Midtown In Motion Could Eliminate NYC Traffic Jams

Using a system of sensors and cameras, the new program lets city engineers control traffic signals in real time in response to changing road conditions.

Midtown NY traffic

Sitting in traffic isn't just unpleasant; it also wastes gasoline and is a major trigger for heart attacks, among other health problems. And of all the places to get stuck in traffic, Midtown Manhattan may be one of the worst. Midtown in Motion, a $1.6 million real-time traffic management system from NYC's Department of Transportation, prevents gridlock with a network of sensors and cameras that allows operators to adjust traffic signal patterns on the fly.

Midtown in Motion harnesses 100 microwave sensors as well as 32 traffic video cameras and E-ZPass readers at 23 intersections in a 110-square block area from Second to Sixth Avenues and from 42nd to 57th streets—all to track traffic, congestion, and vehicle travel times. Data from the sensors, cameras, and readers is sent to a control center, where engineers pinpoint "congestion choke points" as they happen and adjust traffic signals accordingly.

Engineers can easily switch between signal patterns, whether that means turning all signals on an avenue green at the same time or staggering traffic light signals on a street. So traffic signals could, for example, be changed to allow for an even distribution of traffic entering Midtown, the theory being that this could prevent crowded areas from becoming even more clogged.

The traffic information won't just be available to city engineers. Drivers will also be able to access the information on their cell phones—and hopefully avoid burgeoning traffic jams altogether.

This is a big upgrade from NYC's old system, which only allowed engineers to preset traffic signals based on the time. As anyone who's tried to navigate the city during rush hour knows, this was an ineffective option. Midtown in Motion will certainly be a more popular traffic solution than congestion pricing, a scheme proposed by Mayor Bloomberg that would charge drivers a fee for entering Midtown during peak traffic times.

But remember: Not even a million dollars' worth of high-tech equipment and sharp-eyed engineers can get rid of traffic jams altogether. If you don't want to deal with traffic, it's still wise to steer clear of Midtown.

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

[Image by Flickr user Kevin Coles]

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