A smart traffic light system which prioritises cyclists over motorists is set to undergo trials at junctions in London and three other British cities.
The artificial intelligence (AI) technology will be tested in Wolverhampton, Coventry and Southampton this month, with the aim to reduce the likelihood of accidents on busy roads.
The trials, which were delayed amid the Covid-19 pandemic, will later reach south London, with developer Now Wireless explaining the firm has already been asked to supply a ‘key component’ ahead of a roll out in the capital.
As cyclists approach the AI-powered system, video cameras mounted on traffic lights detect riders and force opposing signals to turn red, the Times reported.
Lights then change to give the cyclist’s street priority at junctions, with any directional lights which could endanger road users also stopped from turning right.
The technology can also be adapted for cycle-only signals, which give bikes priority over all other vehicles travelling in the same direction.
A new traffic light system which prioritises cyclists over motorists before they even arrive at a junction is set to undergo trials in three British cities
The trials, which were delayed amid the Covid-19 pandemic, will later reach south London. Pictured: Cycle lanes in Liverpool
Smart traffic lights use artificial intelligence and cameras to prioritise cyclists
The innovative system works in four stages to prioritise the movement of cyclists at junctions.
1. Cyclists are detected by video cameras as they approach the AI-powered system.
2. Opposing lights turn red to traffic.
3. Lights then change to give the cyclist’s street priority at junctions.
4. Any directional traffic which could endanger road users is also stopped.
The innovative system, which costs less than £700 to install on each light, is a step up from existing traffic sensors – which struggle to acknowledge the presence of cyclists at all.
However, news of the trial has been met with scepticism by some who insisted cyclists rush ‘straight through red lights anyway.’
One social media user added: ‘I don’t think this will make any difference.’
‘Cyclists have never been ‘able’ to ignore red lights… it’s just some of them (not all) choose to,’ said another.
Brian Jackson, CEO of Now Wireless, explained the system ‘deals with the reality that cyclists sometimes run through a red light,’ adding: ‘It does so by simply making sure it is always green for them.’
‘The system will allow councils to send a message, where appropriate, that cycling is being encouraged by giving riders priority,’ he said.
‘Our system can be calibrated to prioritise even a single cyclist approaching a junction.’
Around 35 per cent of cyclists have admitted to at least ‘occasionally’ ignoring a red light, a recent YouGov survey found. Another study suggested the red light jumping figure is as high as 57 per cent.
The innovative system, which costs less than £700 to install on each light, is a step up from existing traffic sensors – which struggle to acknowledge the presence of cyclists at all. Pictured: Stock image
How signal lights currently respond to approaching traffic
Making cyclists a priority is not possible currently with traffic light equipment, which responds to traffic volumes in three ways:
These are built into the road in advance of a junction, responding to tyre pressure.
Cyclists do not exert enough pressure to trigger the system.
This only responds to heat of engines, so cyclists are ‘invisible’.
This sensor only identifies presence of a vehicle there, not what type.
This has heightened fears for safety on the roads, particularly with four in ten people cycling or walking more between May and July than before the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March.
Around 94 per cent believe it is ‘likely that they would continue’ to travel by these means in the future, research by the Department for Transport found.
It comes as hundreds of pop-up cycle lanes were installed as part of the Government’s £2billion bid to turn England into nation of cyclists and walkers to reduce spread of Covid-19 on public transport.
Boris Johnson has insisted the coronavirus pandemic could signal a ‘golden age’ for cycling, with plans to prioritise cyclists over motorists unveiled by the Prime Minister in May.
In London, Sadiq Khan introduced the ‘Streetspace’ scheme, which is designed to encourage people to walk or cycle to work and school as an alternative to buses and trains.
Cars have been banned from roads around popular parks including St James’s Park, Green Park and Hyde Park in a trial to create ‘car-free’ spaces which will last six months.
The London mayor has faced harsh criticism for cutting off parts of the capital and widening pavements to create more space for cyclists and pedestrians in the wake of Covid-19 lockdown.
The aim is to encourage more people to walk or cycle to work, but many motorists and bus users fear London could now grind to a halt as the return to work continues.
Roads around the capital have become jammed with particular hotspots found in South London around the Tooting, Stockwell, Balham and Clapham areas.
Motorists have slammed Mr Khan for ‘sabotaging’ London’s roads with the overhaul, with others sharing images of traffic jams and claiming their commutes have been more than doubled by the move.
One Twitter user said: ‘My bet is Sadiq Khan’s sabotage of London’s roads to make way for majority unused cycle lanes will cost the city more lives than Covid-19.’
John O’Connor tweeted a picture of a traffic jam, saying: ‘My now two-hour drive every day which usually takes about 50 minutes to an hour home from work now.
‘Because when I get to Stockwell every day it takes up to 45 minutes to get to the other side of Clapham, then Balham to Tooting Broadway another 30 minutes.’
Opposition is also growing in Brighton, Essex and Cheshire where one-way systems, widened pavements and road closures have been imposed to ease social distancing.
Residents and traders are growing increasingly frustrated with the controversial measures, which they claim are causing long tailbacks and decimating footfall.
Critics say the measures have little impact on Covid-19 transmission and are being used by councils to drive through ‘anti-car’ policies and extend cycle lanes.
Previously, Now Wireless revealed its innovative smart traffic lights would help to combat rising levels of air pollution on Britain’s roads.
The AI-powered system can manipulate red and green lights to restrict traffic heading into air pollution hotspots, after gathering data on pollutant concentrations from historical records and sensors on the ground.
An algorithm then combines this with traffic patterns to predict locations likely to see a spike in air pollution within the next hour.
Drivers heading towards these locations will then be faced with red lights lasting up to 20 seconds longer than usual, to slow traffic influx to the affected area.
Data from inside cars feeds into the system, with Bluetooth signals sent via phones and cars being picked up by sensors at traffic lights.
This helps the computer system curate a forecast of specific locales due for an influx of vehicles.
People driving out of these areas will be shown prolonged green lights to help speed up the flow of traffic from areas that are heavily polluted.
Mr Jackson told MailOnline in May: ‘We have worked on this for five years and it is a UK based R&D.
‘Pollution is a dangerous problem for communities and being able to predict pollution an hour ahead allows time for traffic mangers to change the traffic flows to mitigate, if not remove it, and not create build ups elsewhere, but even it out.’
The system can then be adjusted in real-time as the patterns change, constantly manipulating traffic and reducing fumes spewed into the atmosphere by idling cars.