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Seattle traffic along 2nd Avenue. (Photo via Oran Viri)
Seattle traffic along 2nd Avenue. (Photo via Oran Viri)

Seattle’s traffic system is buckling under the weight of so many newcomers.

Many of the traffic signals were built before Seattle’s tech-driven boom attracted record numbers of transplants to the region and several downtown lights don’t even use car-detecting technology. The city’s geographic limitations make constructing new streets difficult and Mayor Ed Murray has said that “making roads function more efficiently is the best way to reduce congestion.”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray speaks with UW Ana Mari Cauce and Microsoft President Brad Smith at UW transportation event.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray speaks with UW Ana Mari Cauce and Microsoft President Brad Smith at a University of Washington transportation event earlier this year.

As part of that commitment, Seattle has partnered with German technology firm Siemens, to improve the city’s traffic light system.

Beginning in July, Seattle streets will begin using Concert, a system that times traffic lights based on external data. Concert can interpret information from the Washington State Department of Transportation that signals high traffic volumes at the end of a sporting event and use longer green lights to help traffic flow, for example.

The City of Seattle bought the software from Siemens for $651,000, according to The Seattle TimesThe deal is part of the city’s broader goal to alleviate Seattle’s transportation woes, using the $13 million Move Seattle tax levy that voters approved last year.

“Seattle is committed to improving traffic operations in and around our downtown core through the use of advanced software and hardware, and we’re excited to work with Siemens as a technology partner to help advance this initiative”, said Scott Kubly, Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, in a press release. “Technologies like the Siemens Concert software will help us use intelligence to reduce congestion and, ultimately, improve the driving experience for our citizens and visitors.”

The Concert platform will integrate a number of key traffic control systems, including the city’s dynamic message sign system and data from the Washington Department of Transportation freeway system. It also will take into consideration weather, existing road conditions and special events like sporting events and concerts.

That means stoplights could be programmed to more efficiently move traffic northbound following a Sounders match or Mariners game. The goal is to get a real-time view of traffic, potentially programming traffic signals at each intersection to change dynamically, minute-by-minute.

“Our intelligent software platform will connect traditionally separate traffic systems in and around Seattle that will allow them better insight into their traffic flow, impact of accidents, and, ultimately, the ability to improve traffic and quality of life for their residents and visitors.” said Marcus Welz, president of Siemens Intelligent Traffic Systems.

Anyone who has driven around Seattle knows the pains of congestion, one of the reasons why Siemens has chosen the city as a “living lab” to implement intelligent traffic technologies.

“I think our transportation planners haven’t caught up yet,” Tom Alberg, Managing Director of Madrona Venture Group and told GeekWire last month at an event for the transportation non-profit Challenge Seattle. “There’s going to be a big transition period and I think we need to move quickly to figure out how to integrate these technologies because they are coming.”

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