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April 21, 2005

Breathe in the sweet smell...

... of idling traffic:

Poorly maintained and badly timed traffic signals are needlessly compounding gridlock and air pollution in American cities, according to a new national report...

The report, issued by a coalition of transportation agencies including the Federal Highway Administration, blames bad light timing for as much as 10 percent of all traffic delays nationally.

That adds up to about 50 wasted hours a year for people who drive two hours a day, according to the National Traffic Signal Report Card.

This is obvious to anyone who drives on Mass. Ave in Cambridge or Boston, Broadway in Cambridge, etc. etc. etc. As if driving around the maze of Boston streets weren't bad enough, you are thwarted by haphazardly timed lights. And we all have to breathe it in. It affects work productivity, too, in terms of timeliness.

It's an environmental issue, and a quality of life issue. It's also not brain surgery, just a matter of some decent civil engineering. (Ack, maybe that is too much to ask.)

(It's amazing how much the little things matter to the environment: California is now considering actions to encourage folks to use fully inflated tires, which would save immense amounts of pollution and $.)

Posted by Charley on the MTA at 09:15 AM in Massachusetts, National | Permalink

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Comments

My own view is that whoever does the traffic engineering in the town of Arlington (MA) should never be allowed near an intersection again. I have never seen so many poorly-timed lights, pointless "No Turn On Red" signs, and other traffic annoyances concentrated in a relatively small town.

Posted by: David | Apr 21, 2005 10:49:37 AM

... or Mt. Auburn St. in Cambridge, or Memorial Drive in Cambridge, or Cambridge St. in Cambridge, or Fresh Pond Parkway in Cambridge ...

Don't expect any action on this, though. The folks in Cambridge think that having undrivable roads encourages people to walk, bike or take public transportation.

Posted by: sco | Apr 21, 2005 10:53:01 AM

Yes, I've noticed the extremely irritating trend in Cambridge to build cement barriers that force drivers to swerve on narrow streets as often as possible. Why they think this improves traffic safety is entirely beyond me.

Posted by: David | Apr 21, 2005 1:14:02 PM

"The folks in Cambridge think that having undrivable roads encourages people to walk, bike or take public transportation."

Not sure who you're getting your info from, but I can imagine that some folks do feel that way. As a Cambridge resident, however, I feel that the reason why folks would walk, bike, or take public transit is that it gets them where they want to go. In other words, make it easier to do so.

And who suffers more from mis-timed lights than bus passengers? Not to mention the buses themselves, what with wear and tear on the brakes and gears, wasted fuel, etc.

Speaking of bikes, I'd also like to see some bicyclists get ticketed for not following traffic laws, but that's a rant for another time...

Posted by: Charley on the MTA | Apr 21, 2005 1:55:22 PM

"Yes, I've noticed the extremely irritating trend in Cambridge to build cement barriers that force drivers to swerve on narrow streets as often as possible. Why they think this improves traffic safety is entirely beyond me."

The theory is that it helps prevent people from driving through at dangerously high speeds (in the evenings or early mornings, when there are few cars on the road).

Does it hold up? I don't have any idea.

Posted by: stomv | Apr 22, 2005 3:47:29 PM

In response to

"It's also not brain surgery, just a matter of some decent civil engineering. (Ack, maybe that is too much to ask.)"

Some would suggest that it's far harder than brain surgery. Queueing theory (the study of things arriving into a system, waiting to be served, and then finally served by a system) is quite difficult for all but very friendly arrival and service distributions. Because the cycle of each light impacts all the lights around it (not just on one avenue, but the cross streets too), altering a light cycle by just a fraction can have massive traffic implications throughout the city.

If you poke the system somewhere, it pokes back somewhere else.

Does that mean things are hopeless, or that the city is doing the best possible? Of course not. However, do be aware that traffic engineering of light cycles in a non-grid based city (as opposed to Manhattan) is extremely complex.

Posted by: stomv | Apr 28, 2005 12:00:37 PM

If everybody drove hybrid cars, there would be NO pollution in traffic jams, because there would be NO IDLING. I sometimes proseletyze toll booth collectors, pointing out that they are not breathing in any pollution from MY CAR when it is stopped at their booth, because the gasoline engine cuts off. Some of them really get into it! Thinking about traffic jams (which I'm not in much, as I have an 8 minute commute to work) makes me think this aspect of hybrid cars is even more important than the fuel economy.

Posted by: Margot | May 4, 2005 4:58:31 PM

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