A case for smart traffic lights

September 26, 2023

The Delaware coastal cities of Rehoboth and Lewes stand at an infrastructure crossroads. They are no longer just summer getaways; they are year-round destinations. This growth, while economically beneficial, brings with it traffic congestion, posing safety risks and hindering daily travel. Addressing this is paramount. I propose a solution that combines well-thought-out road modifications with dynamic traffic control using networked traffic lights or smart traffic lights. 

Road modifications, currently in the pipeline, should provide longer-term relief, while a strategically designed smart traffic system could provide benefits in the nearer term. Working together, they should help bring about the congestion relief we all desire.

At its core, dynamic traffic control is an adaptive system able to change traffic-light timing to better match the desired traffic flow. Unlike traditional traffic lights that operate on fixed timers, smart traffic lights leverage local knowledge supplemented by real-time data from sensors, cameras and other sources to make informed decisions about traffic-light timings and sequences.

During peak travel times, such as weekend traffic surges, the system can throttle or accelerate traffic by adjusting light timings. This means longer green lights on main arteries during high-traffic periods and shorter ones during off-peak hours.

Dynamic traffic control would also benefit traffic flow when festivals, concerts, school events and other scheduled activities bring traffic to the area. Traditional systems remain oblivious to these surges, but dynamic systems can anticipate and adjust. If there’s a scheduled event, traffic-light patterns can be preprogrammed for optimal flow.

One of the most compelling aspects of smart traffic lights is their ability to prioritize emergency vehicles. Through connected systems, these lights can be alerted to an approaching ambulance, fire truck or police car. The system can then change lights in favor of these vehicles, ensuring they reach their destinations faster and more safely.

As the housing boom in Sussex County continues and the population balloons during peak periods, roads are busier with more cars, pedestrians and cyclists. An adaptive system reduces the chances of congestion-related accidents by ensuring smoother traffic flow.

Smart traffic lights also support economic growth, allowing visitors to flock to our coast for relaxation, not to sit in traffic. Traffic snarls could deter potential repeat visitors, impacting local businesses. By easing congestion, we’re ensuring Rehoboth and Lewes remain desirable destinations.

And finally, idle cars result in increased emissions. By optimizing traffic flow, we decrease the amount of time cars spend idling, a benefit to our environment.

With continued growth, now is the time to invest in infrastructure that can adapt. The flexibility of dynamic traffic control helps our towns evolve as needs change.

The dual challenges of booming population growth and increased tourism require modern, adaptive solutions. Dynamic traffic control using networked traffic lights provides a realizable path forward, helping to ensure that our coastal cities remain the jewels of Delaware, offering safety, efficiency, and a high quality of life for all who call them home or visit their shores.

Dave Hardin is an electrical engineer living in Lewes.
  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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