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How Traffic Signals Integrate with Other Signs

May 15, 2018

Road signs and traffic signals work together to regulate the flow of traffic. In any given town or city there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of traffic lights that run all day and night. Here’s a deeper look at how the combination of electronic signals, road signs, and road markings protects an intersection from accidents.

How Cities Manage Traffic Lights

Local governments manage traffic lights and road signs. The City of San Diego, for example, oversees more than 1,500 intersections that contain electronic signals. Whenever someone reports a problem with a light, they are able to respond within an hour since they employ round the clock technicians. One of the key strategies in which officials control costs is to conduct quarterly preventative maintenance.

Different cities have different ways to decide where to install traffic signals. In some cases the accident rate may determine whether electronic lights need to be installed. Sometimes traffic lights are programmed to correspond with traffic flow. Streets that facilitate a lot of rush hour traffic can be programmed to have longer green lights than on smaller streets.

Philadelphia has about 3,000 traffic signals, in which about a third are run by computer. The two-thirds that run on electromechanical energy are affected by weather and slow down in the winter due to cold temperature. Heater bulbs are installed inside the lights to help resist the cold. The city also has a maintenance crew that works round the cloud to repair lights when needed.

Why LED Lights Took Over

In the past few decades many cities have shifted to LED traffic signals due to durability and cost efficiency, as well as sustainability. A city can save close to a million dollars in energy costs by using LED over traditional traffic lights. Chicago was able to reduce its energy use by 85%, saving over $2.5 million annually, while significantly reducing its carbon footprint.

For communities consciously trying to make a difference in environmental impact, LED is much more eco-friendly than incandescent bulbs. LEDs last many more years and don’t require as much maintenance. On top of that, LEDs are brighter, despite using less power, making them the better choice for foggy or rainy conditions.

Traffic Coordination

In the United States traffic signs are standardized by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA). Traffic control systems are often coordinated with nearby systems and include options for pedestrians to push a button. While a synchronized system involves lights that change according to a timing pattern, a coordinated system is one that’s set up to have a certain effect, such as part of a series of green lights.

Modern intersections include cameras and sensors to determine traffic flow. Sometimes electronic signs are used to supersede street signs or the other way around in temporary situations. Many times traditional road signs can serve as a warning to slow down for stalled or busy traffic ahead that is regulated electronically. While non-electronic signs can communicate a broad message, electronic signs give more definitive instructions in real time.

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