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2010 Science News of the Year: Numbers

1:55pm, December 17, 2010

The Tao of traffic lights
When a traffic light goes green can seem to hinge on whimsy rather than the number of vehicles waiting. Scientists propose speeding up traffic by making signals go with the flow (SN: 10/23/10, p. 8). Inspired by the movement of crowds through narrow spaces such as doorways, Swiss and German researchers tried a responsive, flexible approach, rather than a top-down, centralized system. Their strategy puts two sensors at each intersection: One measures incoming flow and one measures outgoing flow. Lights are coordinated with every neighboring light, giving signals at the next intersection just enough time to prepare for the incoming vehicles. A simulation of the approach that tackled the center of Dresden, Germany, reduced time in traffic by 56 percent for city trams and buses, 9 percent for cars and trucks and 36 percent for pedestrians crossing intersections. Similar approaches could help redu

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