Ludicrous Lights

The scene: You, the traffic light, and the the next traffic light down the road. The result: The next light almost always wins, i.e., it turns red before you can reach it.

Change of scene: Almost every major road in Germany. Your light turns green and you start driving. Shortly before you reach the next light down the road, it turns green and you keep driving. Repeat.

Change back to the US. Almost every major road. Your light turns green and you start driving. Shortly before you reach the next light down the road, it turns red and have to stop. Repeat.

As far as the author has experienced it, lights in the US seem to be out of synchronization by design. It has happened to me countless times. I am stopped at a light. I can see the light down the road. It is green. As soon as my light turn green the light down the road turns red.

The question I have is this: Is this really on purpose or is it just poor planning and carelessness? I know that as far as Germany is concerned this is not a coincidence. In fact, I know a person whose job it is do optimize traffic patterns by making sure that when you are driving on the main road you will continue to have green lights during normal traffic conditions if you follow the speed limit. Sometimes you even see traffic control lights that tell you which speed to go in order to reach the light when it will be green.

In New York City, on Park Avenue, all lights turn green and red at the exact same time. I have seen it many times. It seems like a good idea, but it is not. It would only be a good idea if you could go 100 MPH and do all 20 blocks in 10 seconds. The lights should be synchronized and change down the flow of traffic every 10 seconds. Not just on Park Avenue. On every major through road, especially in inner cities.

This would allow for a smooth flow of traffic, it would reduce congestion. It would be safer because drivers would not feel the need to “run a light” because they are tired of stopping yet again. It would be good for the environment, because starting from a dead stop uses much more energy (and thus consumes more fuel) than simply sustaining a constant speed. I cannot think of any disadvantage.

I did recently hear a story on NPR about some city, I think it was in the west, looking into the benefits of synchronized lights to reduce congestion. I think the report also mentioned another city that had had a successful field trial. Unfortunately I do not remember the details. I would much appreciate if somebody could point it out in a comment.

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