanced safety, reduced traffic times, and savings in fuel costs.” That’s attributed to its ability to detect and respond to singular traffic events, like by lengthening a yellow light and holding cross traffic if an approaching car is not slowing or a freight vehicle needs extra time to stop. It can also prioritize emergency vehicle traffic and help improve crossing safety for pedestrians.

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Variabilities in traffic patterns, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic, are making it harder for planners to pin down peak hours and anticipate logjams.

“Traditionally with traffic planning, the way it’s done is there’s a study for traffic and in some cases, someone actually goes out to a corner and stands there and counts cars for a certain period,” said Tom Cooper, vice president of public sector sales for NoTraffic. “A couple of weeks later they go back into their office and plug something into a timing plan software that spits out those plans they can program to the controllers, and then maybe some time later, they actually program the controllers. Well if traffic changes next Tuesday, that whole model starts falling apart.”

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With North Texas’ growing population bringing more traffic to city intersections, newer tech such as sensors can provide a more complete picture of traffic flows as they continue to change. And that data can inform snap judgments like holding a light to prevent a collision.

Arlington is spending an estimated $1 million over the next two years for NoTraffic. That money comes from bond funds allocated for traffic signal improvement.

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Between 50 and 80 signalized intersections of Arlington’s 372 will be retrofitted by 2026, said senior traffic engineer Chris Funches.

But the city will save money that would otherwise be spent on maintenance of existing signals, Funches said. The tech works alongside existing systems without installing hardware aside from radar sensors and cameras, meaning old and new signals can be fitted with the same capabilities.

“We can take the technology, go to traffic infrastructure that’s 40, 50 years old and bring it to the latest standards,” Cooper said.

Arlington has already tested the system along its Matlock Road corridor and plans to roll it out to the remaining intersections in the area, and on Cooper Street, by the end of the year. Transportation leaders regularly look at what they can do to innovate and improve safety, and considered several platforms to upgrade signals.

Greater access to data about exactly what kind of traffic intersections get allows planners and public safety officials to better plan for and respond to changing conditions, Funches said.

“We can say we had 100 pedestrians at this intersection today, they were traveling in a certain direction, we had 5,000 vehicles go through, 50 cyclists and you know, 20 busses and four eighteen wheelers,” Funches said. “Our systems before weren’t able to provide us that information.”

Better traffic flow can cut idle time and lead to reduced emissions, too. A Redlands, Calif. case study shows the platform reduced 11 tons of emissions and cut hundreds of hours in projected delays in two months, the company says.

Pedestrians can also benefit from more sophisticated planning.

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“Typically, transportation planning and technologies were set up to serve vehicles, yet we have this other population of pedestrians and bicyclists, underserved communities, that typically were not factored into that planning,” Cooper said. “Equity with transportation is also a major piece of what most agencies want to achieve, and these technologies can help them achieve those goals.”

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