University District Transportation Technology & Safety Improvements

Updated February 10, 2022

What’s happening now?

There is an ongoing general strike of concrete drivers and concrete plant workers in the Seattle area that involves companies that supply us with concrete for our many active construction projects.

This is a challenge and SDOT supports a fair resolution among the parties. In the near term, we're continuing other project work at the site and behind the scenes and will be sure to share more about the strike outcome and any impacts to this project as information becomes available. SDOT remains hopeful that this issue will be resolved soon.

Construction for this project began in September 2021 and we are currently doing electrical work to prepare the traffic signals for upgrades and installing new cameras at select locations.  The work of installing new curb ramps and doing sidewalk repair around new signal poles will take place once the strike has lifted and concrete supply becomes readily available .  

Program Description

We are upgrading traffic signals in the University District with new signal controllers, cabinets, detection, infrastructure to support transit signal priority, and improving curb ramps and accessible pedestrian signals. We are also installing closed-circuit television cameras for traffic monitoring (in compliance with City of Seattle Surveillance Ordinance) and communications network to support remote traffic signal management. 

These innovations are part of The University of Washington area Multimodal Integrated Corridor Mobility for All program. The program will upgrades traffic signals to enhance travel for people of all abilities who walk, roll, bike, take transit, and drive in this area that experiences some of the city's heaviest traffic volumes.  

The project area, which includes the university, medical center, light rail stations, stadiums, restaurants, and businesses, has high volumes of people walking, rolling, or biking and higher than average pedestrian and bike crash occurrences. Game days at Husky Stadium can draw 70,000+ people to the area, and regular openings of the Montlake Bridge cause traffic disruptions.

Currently, this area has the some of the oldest traffic signal equipment in the city with no remote communications capabilities. This means that people working in our traffic control center are not able to make real time adjustments to these traffic signals. Also, these signals are not equipped to support any advanced operations to meet the area's needs.

Program Components

We're upgrading traffic signals to meet our current Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) standards so that we can remotely operate the signals, and we're piloting seven innovative technologies to support people of all abilities using any mode they choose to get around the UW area.

Updates to Base Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) 

This is the first phase of the U District Transportation Technology & Safety project and will lay the foundation for further enhancements to support multi-modal operations. As soon as late summer/early fall 2021, we will upgrade 40 outdated traffic signals in the area by adding our Base ITS components, including:  

  • Replace of outdated traffic signal controllers and cabinets 
  • Add detection for vehicles, bicycles (on designated corridors), and pedestrians at up to 40 intersections 
  • Enhance previously installed Transit Signal Priority, a system that prioritizes moving buses through a corridor, for exclusive transit phases, queue jumps, and early green operations 
  • Add closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras for operations management and incident monitoring and detection 
  • Add bridge opening detection for the Montlake Bridge 

MICMA Project Components including BASE ITS, Bike Detection, vehicle detection, ICM, Pedestrian surge management, green wave, ATSMs, and MAAS

In addition to these Base ITS upgrades, we will add components that will support seven new innovative technologies that will be piloted by 2024. 

We chose the UW area to pilot these innovations due to the unique traffic characteristics, roadway network, traffic disruptions from bridge openings and adjacent land uses such as the University, Football Stadium, Light Rail Stations, Emergency Rooms, Healthcare centers, etc. These pose unique challenges to pedestrians of all abilities, bicyclists and transit and emergency vehicles navigating this area.  The innovations piloted as part of this project are scalable across the City, and have the potential to help other underserved areas in the City with minimal cost of implementation and rapid deployment.

New Pilot Technologies:

1 - New App-Based Cyclist Detection allows traffic signals to respond, in real-time, to people riding bikes and cycles.

Currently, most intersections in the area do not provide cyclist-specific detection. This innovation, a new App-Based Cyclist Detection, when loaded and active on a cell phone, will communicate with the traffic signal controller to detect cyclists as they approach a signalized intersection, and the signal will respond to that detection. If successful, this new App will help the City roll out cyclist detection across many more signalized intersections without the need for costly infrastructure, while aiming to improve travel times and reduce delays for cyclists.

2 - Vehicle Detection and Adaptive Control to implement real-time remote changes to signal timings.

