Traffic Lights at Intersection

The System

In this tutorial example we will model traffic lights at an intersection. We will simplify the problem as follows:

  • There is only one intersection of “North-South” street and “East-West” street.
  • Vehicles do not make turns at the intersection. They continue in their original direction, if the traffic light is green.
  • The traffic light itself has two states: Red and Green.
  • The vehicles arrive at the intersection as poisson process. That is, the interval between two successive vehicles is exponentially distributed. The four directions are considered as Identical Independent Distributions (IID).

Simulation Objectives. The parameters to our simplified system are: (a) the time that the light remains green, and (b) the rate at which vehicles arrive. Given these two, we would like to know:

  • What is average duration that vehicles have to wait at the intersection?
  • What is the average number of vehicles that are waiting at the intersection?

Modeling with SIM.JS

We will model the traffic lights as Events. We will have two events, one for the North-South street and another for the East-West Street.

We will model the traffic as one Entity, that will generate requests to cross the intersection. This entity will generate four exponential IID requests (for the vehicles in four directions).

We are interested in measuring the time spent by the vehicles at the intersection. We can consider the number of vehicles waiting at intersection as Population Statistics and will use the Population class for recording statistics.

We begin by creating an instance of simulator:

var sim = new Sim();

Next we create two events to model the traffic lights and give them descriptive names:

var trafficLights = [new Sim.Event("North-South Light"),
                     new Sim.Event("East-West Light")];

To monitor the statistics, we create an object of Population class:

var stats = new Sim.Population("Waiting at Intersection");

Of course, we create a random number generator:

var random = new Random(SEED);

We will create two entities: one to control the traffic lights, another to generate the vehicle traffic. Lets look at traffic light controller first.

The traffic light controller periodically turns off lights in one direction and turns on the other. This process is repeated indefinitely at interval of GREEN_TIME seconds.

var LightController = {
    currentLight: 0,  // the light that is turned on currently
    start: function () {
        // Logging
        sim.log(trafficLights[this.currentLight].name + " OFF"
                        + ", " + trafficLights[1 - this.currentLight].name + " ON");

        // turn off the current light

        // turn on the other light.
        // Note the true parameter: the event must "sustain"
        trafficLights[1 - this.currentLight].fire(true);

        // update the currentLight variable
        this.currentLight = 1 - this.currentLight;

        // Repeat every GREEN_TIME interval

Quite a few things are happening here. Lets dissect the code now:

  • What we have defined above is an Entity Prototype object (think of this as equivalent to class in C++ or Java). Later on we will use the Sim.addEntity() function to create Entity objects. Of course, more than one objects can be created from the same Entity Prototype object (although in this example we create only one entity object).
  • When we call the Sim.addEntity() the simulator kernel adds other functions and attributes to the Entity prototype object. We call this new object as Extended Entity Prototype object. For example, this.setTimer() was added by the simulator. Refer to Extended Entity Prototype API for a complete list of extended functions and attributes. The simulator now creates a new object with the extended entity prototype object as the prototype.
  • The Entity prototype object must define a start function. This function is called by the simulator when the simulation starts.
  • Notice that the events are fired with true argument, which indicates that the events must remain in ‘fired state’ until explicitly cleared. The default behavior is that the events fire for an instant only and go back to passive state immediately.
  • The setTimer() function sets a timers for GREEN_TIME duration, and at expiry will call this.start() function. The setTimer function returns a Request object that can be used to modify the request. In this case we attach a callback function that must be called after the timer expires (via the done() function).
  • We have used sim.log() function to log the actions to help us debugging.

