NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #60

Getting In Sync

In dealing with the scourge of red-light cameras, we spend a great deal of time educating the driving public, mostly via the media, that basic engineering solutions have been proven to significantly improve traffic safety at busy intersections. Increased yellow light intervals, higher visibility traffic signals, better lane markings, and improved cross-street sight lines are commonly mentioned. None of these measures are revenue producers like red-light cameras, but unlike the cameras, they will cut down accident rates at poorly-designed intersections.

The value of one such traffic engineering safety solution isn’t talked about enough, probably because it is such a simple concept: Traffic signal synchronization.

It is well known that the safest traffic is that which flows smoothly. Starts and stops mixed with sudden lane changes can create confusion and anxiety; confusion and anxiety breed traffic accidents. (Red-light cameras, anyone?) Well-choreographed traffic signals are essential to improving traffic safety and enhancing the pleasure of driving.

A perfect example of the importance of signal synchronization was provided by Montgomery County, Maryland recently. The region’s traffic signals are controlled by a large computer. Last November, that computer went down, causing a total disruption in the choreography of 750 traffic signals. Both the morning and the evening commutes resulted in huge traffic backups, and very disgruntled drivers. Even motorists detouring from their normal routes were affected; once traffic of any magnitude becomes delayed, gridlock quickly ensues.

If you come across a series of traffic signals that appear to be ill-timed, causing choppy, stop-and-go traffic, report your findings to the local government’s traffic engineering department. If corrective action isn’t taken, consider writing a letter to the editor of the local paper. And if your community has red-light cameras, you might take the opportunity to point out other effective engineering measures that should be taken to improve traffic flow.

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