Detroit's Smart Intersections, Which Can Update Like Smartphones, Could Save Lives

New traffic signals in Detroit are designed to help pedestrians, cyclists and ambulances get through intersections, while helping traffic planners test safety improvements quickly.

Five years ago, nobody would have mistaken Detroit’s stoplights for being “smart.” They were so obsolete, in fact, that city transportation officials couldn’t even tell whether most of the lights were working without visiting the intersections in person.

But in solving that very basic problem, the city has taken significant steps toward creating some of the smartest intersections in the country. It is experimenting with five “smart intersections” along a nearly two-mile stretch of Larned Street near the riverfront, including some downtown sites.

The new networked traffic lights, which are connected to video cameras, can respond quickly to changing conditions. They do that by analyzing the video on the spot to determine different types of road users, how they’re moving and how to respond.

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