Moving on to the entity to generate traffic. Lets look at the code first:

var Traffic = {
    start: function () {
        this.generateTraffic("North", trafficLights[0]); // traffic for North -> South
        this.generateTraffic("South", trafficLights[0]); // traffic for South -> North
        this.generateTraffic("East", trafficLights[1]); // traffic for East -> West
        this.generateTraffic("West", trafficLights[1]); // traffic for West -> East
    generateTraffic: function (direction, light) {
        // Logging
        sim.log("Arrive for " + direction);

        // STATS: record that vehicle as entered the intersection

        // wait on the light.
        // The done() function will be called when the event fires
        // (i.e. the light turns green).
        this.waitEvent(light).done(function () {
            var arrivedAt = this.callbackData;

            // Logging
            sim.log("Leave for " + direction + " (arrived at " + arrivedAt.toFixed(6) + ")");

            // STATS: record that vehicle has left the intersection
            stats.leave(arrivedAt, this.time());

        // Repeat for the next car. Call this function again.
        var nextArrivalAt = random.exponential(1.0 / MEAN_ARRIVAL);
        this.setTimer(nextArrivalAt).done(this.generateTraffic, this, [direction, light]);

Lets follow this code:

  • As before, we create an Entity prototype object with a start() function.

  • We also notice that this.time(), this.setTimer() and this.waitEvent() are added by the simulator to this entity prototype object.

  • The generateTraffic() function generates traffic for one street for one direction. We call this function four times in our start function.

  • this.waitEvent() illustrates the most typical design pattern for requesting resources. The entity first make a request (in this case, wait for the event – the traffic light – to fire) which returns a Request object. The entities then call the Request class functions to fine tune the request. Each of these function return the request object back, so the functions can be chained together. In this case we call two functions on request object:
    • Request.done(). This assigns a callback function which will be called when the request is satisfied. In our case, we use the callback to update the statistics.
    • Request.setData(). This stores some user data that can be retrieved later from :attr:this.callbackData` attribute within the callback function. In this case, we store the current time (which is the arrival time).
  • We have seen the this.setTimer() earlier too, however, this time we use the complete three-argument form: this.setTimer(callbackFn, context, data). callbackFn is the callback function (this.generateTraffic in our example), context is object in whose context this function will be called, and data will become argument to the callback function.

  • Note that there are two ways to pass data to the callback functions: via the Request.setData() as this.callbackData or passing data along with callback function which shows up arguments to the callback function. The difference between the two is that the former data will appear for all callback functions, whereas the latter will be specific to one callback function only. The following example should explain this:

.setData('Data to all callback functions')
.done(fn1, this, 'data to fn1 only')
.done(fn2, this, 'data to fn2 only')
.waitUntil(fn3, this, 'data to fn3 only')
.unlessEvent(fn4, this, 'data to fn4 only');

fn1 = function(arg) {
    assert(arg == 'data to fn1 only');
    assert(this.callbackData == 'Data to all callback functions');

fn2 = function(arg) {
    assert(arg == 'data to fn2 only');
    assert(this.callbackData == 'Data to all callback functions');

Having created the entity prototype objects we create the actual entity objects


And finally, we start simulation:

// simulate for SIMTIME time

View the complete source code.

Running Simulation

This javascript code can be executed where ever javascript can run. This includes:

  • As a script in HTML page on a web browser.
  • Via Web browser JavaScript debuggers such as Mozilla Firebug, Safari’s Developer tools etc.
  • With Rhino.
  • With jrunscript.
  • and so on...

We will run our model as a web page on a web browser. For this we have created the following web page:

    <title>Tutorial: Simulation of Traffic Lights at Intersection</title>

    <script type="text/javascript" src="sim-0.1.js"></script>
    <script type="text/javascript" src="traffic-light.js"></script>

Tracing Simulation Runs

Having completed the model let us first see that the model is working correctly. We can use the debug-log feature of the simulator to log events and actions.

We have already added the logging support in our code. To enable logging, we use the Sim.setLogger() function:

// add these lines before starting simulation
sim.setLogger(function (str) {

Remember to add these lines before the sim.simulate() function. The setLogger function takes as input a ‘writer’ function that will be invoked to write trace logs. In our case, we output the trace logs to the web document. We have also added the “<pre>” tag so that the output is displayed as well formatted text.

Lets first disable the logging statement in the Traffic function so that we see the output from the LightController entity only. To help in visualization, we have selected rather extreme values with GREEN_TIME = 5 min, MEAN_ARRIVAL = 1 min, SIMTIME = 30 min and SEED = 1234.

