The Future of Traffic Signals

It’s a mad, mad world out there on the roads. Congestion is climbing along with the number of cars. Signs and intersections can be confusing. And bicycle commuting is up all over.

New kinds of traffic signs and signals can help keep it all flowing. Here are some notable innovations.

A turn for bicycles

The Dutch city of Groningen has bikes-only lights at busy intersections, in addition to conventional signals for motor vehicles. When green, the bike signals allow cyclists to proceed in any direction, even diagonally, without having to compete with or yield to cars—particularly useful for those time-consuming left turns. (The writing on the sign below the bike symbol, “tegelijk groen,” means “green together” in Dutch.)

Accident prevention

As bikes become more common, one growing hazard is cars that make right turns and collide with cyclists who are going straight. Portland, Ore., installed a one-of-a-kind active warning sign last fall, requiring drivers turning right at a busy intersection to look over their shoulders and yield to cyclists passing through in the bike lane. The sign, triggered by a sensor, flashes only when a bike is approaching.

After you

A visual hybrid of a yield and a stop sign, this sign—invented by venture capitalist Gary Lauder but not in use yet—is meant to be placed at the intersection of a major and minor road, where major-road drivers are often forced to make unnecessary stops when nobody is around. In the event that a minor-road driver is waiting to turn: Be civil and let him in. If no one is there, keep driving—saving time and gas.

Animated pedestrian signals

On certain pedestrian signals in Mexico, a little green man pops up below a countdown timer, letting walkers know they can cross the street. The man is also animated: As the clock counts down to red, he moves progressively faster, hurrying his way from a casual stride to an all-out sprint—perhaps implying that you should do the same.

The waiting game

Cyclists coming to a red light in the absence of waiting vehicles don’t know whether they’ve triggered the sensor in the pavement that will turn the light green. In Portland, blue LED indicator lights installed at the start of this summer let cyclists know that the sensor has detected their presence and the signal will turn green soon.

An indicator for every lane

No working models yet exist of this three-arrow LED traffic device, designed to replace the standard circular traffic lights in place at most intersections. Patented by Benjamin Glover, a traffic manager for DeKalb County, Ga., the apparatus layers red, yellow and green arrows in single units, with each unit corresponding to a specific lane, which he believes will be less confusing than conventional signals.

The vehicle network

The U.S. Department of Transportation is in the process of developing what it calls connected-vehicle technology. Though still in its pilot stage, the wireless innovation would allow drivers to receive real-time traffic warnings—for instance, that a car 200 yards ahead is braking or that road work is being done—on a screen in their automobile.

Article provided by The Wall Street Journal

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