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Greensboro traffic signal data sharing could help you avoid red lights

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Wondering how long you’ll be stuck at a red light could soon be a thing of the past for some Greensboro drivers. Better yet, the same technology could help you avoid more red lights altogether.

The City of Greensboro’s Department of Transportation plans to partner with a company called Traffic Technology Services to make better use of data the city is already collecting. Currently, the city gathers data from more than 500 traffic signals. The partnership with TTS would result in the data being packaged so certain vehicles could make use of it.

“The vehicle doesn’t really know much about what the signal’s going to be doing,” said Chris Spencer, engineering division manager for the City of Greensboro, while talking about current technology.

The data would be sent to vehicles able to processing the data – Spencer says Audi is the only company currently manufacturing vehicles with this capability – and drivers would be able to use it to be more safe and efficient as they’re driving around the city.

“When you’re sitting at a red light, it can pop up and tell you how long before the signal turns green,” Spencer said, of how the data would be used. “It can kind of reduce some of that delay that we have when it turns green, you know, you see somebody sitting at the signal and not paying attention.”

Spencer adds that the technology would also allow drivers to know the appropriate speed they should travel to hit the next green traffic signal. Instead of encouraging faster speeds, the city hopes this would cause a decrease in speeding.

“We design our signal progression based on the speed limit, so really speeding doesn’t do you much good,” Spencer said.

Data is also currently collected when someone presses the button to utilize a crosswalk.

“So that’s information that can also be useful to a driver, to know that there’s a potential pedestrian crossing,” Spencer said.

Spencer added that the data collection could also help improve GPS function in the future.

“I think it’ll just simplify things,” Greensboro driver Tim Herndon said.

Some residents expressed concern about their personal privacy.

“I am patently against any method anybody uses to collect data for any reason,” Ken Jacobs said. “I mean, Facebook was a good idea 10 years ago and you can see how that turned out.”

However, the city says all the data is anonymized.

“We don’t know anything about individual drivers,” Spencer said.

The city says this is an initial transition into “connected vehicles” of the future, better allowing them to prepare for technology in coming years.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Herndon said. “I think it will take a lot of the leg work that policemen have to do down the road in the future.”

Spencer says his department plans to take the idea to the city council in April to approve the data sharing agreement. He hopes to roll of the pilot program come summer.

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