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Traffic Calming

Steal This Idea: In Québec, A New Traffic Light Only Turns Green for Safe Drivers

A street sign in French reads "30 km/h" next to a green traffic light; below that, a larger photo of a young girl wearing a backpack is next to a yellow speech bubble that says "ralentissez pour ma securite," or "slow down for my safety." A school bus and a green traffic light are visible behind the sign in the background.

A sign in Brossard, Quebec explains to drivers how the new traffic light in the background works: drive under 30 kilometers per hour (about 19 mph) and the light will turn green; go faster and the light will remain red. The text in the yellow speech bubble translates as “slow down for my safety.” Courtesy of Kalitec.

The Canadian city of Brossard, located right across the St. Lawrence River from Montréal, has installed a new traffic light in a school zone that only turns green for safe drivers.

The light's Québécois manufacturers call it the “feu de ralentissement éducatif” (educational traffic-calming light), or FRED.

The light is red by default, but turns green when an attached speed camera detects an approaching motor vehicle that's driving under the speed limit.

"Across Canada, near school zones, people are asking for concrete measures to control speeding. This (technology) has not been accepted yet by the government, and we’re going to do it as a test," Brossard's mayor, Doreen Assaad, told StreetsblogMASS.

Mayor Assaad added that though it's the first time it's being tried in Canada, similar signals have been in widespread use across Europe for years.

The FRED light in Brossard is being tried out for a 90-day trial period on Rue Stravinski, a two-lane street that runs through a suburban residential area.

Before the light was installed, Mayor Assaad said that Rue Stravinski had average vehicle speeds of 40 km/h (25 mph). But in the past week, average speeds have dropped to 29 km/h (18 mph).

Unlike Massachusetts, Quebec also has automated enforcement cameras that will issue fines when they detect drivers who exceed speed limits or ignore red lights.

"Fines might be effective, but it’s effective after-the-fact," says Mayor Assaad. "The beauty of FRED is we reward good behavior, and it’s immediate. It doesn’t record any private information, it just detects that the vehicle is coming and measures its speed. So it’s a carrot instead of a stick."

Mayor Assaad warned that the current FRED light can only be used in specific circumstances: it's not capable of controlling traffic at intersections, and it only works on smaller roadways, with one lane in each direction.

But anyone who's dealt with antisocial, dangerous drivers can probably imagine lots of possible applications for similar technology here.

Many traffic lights are already equipped with cameras, sensors, and wireless connections: imagine a citywide network of traffic signals that can detect a speeding driver, or someone parking illegally in a bus lane, to prioritize red lights for dangeous drivers across the entire city.

And while legislation to legalize "automated enforcement" cameras that would use cameras to issue civil fines for speeding and other traffic violations remains stalled in the State House, there's nothing preventing cities from reprogramming traffic signals to make bad drivers spend more time staring at red lights.

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