Firefighters and medics can now get to emergencies faster than ever in St. Albert thanks to a new traffic-signal system.
City crews are installing pre-emptive traffic control systems at eight intersections along St. Albert Trail and Boudreau Road this month. The controllers automatically switch traffic lights to green from red when they detect an approaching firetruck or ambulance to give them a clear path through an intersection.
The new systems are being installed at the Hebert, Sturgeon, McKenney, Boudreau, and Villeneuve intersections along St. Albert Trail and at Bellerose, Sturgeon, and Sir Winston Churchill along Boudreau Road, said city transportation manager Dean Schick. The Giroux and Dawson Rd. intersection will get a system later this year.
St. Albert fire chief Ray Richards said the city started with these intersections as they were heavily congested. The system may go into other intersections in the future.
While firetrucks can run red lights if needed, doing so is dangerous and could cause a collision, Richards said. As a result, they usually come to a complete stop at a red light, which is also dangerous, as they need to get to fires fast.
Richards said these new systems use GPS transponders to change traffic lights to green about 700 metres before a truck reaches the intersection, allowing fire crews to drive through at regular speed without the risk of a collision. The systems only works when the truck’s lights and sirens are on.
The city estimates that the systems could cut up to 30 seconds off every emergency response call.
“A half minute on a heart attack or a half minute on a fire make a tremendous difference,” Richards said.
It cost about $150,000 to upgrade these intersections and put transponders on the trucks and ambulances, Richards said.
Strathcona County fire chief Ian Bushell said his community has used a similar system based on optical sensors and strobe lights for about 10 years, and now has all its intersections equipped with it. The county is planning to switch to a GPS-based one soon.
“Driving with lights and sirens to a call is perhaps one of the most dangerous times we’re out in the community,” Bushell said, especially when residents have to get out of a truck’s way at a red light.
“Certainly nobody wants to get hit by a large firetruck.”
His crews have found that the system lets them drive trucks down busy, signal-heavy streets such as Baseline Road at top speed without having to stop-and-go, resulting in a quicker, more fuel-efficient drive.
“I think it’s a good safety factor for both the public and the staff.”
Drivers who see a firetruck approaching them should move over to the right lane if possible and stop their cars until the truck passes, Richards said. If they’re in the left-turn bay, they should stop there and give the truck a clear shot up the middle.
The new systems should be operational by the end of the year, Schick said.
Article written by Kevin Ma and Michelle Ferguson published in St. Albert Gazette.