There's a reason Halifax traffic is hell

Peninsula traffic signals are using 1990s data.

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There’s a reason traffic is hell in Halifax: The 91 signalized intersections on the peninsula are regulated by a traffic control system that is using traffic data from the 1990s. Much of the subsequent updating to the system, reflecting data collected over the past 20 years, has been completely lost.

Over those two decades, everything that affects traffic has changed. The numbers of cars has increased tremendously, as the population of HRM has increased by about 40,000. Every new store, office building or condo building changed where and at what time of day people were driving. Since the third lane on the Macdonald Bridge was added in 1999, the number of cars using the bridge has increased by over four million annually.

But most of the changes in traffic patterns and volumes have not been reflected in traffic controls. So far as the computers that control the traffic signals are concerned, everything is 1992.

At issue is something called the SCOOT Traffic Control System, which was installed in the 1990s. That system has a computer at each light, and a second computer that links all the lights together.

The problem is explained in a request for proposal issued by the city Tuesday. “Although the SCOOT system was able to adapt the traffic signal timing plans at each intersection using data inputs from its field equipment, the changes/ adaptations were not able to be saved/ stored in either the system or the local controllers,” reads the RFP. “As a result, when the field equipment and eventually the system itself failed, the traffic signal timing plans reverted to the original 1990’s plans. This is what is currently in effect at the majority of the in-scope intersections."

“That’s a little bit misleading,” says Taso Koutroulakis, the city’s manager of traffic and right-of-way services. “It should say ‘when it fails.’”

Koutroulakis says that the city has been anticipating the replacement of the SCOOT system since 2011, and that in any event, signals on some of the major corridors have been retimed to reflect today’s needs. He specifically mentions Hollis and Barrington Streets, Joseph Howe Drive and “I think Quinpool Road.” Although Koutroulakis could not name any other updated corridors, he says any remaining signals using 1990 data are “isolated.” The RFP, however flatly contradicts Koutroulakis: it says a *majority* of signals on the peninsula use 1990s data.

Koutroulakis says the faulty data used for the signalization does “absolutely not” affect pedestrian safety.

There are two RFPs out for the replacement of the SCOOT system: one for the equipment, and a second to collect traffic data to input into the equipment. Koutroulakis will not say what the expected costs of replacing the system are, as the RFPs are still open, but agrees it will be a multi-million dollar contract. The RFPs will be be awarded next month, and work is expected to take two years.

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