Grosse Pointe Park pilot project aimed at improving pedestrian safety

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 10, 2020

 NextEnergy selected Grosse Pointe Park as a pilot location for SmartCone’s intelligent intersection technology, which will alert motorists to pedestrians in the area at intersections like this one at Nottingham Road and Kercheval Avenue.

NextEnergy selected Grosse Pointe Park as a pilot location for SmartCone’s intelligent intersection technology, which will alert motorists to pedestrians in the area at intersections like this one at Nottingham Road and Kercheval Avenue.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE PARK — Drivers may notice something new as they make their way around Grosse Pointe Park.

Detroit-based nonprofit NextEnergy selected the Park as a pilot location for Ontario-based SmartCone Technologies’ AutoGuardian. Modular platforms have been installed at the intersections of St. Paul Street and Somerset Avenue, and at Nottingham Road and Kercheval Avenue, which are near Pierce Middle School and Defer Elementary School.

City Manager Nick Sizeland said the platforms — which resemble light poles — can sense pedestrians and cyclists, and as soon as a person is within 6 feet of the platform, if traffic is also coming, the SmartCone system will deploy a rapidly flashing beacon to alert motorists to the presence of pedestrians in the area.

“As part of this pilot, the city has traffic data insights, including the speed of vehicles and the amount of people/activations utilizing these two crosswalks, while simultaneously using artificial intelligence to detect pedestrians entering a zone and automatically send a signal to set off rapid flashing beacons, bringing immediate attention and visibility to oncoming motorists that the crosswalk is in use,” Tenille Houston, the CEO of AutoGuardian by SmartCone, explained in a press release.

Sizeland said the platforms were installed in the fall and will be up for at least a year. The platforms were selected through a competitive NextEnergy intiative for innovators called “NextChallenge SmartCities.”

“So far, the response has been positive,” Sizeland said. “(NextEnergy) likes to see that the city is being innovative and creative in increasing school safety.”

Although other intersections were considered, Sizeland said these two were chosen for the pilot project because of their access to electricity and other factors.

He said he and Public Safety Director Stephen Poloni had been hoping to install platforms on Jefferson Avenue, especially because the forthcoming closure of Trombly Elementary School means that some children will need to cross this busy major road in the near future, but SmartCone officials wanted to test the equipment on a less heavily traveled thoroughfare first.

“NextChallenge SmartCities’ main goals are to build relationships between industry and city leaders, deploy promising solutions in real-world settings, and identify and create additional value from the deployment learnings,” NextEnergy President and CEO Jim Saber said in a press release. “Through the management of the competition and by leveraging our experience in developing and managing public/private partnerships, our goals for NextChallenge SmartCities are being met with SmartCone and the city of Grosse Pointe Park.”

Sizeland said he and Mayor Robert Denner were thrilled to learn about this pilot program and then be chosen for it.

“We want to find new and innovative ways to increase safety for our city,” Sizeland said. “We were really excited that we were selected.”

He said the data compiled by the SmartCone technology should be useful for public safety as well.

“Working with NextEnergy and forward-thinking cities like Grosse Pointe Park to put their citizens first and collaborate on new solutions to create safer roads for all is exciting and rewarding,” Houston said in a press release. “Our system not only provides a municipality with data collection to better understand mobility within their city, but also expands to create intelligent warning systems that are designed to give motorists, cyclists and pedestrians the time they need to act and be safe.”

At the end of the pilot program, Sizeland said, it will be up to the city to decide if it wants to continue using the new technology. At press time, the cost to do so wasn’t known, nor had city officials made a decision to retain the platforms. But Sizeland believes SmartCone’s AutoGuardian will make a difference for pedestrians as well as motorists.

“I can’t imagine it would not have an impact,” he said.