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Does the Fast-Trac system really work in Novi, or are we waiting at red lights?
2/2/09

The Road Commission for Oakland County spends a lot of time and a lot of your money on Fast-Trac - a computerized traffic control system that was custom designed to move traffic in Oakland County.

Many have probably wondered if this much touted system does actually move traffic better than traffic lights that are timed randomly, or timed by other methods.

We wondered the same thing, and performed a detailed analysis, driving up and down three major routes in Novi multiple times. This allowed us to determine what percent of the time we cruised through an intersection on a green light.

Here is a summary of the results, which include traveling each road multiple times in both directions:

Haggerty from 8 Mile to Richardson: 54% green.

Novi Road from 9 Mile to 14 Mile: 65% green.

Twelve Mile from Haggerty to Donaldson Drive: 50% green.

Oddly, what should have been the smoothest and easiest leg - Twelve Mile Road - had the lowest score, and what we suspected would be the most difficult road, Novi Road, had the highest score.

What should we expect when it comes to cruising through traffic lights on a green signal?

If the traffic lights were completely random, we would expect to make it through about 50% of the lights on these routes. That's 40% green at the major intersections, and 60% at the other intersections (lights at the major intersections should be green more than those at the lesser intersections, but aren't 50% because of the double-reds and left turn signal times).

On each of these routes, about half the lights are at major intersections and half are not. If the lights at the major intersections were randomly timed, and if the other lights (nuisance lights) were simply synchronized to the nearest major intersections, we would expect to make it through 65% of the intersections on a green light (40% green at the major intersections, and 90% green at the others).

The county's average for the three major routes we tested in Novi is 56%. That's better than having the lights totally random (50%), but not as good as we'd expect if the nuisance lights were simply synchronized with randomly timed major intersection lights (65%).

The county has spent a lot of time and money on a camera and computer controlled traffic system which is touted to be one of the most advanced in the country. Sadly, it also seems that this much touted system is performing only 6% better than if the traffic lights were simply left to change at random, and not as good as a system based on common sense.

Does Fast-Trac really smooth traffic flow? The county has had studies done that say it does. Our real-world driving tests don't show the same results - we just aren't making it through intersections without having to stop about half the time, and this stop and start traffic is real cause of traffic congestion in the Novi area.


Methodology: We drove each route multiple times in light to medium traffic. We restarted a leg if conditions didn't allow us to travel smoothly between lights, always driving at or near the speed limit. A light was considered green if we didn't have to come to a stop, allowing for traffic.