As the 2014 mayoral campaign continues, the candidates are going to advance plenty of policy ideas. Some of those ideas are bound to be really weird, whether because they’re impractical, crazily expensive, or just new and unfamiliar. In this occasional feature, we’ll pick a few of those types of proposals and weigh the odds of them ever actually happening.
What It Is: If it worked as advertised, this idea would be a magic bullet—a way for some lucky mayor to dramatically reduce gridlock virtually overnight (and, naturally, take all the credit for doing so).
There are other technologies that can supposedly make traffic lights smarter, but the one that keeps getting mentioned by Toronto mayoral candidates is called MARLIN-ATSC. The reason this particular system has become such a hot topic locally is that it’s being developed at the University of Toronto, by a team of researchers led by professer Baher Abdulhai and an engineering post-doc named Samah El-Tantawy.
The details are very technical, but the layperson’s explanation goes like this: MARLIN-ATSC uses sensors and computer processors to link traffic lights at different intersections, allowing them to “think” as one. Rather than operating on timers or reacting to pre-programmed instructions, MARLIN-enabled lights adjust the length of reds and greens in response to real-time data about traffic flows. The system can even make itself smarter, by fine-tuning itself automatically over time. In theory, the amount of human intervention needed to optimize Tornoto’s intersections would be minimal. The researchers claim their system can reduce intersection delays by 40 per cent.
Who’s Proposing It: Karen Stintz made the biggest splash with her proposal, but the system has also been name-dropped by David Soknacki, and John Tory met with researchers for a demonstration. Olivia Chow has promised to speed the implementation of “smart traffic lights,” but hasn’t mentioned MARLIN by name.