Whether you’re sitting next to Shadyside Hospital for 30 minutes during rush hour or waiting patiently at 1 a.m. to make a right turn in deference to a “No Turn on Red” sign, Centre Avenue has long been one of Pittsburgh’s great traffic nightmares. But with a new system of smart traffic lights, congestion in this corridor could be a thing of the past.

High-tech, smart traffic lights developed through Carnegie Mellon University’s Traffic21 research initiative are primed to change the East End’s entire traffic landscape. Instead of collecting their information through mounted cameras, the new lights use radar to detect and analyze traffic patterns, communicate with each other and adapt to maximize movement during any situation or time of day. The lights are state-of-the-art and as of right now, unique to Pittsburgh.

Over the course of the next year, the new signals will line Centre Avenue and Baum Boulevard from North Oakland all the way through Friendship, Shadyside, Larimer, Bloomfield and East Liberty to Point Breeze.

“It’s as if your traffic signals could see and talk to each other,” says District 8 City Councilman Dan Gilman, who’s eager to alleviate congestion on his district’s main thoroughfares. “It’s been dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians, and slow and dangerous for drivers.”

Gilman adds that in addition to helping traffic flow, the lights will reduce vehicle idling and produce a natural 20 percent cut in emissions in the corridor. The city is also working with BikePGH to make sure that cyclists have increased accessibility on these roads.

And because the signals are able to collect and analyze traffic data, they’re capable of conducting their own traffic studies. Eighteen of the new lights are already installed on Penn Aveune in East Liberty this year, and their deployment has coincided with a 42 percent drop in driver waiting time and a 24 percent decrease in overall travel time.

“I think you’ll see the change pretty immediately,” Gilman says.

Matthew Wein

Matthew Wein is a local writer, editor, blogger, storyteller and proud native Pittsburgher. Once described as "a man of things," he covers city design, spirits and craft beer for NEXT, where he keeps all...