Traffic Lights by City Building

Fiber Optic Traffic Lights: The Wave of the Future?

Over the past 20 years, many municipalities and government agencies have converted their incandescent traffic signal heads to LED to save on energy and maintenance costs.

A recent article published in the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Journal discusses the feasibility of another type of traffic light technology that could further reduce energy usage, liability and maintenance costs compared to LED.

A study funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority identified fiber optic traffic light technology as a possible future alternative to LED traffic signal heads. In addition to further reducing or eliminating energy use by traffic signals, one of the primary advantages of fiber optic traffic signal heads is the ability to provide safer and more efficient signal maintenance.

Signal maintenance with fiber optic light technology is performed at the illuminator (light source) located on the side of the roadway, rather than requiring a bucket truck and lane closures for maintenance crews to repair individual LED signal heads in live traffic.

This technology is still in the early stages of research and development and has not been installed at an actual traffic signal intersection. However, it offers some promising benefits over LED technology and may be considered a viable alternative in the future with continued evaluation of energy and cost performance.


About the Author

John Bruggeman, P.E., PTOE, is a traffic project manager at raSmith’s Brookfield, Wis., office. While he has worked on a variety of traffic engineering projects, John’s most notable are his experience with traffic impact studies and traffic signal design.