Smarter traffic control could be coming to NYC streets

NYU Tandon leads 'smart transportation' consortium

May 6, 2019 Mary Frost
Grad student Suzana Duran Bernardes (left) and Alyssa Brewer, communications associate for C2SMART, display some of the research on ‘smart transportation’ the group is doing at NYU Tandon. The director of C2SMART, Kaan Ozbay, was just appointed to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s BQE panel. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
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The city is collaborating with a “smart transportation” consortium to find ways to connect drivers, traffic signals, pedestrian walk lights and even autonomous vehicles into a safer, quicker and more responsive network.

Research underway at NYU Tandon in Downtown Brooklyn was one of the cutting-edge areas of technology on display on Friday at the 2019 Research Expo in Downtown Brooklyn.

One of the programs at C2SMART, a smart cities project from an NYU Tandon-led consortium, tracks the amount of traffic on a busy street, the number and location of pedestrians, and other data in order to adjust the timing of traffic signals to speed up flow and increase safety. Flatbush Avenue is one of the sites being used in the research.

The director of C2SMART, Kaan Ozbay, was just appointed to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s BQE panel, tasked with evaluating different options for a massive project to reconstruct a 1.5-mile segment of the BQE’s triple cantilever at the edge of Brooklyn Heights.

Computer vision “can be used for identifying cars, seeing the trajectories and turning movements, and taking a lot of data from that for every type of study that’s transportation-related,” said Suzana Duran Bernardes, a graduate student in Transportation Planning and Engineering. The project is funded by the US Department of Transportation.

“If you have a car that is coming, it can send a signal to the traffic light, and the traffic light can rearrange the timing based on the demand of cars that are coming,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It turns green if you have a big platoon of cars. It can make a better flow, avoid some congestion problems. If you have communication from your phone and the car, you can time the pedestrian walk signals” as well, she said.

Another portion of the project aims to create an application for visually-impaired pedestrians to help them navigate the city better, she said.

Alyssa Brewer, communications associate for C2SMART, said the group is “working with New York City on their connected vehicle project, and that involves models for some specific areas of Brooklyn.” Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and the FDR Drive in Manhattan are the sites being used “to develop simulations for the connected vehicle portion,” she said.

Joseph Chow, assistant professor in Civil Engineering and deputy director at C2SMART, said the group was also looking at bus routes in the city, and has studied the proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) project.

“We’ve been developing this citywide simulation tool to evaluate different policies and [bus] system design,” he said. “The plan is to take a look at their system design a little more objectively … especially when you look at the more vulnerable populations that may have less access to transit. Are there changes that really benefit them?”

He added, “My group, a few years back, took a look at the Brooklyn-Queens Connector when it was proposed. And we posed the question of whether that kind of route can be served using alternative types of services, like automobile-on-demand, smaller mini buses, micro-transit.”

The group found that the on-demand mobility type of service “is actually quite viable … Especially if you consider operating it as an automated type of fleet,” he said. “That’s still farther away, but they can actually operate an on-demand type of service.”

While the technology could be used for security purposes, that’s not the project’s intent, group members said.

“We did a Wi-Fi and data collection project” a while back, Duran Bernardes said. “We went to subway stations and collected MAC addresses [ID numbers] from cell phones so we could identify how many cell phones at that station, so we can see if that station deserves more attention. We automatically erased that information. We created a new ID. So we don’t have access to the people, we just count the number of phones.”

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