Austin’s new traffic signal tech could speed up fires, EMS response times

AUSTIN (KXAN) — New technology from the Austin Department of Transportation could help emergency vehicles respond to collisions and fires faster, reducing delays and extending response times.

For decades, the city has used traffic signal preemption at multiple locations across the city. The technology includes receivers mounted on traffic poles and transmitters on emergency vehicles such as ambulances or fire trucks, but aging and maintenance issues have made maintenance difficult.

When a crash is reported, the city can use a system of receivers and transmitters to adjust traffic signals so emergency vehicles can enter more quickly.

Now, the city is rolling out a new centralized communications system that can track the location of emergency vehicles in the event of a collision or fire, overlaying normal traffic signals to clear right-of-way for ambulances or fire engines. This state-of-the-art technology does not require physical hardware such as transmitters or receivers.

The system is now operating at about 100 locations in Austin, outside of the city’s network of about 1,000 traffic signals.

How does traffic signal preemption work?

The new centralized communications system was inspired by the bus signal prioritization program implemented for CapMetro’s rapid transit routes. The program connects CapMetro’s software system with the city’s signal system.

“As we all know, all of these emergency vehicles have their bulbs out, they are [automatic vehicle location] They know the system where the vehicle is,” said Brian Craig, managing engineer in ATD’s Arterial Management Division. “So we can do something very similar for them. “

This new software-based approach will reduce the burden of field-installing hardware and the maintenance that goes with it. Earlier this year, ATD began expanding its traffic signal priority system to connect with its emergency vehicle tracking, and the unit is currently in pilot testing.

The traffic signal system is divided into different zones. Once an emergency vehicle enters an area, system operators can geo-track the responding vehicle’s distance from a potential emergency, adjusting the signal so they get the green light and can safely navigate to a collision or fire.

“A vehicle traveling down Lamar might be on 12th Street, but it might actually be calling on 24th Street to make sure the signal has enough time to get Lamar on the fruit before the vehicle gets there,” Craig said. ridge.”

A national study conducted by the Federal Highway Administration found that a well-functioning emergency vehicle preemption system can reduce response times by 14% to 50%.

What is the timeline for more traffic signal preemptions to come online?

Since deploying the new technology last month, ATD is investigating potential adjustments to the system to see if areas need to be adjusted to better serve responsive vehicles.

“If the fire trucks are still giving the green light, there is no need to give them the green light. [to the crash site] While there was a queue,” Craig said. “In this case, we wanted to expand, expand the area so we could give the green light ahead of time to move vehicles before the fire trucks arrived. “

Craig said the ATD will collect data from its currently active areas over the next three months to track response times and ensure traffic signals pick up calls for emergency vehicles to enter the site. He estimates the system will be operational citywide within the next 15 months.

“If we could make a fire [truck] or EMS [ambulance] Help out at the crash site or at someone’s house, then I mean, I think it could change someone’s life,” he said.

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