Sunday, April 27, 2014

Red Lights: The Unproclaimed Menace to the Driving Public

I drive for Uber in Indianapolis and over the several months that I've been doing so I've grown even more adamant about the fact that, collectively, hundreds of hours of time are wasted daily by drivers sitting around waiting at red lights when there is no cross traffic. Red lights are a necessary menace of the roadway, but what can be done about it?

For one thing, it is not really necessary in today's technological world. Sure, we need traffic signals, but we don't need the ones we have that operate the way they currently do. Even when there are sensors in the road, traffic signals waste precious seconds of a driver's time every time it must flash yellow before it turns red to cross traffic. Yes, it might be only five seconds, but multiply that by the same amount of time every time it happens in a week. Wouldn't you rather be doing something else?

And the sensors do not always work. Even signals on one-way streets that are supposed to be timed so as to allow traffic to flow uninterrupted do not always work. I've driven on some one-way streets where the lights actually seemed to be timed backward. I was sitting at a red light last night, waiting probably 20 seconds for absolutely no cross traffic to pass by. Then, just about the time the yellow came on, about half a dozen cars approached the intersection from my left. The light turned red for them and allowed me to proceed. I was the only one waiting for the light to change. So those six drivers had to stop and wait probably 20 seconds for me to pass through the intersection, then another five seconds for the yellow light, before they could proceed.

It may sound like a minor gripe, but is it really? Am I the only one frustrated by having to wait at red lights for little or no traffic? Am I the only one who is tired of mis-timed red lights on one-way streets?

The solution is technology. Improved traffic detection systems could be installed at all intersections, virtually eliminating the need for yellow lights during low traffic conditions. If high-tech traffic sensors were in place, lights could quickly turn green for an approaching car instantly as long as there was no cross traffic. Red lights would last only as long as needed in any direction. Light changes would be based only on current traffic at the intersection, with no timed changes at all. And it could save on energy, because during times when there is no approaching traffic from any direction, the light could actually turn itself off. An approaching vehicle would cause it to turn green for that vehicle only. If any cross traffic approached, the red light would come on before that traffic got close to the intersection.

During heavy traffic there would still need to be yellow lights of course. But the signals could more easily determine in which direction traffic flow is heaviest and allow the green to last longer for them. Traffic flow conditions could be updated every second with adjustments made immediately by the light.

Is this asking too much of technology? I don't think so. Computers are proficient at handling much less complex situations than traffic signals. It would just take some set of researchers who are motivated to start researching how to get it done. And apparently it would take a greater chunk of the driving public than just me to complain enough for traffic officials to start considering it.