Q: The most frequent complaint about traffic light timing appears to be the result of non-functioning sensors. These devices are simple magnetic loop affairs, for the most part. It leads one to wonder whether more elaborate sensors and communication systems (vehicle-to-roadway and vehicle-to-vehicle) in the future will be built to more rugged, error-tolerant standards.
If so, things could improve greatly. If not, we’re in for quite a ride.
Dan Swinehart, Palo Alto
A: Gripes over traffic signals are near the top of Roadshow’s complaint list, for good reason. The National Highway Institute has given a grade of D-plus or lower nationwide for how poorly signals function in urban areas. San Jose estimates that 15 percent of its 951 signals, or approximately 143 signals, malfunction every day. Here are just a few examples.
Q: Traffic light sensors in Santa Clara do not work, even when there is no traffic. … The signal at Hickey and Skyline boulevards in Pacifica sometimes skips our turn. … The intersection at Santa Teresa and Bailey in deep south San Jose seems to have a broken sensor. … The lights from the ramp to Highway 85 all the way to Snell can back up traffic for a mile.
Wasim Ullah, Larry Hirsch, Kathy Wilhelms, John Beck and many more
A: And it’s not just in the Bay Area …
Q: The list of intersections like this is endless across this state. I was in the San Fernando Valley and 30 cars were backed up at a light to allow school traffic out, yet there was no school. Take some of that crazy train money to create an interconnected computerized traffic light system across a region to cycle traffic lights real-time.
Bill Ortendahl, Santa Clara
A: There is hope. More than a dozen cities and agencies across the Bay Area have embarked on a potentially far-reaching plan for smarter lights.
The Innovative Deployments to Enhance Arterials (or IDEA) program will monitor signals of each vehicle on its arrival. The adaptive traffic signal operation would adjust the signal timing of lights to accommodate changing road conditions and would continuously distribute green lights for the best traffic flow.
The idea is to replace the guts of antiquated systems with modern tools that pinpoint problems almost immediately, and prepare for growing numbers of automated vehicles on the road. Over 1,600 of the 110,000 signals around the Bay Area have been retimed in recent years. This has reduced travel times by 15%, saved 11% in fuel or 11.5 million gallons. It also reduced emissions by 422.4 tons.
Smoother commutes that use less gas, provide cleaner air and reduce the desire to swear. What’s not to like?
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Author: Gary Richards