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London Uses Smart Crosswalks To Make Streets Safer For Pedestrians (And Drivers)

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Pedestrian crossing sign

Pedestrian crossing sign

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Most cities have an extensive network of sensors embedded in their streets -- usually at intersections. They're designed to regulate traffic lights: when sensors detect that traffic in a turning lane is particularly heavy, for example, the light will stay green longer. 

We've all seen this process in action for cars, but according to Mashable, the city of London is testing a similar system for pedestrian crosswalks. If it works, it will reduce congestion along sidewalks and at intersections, making the city safer for pedestrians and drivers alike.

The system in question is a pedestrian-oriented version of SCOOT, which is billed as "the world's leading adaptive traffic control system". SCOOT has historically dealt with managing automotive flow, but a new version focuses on pedestrians. Transport of London says that this application "uses state-of-the-art video camera technology to automatically detect how many pedestrians are waiting at crossings." Where demand is high, green light cycles can be extended to allow pedestrians more time to cross.

Ultimately, this should improve street safety  -- not only by giving pedestrians ample time to get across busy streets, but also by reducing the need to jaywalk, which can lead to accidents. With a bit of luck, it will also help London meet several goals that make up its "Safe London Streets" initiative, including:

  1. To lead the way in achieving a 40 per cent reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured on the capital's roads by 2020 - with a longer term ambition of freeing London's roads from death and serious injury
  2. To prioritise safety of the most vulnerable groups - pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists - which make up 80 per cent of serious and fatal collisions

We should point out that it's not terribly surprising that this system is being tested in the U.K. Apart from the fact that London is a major hub for tourists, boasting huge volumes of pedestrian traffic, the country also operates a sprawling network of CCTV cameras. We're not told if SCOOT can piggyback on those cameras or if it will require new ones, but either way, there's unlikely to be much hue and cry about the loss of privacy.

A pilot version of the pedestrian SCOOT system debuts in London this summer. If successful, it will roll out to other parts of the U.K., as well as other cities with high pedestrian traffic. SCOOT already provides auto-centered versions of its technology to cities across Europe, Asia, South America, and North America, including Beijing, Sao Paulo, and Toronto.

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