Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) is asking the city to install technology that allows traffic lights to change to green when emergency vehicles approach to hasten responses to emergencies.
He says the so-called traffic preemption system is key to survival in his district, much of which is a half hour or more away from any hospital with a trauma center.
“This preemption technology will help save lives by reducing delays and increasing response time while keeping roads safe,” Goldfeder said. “Our families in Rockaway are severely lacking when it comes to emergency care and this inexpensive GPS technology can help first responders in an emergency make it to their destination quickly and safely. I strongly urge the Department of Transportation and FDNY to take action and install this new technology immediately to help our families.”
The GPS Traffic Signal Preemption System, already used in Nassau County, calculates the speed, direction, longitude and latitude of an emergency vehicle responding to a 911 call. As the vehicle approaches an intersection, the traffic lights are programmed to change with enough time to help the vehicle get through the intersection. As the vehicle enters the intersection’s radio range, it sends the updated speed and position of the emergency vehicle to a phase selector installed in the controller cabinet, which requests a green light though the normal controller functions. The system then recognizes the activated turn signal and relays the priority call forward to the next appropriate intersection.
Once the vehicle exits, the controllers return back to the normal flow of traffic. All the activity can be tracked remotely by traffic management personnel.
Though emergency vehicles can already legally run through red lights, Goldfeder said the system to allow responders to change the lights would make it safer and quicker.
“The problem is that every time they go through a light, they have to slow down, proceed cautiously,” he said.
With the lights changed, ambulances would no longer have to enter busy intersections against the light, risking accidents — the second leading cause of death of emergency workers.
Goldfeder said the system has led to huge reductions in response time in Nassau County and he would like to see it installed in Queens, especially in the routes leaving the Rockaways.
“I would love for the city to try it out,” he said. “Especially in the Rockaways.”
According to statistics supplied by Goldfeder’s office, the median time to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, the closest Level 1 Trauma Center to the Rockaways, is 48 minutes at rush hour and 26 minutes during non-rush hour compared to 22.5 minutes for other parts of Queens. The next-closest L1TC is New York Hospital Queens, which is 52 minutes and 29 minutes during rush hour and non-rush hour, respectively. Additionally, Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn and Elmhurst Hospital are anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour away at rush hour.
“The GPS tracking will greatly enhance our response time getting patients to hospitals. Reducing our travel time to the hospital, can in some instances, save a life,” stated Jonah Cohen, chief of the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department and Ambulance Corp. “Whenever you can save time getting to an injured person and then getting that person to a hospital — you greatly increase their chances of survival.”
The DOT did not respond to request for comment.