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America's Traffic Lights Not Timed Properly

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk


America's Traffic Lights Not Timed Properly

Charlene Sarmiento
Voice of America
April 22, 2005

Duration: 1:42
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America's traffic lights are not timed properly-- resulting in longer commutes, wasted fuel and air pollution.

A transportation coalition, including the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, concludes re-synchronizing traffic lights could help alleviate the problems..

A new study of 387 cities and counties in 49 U.S. states found that most are failing to make their traffic lights efficient and modify the timing of the lights as traffic patterns change.

Shelley Row with the National Transportation Operations Coalition says, " It doesn't do any good to time a signal today, have a new (shopping) mall come in tomorrow and then not readjust to the new traffic pattern."

Properly synchronizing traffic lights can lead to immediate improvements in the flow of traffic. It would take an estimated one-billion-dollars to improve traffic lights nationwide, but that could save drivers 36 million hours in delays and 10 percent in fuel consumption.

In the city of Belleview, in the western state of Washington, commuters say synchronized lights have made city streets faster than the highway.

Commuter Dee Dee Walsh says, "The traffic signals are awesome, and are optimized to drive to work. It is the fastest way for me to go to work."

Belleview traffic lights are linked to a central computer and can be adjusted remotely. At some intersections sensors count vehicles as they go by.

Mark Poch, a traffic-engineering manager says, "As that traffic level increases, it will automatically select an updated signal timing plan to deal with that increase in traffic."

The study says synchronizing lights should be a key priority for cities, and it's a lot less expensive and quicker than building new roads.

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