Edmonton's smart – and practical – approach to traffic signal upgrades

Edmonton is like many other cities. Its population is growing and it's facing expensive infrastructure upgrades. One of the city's needed upgrades is traffic signals — at about 400 intersections. Knowing the upgrades are necessary, the city is taking the long view and planning to install adaptive traffic signals that can manage today's traffic flow while collecting data to help it plan for the future. — Doug Peeples


Basic upgrades had been planned for the intersections at a cost per signal of about $200,000 apiece. However, the city expects to go ahead with adaptive traffic signals instead, for a variety of reasons.

And that is good news for City Councillor Andrew Knack. As he said in an article in CBC News, "We know there's a need now. We know there are intersections across the city and more importantly corridors across the city where this technology would start benefitting us right away."

Unlike traditional signals that are programmed to operate depending on the time of day, adaptive signals are far more flexible and responsive.

As Knack explained, the adaptive signals count vehicles moving through an intersection and on to the next one and adjust their operations based on traffic flow rather than a programmed schedule. He added that the traffic volume data the signals collect would also help the city improve its planning for the future. In addition, that data could prove useful for the city's involvement in a program focused on setting standards for connected vehicle technology.

The specific cost of including adaptive signal technology hasn't been determined, but it is expected to be included in the city's four-year budget scheduled for approval in September.

It should also be noted that improved traffic flow will do far more than reduce travel times. It should also contribute to reductions in traffic accidents and injuries. According to the city's latest motor vehicle collision and injury report, total collisions increased by 3.3% between 2016 and 2017 and fatal collisions rose by almost 24%.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.