Florida and Beacon intersection

The city of Lakeland has designed its own program that uses advances in artificial intelligence to make traffic signals smarter by reacting to dumb decisions made by drivers who rocket into intersections trying to beat red lights. And now that program is about to expand from four intersections to 25.

The Florida Department of Transportation is investing $500,000 in the city’s plan to expand its Intersection Collision Avoidance Safety Program (iCASP) from four to “an additional 25 high-impact intersections” over the next year.

The Lakeland City Commission on Monday unanimously approved a 17-page cooperative funding agreement with FDOT to secure the $500,000 grant, which will cover nearly two-thirds of the $775,000 iCASP expansion project. The city is funding the remaining $275,000.

Lakeland’s Traffic Operations & Parking Services Division and Public Works Department, along with the Lakeland Police Department, have collaborated in developing iCASP since 2019.

Under the pilot iCASP, the city installed sensors in HAWK traffic signals at four intersections that can calculate approaching vehicle speeds and predict if a driver is going to get through an intersection before a signal change. 

If the sensor detects a vehicle speeding up when it should be slowing down as a traffic light signal is about to change, it alerts the traffic signal controller to essentially freeze the current lights in place, potentially avoiding collisions at busy intersections by red-light runners.

According to the Automobile Association of America, 28 percent of the nation’s traffic crash deaths occur at intersections as the result of drivers running through red lights. 

The city has been collecting data for more than three years on iCASP sensors at four intersections:

  • South Florida Avenue and Beacon Road
  • West Memorial Boulevard and Martin L. King Jr. Boulevard
  • East Memorial Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue
  • U.S. 98 and North Crystal Lake Drive

Among new tweaks the city wants to incorporate in its iCASP is “the exploration of a driver warning system that would use cell phone or in-vehicle technology to alert drivers of a red-light runner at one of these intersections,” Lakeland Traffic Operations Manager Jeffrey Weatherford said in an April 6 news release, noting FDOT is particularly interested in such a “driver warning system.”

“The state envisions the capability to send a text message or warning through navigation apps, but the technology is not readily available today,” Weatherford said. “This is an enhancement to the original program that has exciting possibilities.”

Weatherford told LkldNow that the city’s iCASP initiative was launched by former Lakeland Traffic Operations Manager Angelo Rao after he was nearly hit by a red-light-running beer truck.

The city was already engaged in a pedestrian safety study designed to make traffic signals more responsive to the realities pedestrians face when trying to traverse busy three- and four-lane intersections and it was Rao’s idea to install the sensors and program them to respond to predictive driver behaviors. 

Rao worked with “vendors, taking advantage of their products” mixing and matching to develop a system unique to the city. “All we are doing is installing a feature in software that gives us the ability to extend that all-red light at intersections if we choose,” Weatherford said.

Software now commonly wired into traffic camera systems have “the ability to write logic,” he said, meaning it can detect “illogic” that can be incorporated into “detection systems to try to predict whether a car will be able to stop. The logic function turns on to extend the red light. That is all we that are doing.”

Nevertheless, the city has touted its iCASP system by presenting a case study, including a presentation before the 2020 Transportation Research Board Workshop.

Weatherford said iCASP is “not marketable by the city,” noting “almost every agency in the U.S. has an all-red phase” in their traffic signal lights but few are applying the technologies and studying accumulated data the way Lakeland is. 

“Nobody else is doing it,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons why. One of the reasons why is it is difficult to prove that it works. You have to prove you prevented an accident that didn’t occur.”

The city’s iCASP, however, can document close calls, Weatherford said, noting on March 4, 45 eastbound vehicles ran the red light at Memorial Boulevard and MLK Avenue “and we didn’t have a single red-light running crash there.”

The city and FDOT will decide in coming months which 25 intersections will get iCASP installations. The program no longer requires intersections have traffic cameras but since red-light camera intersections “have an established benchmark” and are the busiest, they are the most likely recipients, he said. 

Intersections on South Florida Avenue, Edgewood Drive and Cleveland Heights Boulevard are likely candidates, Weatherford said.

Once the initial implementation is compete and data collected, he estimated it “probably costs us maybe $1 million” to expand the system to all 176 intersections in the city.

The standard insurance rating for the value of a human life is $1.4 million, Weatherford said. “At some point, if we can prevent one fatality accident, even if we can’t prove it,” that $1 million would be a worthy investment.

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