Contractors have been installing new video detection systems for traffic signals along Milledge Avenue this month. I saw a lot of this equipment being installed along South Milledge over a week ago. Video detection has replaced a lot of the loop detectors (metal detectors) used in pavement over the past few years for Athens' traffic lights.
I am not sure about all the capabilities of this new system, but I suspect it monitors traffic flow to some extent in addition to the mere presence of stopped vehicles waiting to enter an intersection. For example, when southbound traffic on Milledge backs up all the way to Broad Street, westbound cars on Broad waiting to turn left on Milledge are not given a green arrow. Does anyone have more details on how this system works?
Unfortunately, the new video system sometimes fails to detect the presence of waiting vehicles. I speculate that it may have something to do with the lighting at particular times of the day. I hope that these problems can be addressed. However, the traffic signals we have now are an overall improvement over what we used to have. I remember sitting at Broad and Milledge 20 years ago waiting for the traffic light to go through the entire cycle of turn arrows and all that nonsense when there was no traffic waiting in the turn lanes.
The new equipment is part of a system called Gridsmart, and the installation for Milledge Avenue from Hill Street all the way to the Perimeter was funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation. You can learn about projects like these from the monthly Manager's Snapshot publication available on the Athens-Clarke County website.