We see the following output:

0.000000   North-South Light OFF, East-West Light ON
0.000000   ------------------------------------------
5.000000   East-West Light OFF, North-South Light ON
5.000000   ------------------------------------------
10.000000   North-South Light OFF, East-West Light ON
10.000000   ------------------------------------------
15.000000   East-West Light OFF, North-South Light ON
15.000000   ------------------------------------------
20.000000   North-South Light OFF, East-West Light ON
20.000000   ------------------------------------------
25.000000   East-West Light OFF, North-South Light ON
25.000000   ------------------------------------------
30.000000   North-South Light OFF, East-West Light ON
30.000000   ------------------------------------------

This make sense, the lights switch every 5 minutes.

Next we enable the logging statement in the Traffic entity. We show only some selected lines from the output:

0.000000   North-South Light OFF, East-West Light ON
0.000000   ------------------------------------------
0.000000   Arrive for North
0.000000   Arrive for South
0.000000   Arrive for East
0.000000   Arrive for West
0.000000   Leave for East (arrived at 0.000000)
0.000000   Leave for West (arrived at 0.000000)
0.034122   Arrive for North
0.250816   Arrive for South
0.819317   Arrive for East
0.819317   Leave for East (arrived at 0.819317)
0.912556   Arrive for East
0.912556   Leave for East (arrived at 0.912556)
<lines omitted>
5.000000   East-West Light OFF, North-South Light ON
5.000000   ------------------------------------------
5.000000   Leave for North (arrived at 0.000000)
5.000000   Leave for South (arrived at 0.000000)
5.000000   Leave for North (arrived at 0.034122)
5.000000   Leave for South (arrived at 0.250816)
5.000000   Leave for South (arrived at 2.651636)
5.000000   Leave for North (arrived at 4.928112)
5.129310   Arrive for South
5.129310   Leave for South (arrived at 5.129310)
5.144233   Arrive for East
5.194057   Arrive for North
5.194057   Leave for North (arrived at 5.194057)
<lines omitted>
10.000000   North-South Light OFF, East-West Light ON
10.000000   ------------------------------------------
10.000000   Leave for East (arrived at 5.144233)
10.000000   Leave for West (arrived at 5.230096)
10.000000   Leave for East (arrived at 6.584731)
10.000000   Leave for East (arrived at 7.645791)
10.000000   Leave for East (arrived at 8.079168)
10.000000   Leave for East (arrived at 8.551925)
10.000000   Leave for West (arrived at 8.709882)
10.000000   Leave for West (arrived at 9.194689)
10.000000   Leave for East (arrived at 9.277087)
10.000000   Leave for West (arrived at 9.963535)
<lines omitted>

Note the first four arrival lines. Only the East- and West-bound vehicles leave the intersection. Notice also at 5.0 minutes, all the North and South bound vehicles leave intersection as soon as the light turns green. You can follow the logs to verify that our traffic light model is indeed working correctly.


We are ultimately interested in average statistics of our model. For this problem we would like to know:

  • What is average duration that vehicles have to wait at the intersection?
  • What is the average number of vehicles that are waiting at the intersection?

We have used the Population Statistics statistics to monitor the vehicle traffic at the intersection. Population.durationSeries (which is a Time Series Statistics) records the duration for which vehicles wait at the intersection, and Population.sizeSeries (which is a Data Series Statistics) records the number of vehicles standing at the intersection.

To output these two statistics, add the following lines after the sim.simulate() call.

document.write("Number of vehicles at intersection (average) = "
        + stats.sizeSeries.average().toFixed(3)
        + " (+/- " + stats.sizeSeries.deviation().toFixed(3)
        + ")\n");
document.write("Time spent at the intersection (average) = "
        + stats.durationSeries.average().toFixed(3)
        + " (+/- " + stats.durationSeries.deviation().toFixed(3)
        + ")\n");

The output for our rather contrived input values is as follows:

Number of vehicles at intersection (average) = 4.264 (+/- 2.069)
Time spent at the intersection (average) = 1.361 (+/- 1.830)

Traffic Lights in Action

You can play with this simulation model. Try out different values of input parameters and compare the output statistics of model.

Table Of Contents

Previous topic

SIM.JS Tutorial

Next topic

Buffet Restaurant