How NYC traffic camera operation focuses on safety

Fox 5 News got an exclusive look inside New York City's Department of Transportation Traffic Management Center in Long Island City, Queens. The staff's job goes beyond keeping things moving. They're playing an increasing role in driver and pedestrian safety.

DOT staff monitor cameras 24/7 at about 600 locations and can adjust signal timing with the click of a key. You might have noticed a change at some intersections. The white sign for pedestrians signals "walk" while the red light for vehicles remains "stop" instead of the usual white-walk, green-go combo. Safety is the reason crews have put it into their traffic signal phasing, DOT Deputy Commissioner Joshua Benson said.

"The walk signal comes on before the green for vehicles, and about 7 to 10 seconds beforehand is typical," Benson said. "The reason being is it gives pedestrians a head start" over cars making turns into the intersection.

Benson said the time lags are actually called LPIs, short for leading pedestrian intervals. The concept has been around since 1976 but with the implementation of Vision Zero in 2014, the number of LPIs has swelled to more than 2,000 citywide. And the city is ramping out a rollout of even more.

"We are committed to adding them because they've been proven to enhance safety," Benson said. "We've studied 100 intersections where leading pedestrian intervals were installed and saw about a 37 percent decrease in pedestrians killed and seriously injured at those intersections."

Real-time video feeds enable DOT staffers to adapt traffic lights to changing circumstances based on heavy volume, accidents, and construction delays. From here, staff members manage the LPIs and synchronize the signals.

"Most arteries in the city have five different timing plans on them where there'll be an A.M. pattern, a midday, an afternoon pattern, an early evening, and overnight pattern," Assistant Commissioner John Tipaldo said. "These patterns were developed based on studies conducted by our agency."

So what's next? The DOT is currently participating in a pilot program for connected vehicles that would provide two-way communication between drivers and traffic signals.