Upgrading the traffic signal infrastructure will enable us to implement adaptive signal control, which changes signal timing in real-time based on the actual traffic conditions. The system will be designed to ensure that people walking or rolling, taking transit, and riding bicycles are balanced with vehicle traffic demands. The goal of adaptive control is to minimize delay to all people traveling in the area, and to support reductions in vehicle emissions due to congestion.

3 - Integrated Corridor Management with Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to inform those traveling in the U District of freeway incidents, so they may choose alternate routes.  

The UW area is bounded by the I-5 and SR 520 freeways which are managed by WSDOT.  Incidents on either corridor often trigger massive shifts in traffic demand through the UW area.  This innovation aims to implement a suite of services that include freeway incident detection integrated with signal timing changes, real-time alternative route travel time calculation, and disseminating this information through strategically placed dynamic message signs and on our traveler information website. This approach aims to inform those traveling in the U District of freeway incidents, so they may choose alternate routes.

4- Pedestrian-Surge Management System to automatically adjust signals when there are large crowds of people walking and rolling.

Surges of people walking and rolling are common in the U-District whether due to class changes, light rail operations, shift changes, or after events at the stadiums in the area. Sometimes, the pedestrian flow is so large that crossing the street at traffic signals cannot be accomplished in a single signal cycle. This innovation aims to automatically detect and count people approaching crosswalks at intersections, without the need to push any buttons, and provide longer crossing times. This will help reduce delay for people walking and rolling and conflicts between people driving and walking or rolling.

5 - Green Wave technology to give emergency vehicles green light priority and get them to their destination faster.

The major streets in the U District are often congested, which can increase fire department's response times to incidents and to emergency rooms in the area (UW Hospital and Children's Hospital). This innovation proposes to detect congestion in the path of approaching emergency vehicles, and change traffic signal indications to clear that congestion, while providing a green light to the approaching fire department vehicle.  The system will rely on center-to-center communications between the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) Computer Aided Dispatch/Automated Vehicle Location system and our central ITS software suite, and advanced logic to provide the Green Wave response. The goal is to reduce SFD response times.

6 - Automated Signal Performance Measures to help traffic engineers monitor effectiveness of signal systems.

Traffic engineers must perform special studies and modelling to determine the performance of a signal system to verify the effectiveness of the adjustments that are implemented.  This innovation will provide a variety of performance measures in real-time to signal timing engineers aimed at improving multimodal mobility. This will help engineers better manage the signal system by automating the identification of signal malfunctions or sub-optimal operations.

7 - Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) Data Enhancements

Our MaaS program aims to improve mobility choices and reduce people's dependence on drive alone trips. MaaS relies on a data set that integrates information from all modes. We already have a foundation of MaaS data, including real-time congestion data and software that is used by several private sector mobility service providers.  This project will add a new data set to this foundation to enhance mobility information directed at persons with disabilities (e.g. accessible walking paths, accessible taxi services), and other key data sets. Furthermore, all the data ingested into MaaS will be provided in an open data format that can be used by private providers to build mobility solutions. 

A note on data security

We are planning several multimodal safety and mobility innovations as part of the University District Transportation Technology & Safety project. Some of these components involve collecting anonymized user data in various applications.  However, none of the user data will be stored in any identifiable format.  SDOT takes data security and privacy very seriously and any data collection project must go through a Privacy Assessment review for approval.   

Program Map

 Map showing location of traffic signals in the U District that will be updated during this project.


This projected is made possible by the voter-approved Levy to Move Seattle, funds from the Federal Highway Administration, fund-matching support from the Washington State Department of Transportation, and private-sector companies, IDAX Data Solutions, Sensys Networks, and Siemens ITS.


The design on the first component of the project, Base ITS improvements, has been completed and is anticipated to begin construction early fall 2021, with completion slated for early 2022. Thereafter, several new innovative technologies will be rolled out in late 2021/2022 and evaluated in 2023.  



Greg Spotts, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 3800, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34996, Seattle, WA, 98124-4996
Phone: (206) 684-7623

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The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is on a mission to deliver a transportation system that provides safe and affordable access to places and opportunities for everyone as we work to achieve our vision of Seattle as a thriving, equitable community powered by dependable transportation.