Traffic safety
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Landscaping and thinking stoplights help
pave the way to safety

By Mike Payne

Can median landscaping influence safe driving? Should traffic lights be able to think? Is there a better way for our roadways to intersect? The pioneers of the new science of road design are asking these exact questions, and the answers may surprise you. With a bit of creativity, technology and testing, city planners and road designers are working together to tackle a common frustration: road traffic. Like the 2015 Tahoe’s available driver-assist technologies (Front Park Assist, Lane Change Alert and Side Blind Zone Alert)—as well as its vibrating seats, which can alert you to an approaching hazard—urban planners are doing their part to help improve the safety of the road ahead.

Landscaping and Road Safety
Traditionally, many urban planners have argued that finely landscaped roadways can distract drivers and present dangerous hazards in the event of a collision. A new study in the Journal of Landscape Science has discovered the opposite, showing that aesthetic landscaping can actually improve road safety. Researchers examined 61 roadways in Texas throughout the landscape improvement process against a control group of non-landscaped roads. The study showed a significant decrease in collision rate after landscape improvements were added. This suggests that aesthetic roadside landscaping doesn’t only improve the appeal of a city, but it also improves the safety of its roadways.

Traffic Lights with Artificial Intelligence
An engineering graduate at the University of Toronto asked herself a complicated question: If traffic lights could see, think and communicate with one another, could they improve the flow of traffic? Samah El-Tantawy sought an answer by using game theory and artificial intelligence systems to design a network of communicating traffic lights that could “think.” Her traffic light concept studies traffic patterns, communicates with nearby traffic lights and coordinates its stop-and-go signals to improve the flow of traffic. The results were astounding. A test at 60 intersections in downtown Toronto yielded a 40% reduction in traffic delays and a 26% reduction in overall travel times.

Is There a Better Way to Intersect?
The cloverleaf freeway intersection is commonly used throughout the world to connect controlled-access highways to local traffic routes. A new design promises a faster, safer alternative that is quickly winning over the minds of urban planners. Enter the “diverging diamond,” a system that shifts the flow of traffic to the opposite side of a roadway when crossing the intersecting street (see a diagram). This means that left-turning vehicles do not need to clear traffic to complete their turn, and fewer traffic signals are needed to interrupt the flow of traffic. Does this sound complicated? Suffice it to say that Popular Science magazine called the diverging diamond one of the “best innovations of 2009.”

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Mike Payne is founder and publisher of, the web’s finely curated encyclopedia of cool. Mike’s interest in design, technology and the study of trends is part of his nature, having grown up in a family of automotive designers and visual artists in Detroit. When he’s not managing TheCoolist, Mike moonlights as a commercial photographer, photographing architecture and food for hotels, restaurants, architects and corporate clients.


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