Adaptive Traffic Signals Relieve Congestion, Speed Buses After SoNo Mall Opening

City Traffic Engineer Fred Eshraghi and Jim Travers, director of transportation, mobility and parking (CT Examiner)

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NORWALK – City officials are leading the way in Connecticut with adaptive signal technology to improve traffic congestion, speed buses and plan for multi-modal transportation.

Since 2018, Norwalk has been installing adaptive signals that adjust the timing of traffic lights to accommodate changing traffic conditions and improve flow.

Jim Travers, director of transportation, mobility and parking, said the new system automatically adapts to traffic changes, unlike standard lights which run on a time sequence that has to be manually adjusted.

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“We’re really the first city in the state to be adopting this technology,” Travers told CT Examiner.

Travers said the idea originated when the SoNo Collection, a local mall, opened on West Avenue. Norwalk officials negotiated with developers to include adaptive signals outside the building.

City Traffic Engineer Fred Eshraghi said the adaptive signals improved traffic congestion in the area by 20 to 25 percent.

“Before we put the adaptive system in there, we had a nightmare on West Avenue,” Eshraghi said.

Travers said that the original project was funded by the mall developers, who were required to mitigate traffic congestion caused by the development. The installations continue to be funded, in part, by developers, but now primarily rely on federal grants.

Eshraghi said Norwalk received multiple grants from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, and they are typically capped at $3 million. 

Norwalk has completed phases one and two of the project with phase three underway. They’ve upgraded a total of 48 city-owned signals and spent about $18 million in funding.

The city already secured federal funding for phases four and five, which would upgrade seven additional signals, install crosswalks and introduce transit signal priority for buses.

Travers said that with the suggested priority, red lights shorten and green lights extend when city buses travel to primary corridors “to make sure that the bus is delivering its customers in a more efficient manner, making sure that we’re on time and prioritizing the transit rider.”

He said Norwalk would be the first city in the state to adopt the transit signal priority.

“The team here has done a really good job of blazing trails,” Travers continued. “We are massively supportive of multi-modal transportation.”

According to both Travers, other municipalities like Greenwich and Stamford have taken notice and recently installed some adaptive signals.

But Eshraghi said having the system is not enough – cities also need sufficient signal communication and detection to reduce traffic congestion.

“We’re trying to provide knowledge and information to other towns,” Eshraghi said.

Eshraghi said cities across the nation are advancing in hopes of becoming smart cities, which use communication technologies like adaptive signals to develop sustainable development practices.

“What it does is just provide a safe environment for all kinds of road users, especially pedestrians,” Eshraghi explained.

Travers said that all of the new city technologies fit into a larger master transportation plan, which would look ahead over the next decade and define a philosophy for future projects.

“Largely, what we heard from the community is they want safer roads. They want better pedestrian connections. They want bike lanes,” Travers said. “So, we have a number of projects that will be featured in the plan that are part of those requests.”

Travers said the master plan will be completed by the end of the year.