How Google is using AI to help one U.S. city reduce traffic and emissions

Getting stuck in traffic and hitting several red lights in a row isn’t just frustrating and bad for stress levels, it’s also bad for the environment. But one U.S. city is getting help from a tech giant and artificial intelligence to solve this problem.

Google’s Juliet Rothenberg is on a mission to make traffic lights more efficient and less annoying.

“Shift a few seconds from here to there and that shift can have a big impact,” she told CBS News.

Google’s new Project Green Light system uses the company’s vast maps database and AI to optimize traffic lights around the world. The system suggests changes and city engineers then decide if they want to implement them.

“We had one case where we moved four seconds from a north-south street to an east-west street for a particular time of day, so then that can help reduce some of that stop-and-go traffic,” Laura Wojcicki, an engineer at Seattle’s Department of Transportation, told CBS News.

She said a suggestion from Google’s system can be implemented in about five minutes.

Seattle is the first city in the U.S. to try Project Green Light, but the program is being tested out at 70 intersections in 13 cities around the world, impacting 30 million car trips per month. Google claims the project could reduce stop-and-go traffic by up to 30%.

“It means a lot for drivers and it also means a lot for emissions,” Wojcicki said.

Half of vehicle emissions at intersections come from cars accelerating after stopping, she said. Google believes it can reduce those emissions by 10% — a welcome reduction considering transportation is the number one source of planet-warming pollution in the U.S.

“Intersections are a really good leverage point for tackling climate,” Wojcicki said.

Google provides the service for free and plans to expand to thousands of cities, creating what it calls a green wave for drivers.

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