Irvine light synchronization keeps you moving forward

Irvine motorists are seeing an 11-25% reduction in travel time after the recent synchronization of 98 traffic lights.

Ever since the world’s first electric traffic signal was installed in Cleveland 107 years ago, motorists have been wishing for more green lights.

Irvine keeps getting them.

The city recently resynchronized 98 traffic lights along Irvine Boulevard, Irvine Center Drive and Von Karman, upgrading Irvine’s 19 fully synchronized corridors.

“We’ve done studies on these corridors, and we’re seeing an 11% to 25% reduction in travel time,” says Jaimee Bourgeois, Irvine’s deputy director of transportation.

Irvine’s Master Plan created a unique, hierarchical street system (as opposed to a grid system) designed to keep traffic out of neighborhoods by using city-long corridors to connect residents to nearby jobs and amenities. By synchronizing more than 300 signals along these corridors, the city has eliminated nearly one-third of the stops a motorist would’ve encountered without synchronization.

Synchronization plan

Synchronization coordinates green lights over a series of intersections to maximize traffic flow.

Lights are synchronized for morning, midday and evening commutes. To work best, they may benefit one direction at morning peak and the other direction at evening peak.

Each light along the route is assigned the same cycle length, ranging from 110 to 200 seconds (reserved for peak conditions).

In the past, corridors that intersect the route might have different cycle lengths, which can cause delays. But Irvine recently completed a synchronization master plan to address that.

“We’ve come up with zones throughout the city where intersecting corridors will share a common signal length,” Bourgeois says. “That way, we can time the signals so that cars in both directions are more likely to get a green light.”

Traffic Management Center

The city manages all of its 378 signaled intersections from a Traffic Management Center, where a team of six full-time and two part-time staff monitor road conditions seven days a week, using a wall of TV monitors that resembles NASA’s Mission Control room.

“That’s what sets us apart from most other cities,” Bourgeois says.

Inside this control room, traffic engineers monitor work commutes, school zones, construction activities and special events and are able to adjust the timing of lights as traffic flow warrants.

The city is also testing a new “adaptive” traffic-light system that could fine-tune the timing of every light automatically in response to moment-by-moment traffic conditions.

“We’re continuing to move forward,” Bourgeois says.

Just like the cars in Irvine’s 19 synchronized corridors.