Thursday, February 21, 2008

Columbus Looking To Reduce Stop-and-Go Traffic

One of the main complaints of motorists in Columbus, it seems, is the stop and go nature of surface route traffic. To help solve the problem, the city wants to interface with other cities' traffic routine and synchronize the traffic lights. The Dispatch covered this issue in today's paper. It sounds like a great idea.

It's not.

Traffic already moves way too quickly in Columbus and the suburbs. One of the few things acting as traffic calming on High and other streets is the lack of synchronization between lights. And how else can we discourage the use of single-passenger cars and encourage the use of public transportation and other alternative sources of transportation if we keep making it easier to drive? The answer is that we can't.

The city needs to abandon this effort. Period.

People, not speed.

7 comments:

  1. What's more, this has been argued against for some time - I remember reading a book on urban design and structure in grad school ("Image of the City" by William Whyte, I believe) in which he argued - based on empirical evidence from Manhattan in the 60s/70s - that it was far better to time traffic lights to the speed of a pedestrian, because they are the most important inhabitants of a city. I still have that book - if I remember this on Monday I'll see if I can dig up a relevant quotation.

    So not only is it a bad idea, but its an old and long-discredited bad idea.

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  2. You'd be hard pressed to convince any of our city engineers, and most of the citizens, that pedestrians are the most important. The one argument that we would have a harder time refuting, though, is that we're not Manhattan. Our city hasn't been nearly as intelligently designed as a real urban center like New York or Chicago, so the city has basically forced cars to be as important as they are, instead of being a hindrance like they are in New York or a real urban center.

    However, that doesn't mean that we can't start. Or that we shouldn't start. We absolutely NEED to start!

    If you can dig that up, let me know. I'd like to see it.

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  3. I went to college in a city with synchronized lights. It's a dream.

    If the lights are timed for the speed limit, after a while everybody is trained to go the speed limit. With unsynchronized lights, many people race to catch the light at the next intersection -- you have many jackrabbit starts. With unsynchronized lights, research shows that maximum speeds are *higher* and conditions are more dangerous for "other" road users (i.e. pedestrians and cyclists). With lights synchronized to the speed limit, traffic flows more smoothly and conditions are safer for *all* road users, including pedestrians and cyclists (assuming gridlock isn't caused by other factors, such as capacity).

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  4. What you're saying does make sense, Fritz. If you can force traffic to travel at a safe speed simply by timing the lights to allow for stop-free traffic if you go the speed limit, then you're on to something.

    The issue I have with this is that it's an infrastructure change that benefits cars over pedestrians and cyclists. As I've said before, and has been said by many traffic engineers and environmental professionals, we need to reduce the amount of cars on the road, not make it easier for them.

    We have a chance to make a real dent in the number of cars this summer when gas is expected to go up to $4.00 per gallon, according to a report I saw a couple days ago. Making it easier for them to drive is especially disadvantageous at this time.

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  5. Busses and trains would make the whole traffic issue moot I would think.

    When I see traffic jams, I am very aware of how many vehicles have one occupant. 3500 lbs to move a 170lb person. Not a very efficient use of resources.

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  6. P.S. My point is that we very often look in the wrong places for solutions.

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  7. Midnight - you're absolutely right. But unfortunately, Columbus residents have made it clear over the past few elections that it's been at issue, that they have no desire for rail or increased bus service. Our COTA system (Central Ohio Transit Authority) has been rife with poor management over the years and the car-crazy population here doesn't see the need to fund it more than it already is.

    However, we'll see how much that changes when gas prices go over $4.00 as they're predicted to do this spring/summer. When I've taken the bus recently it's been much more crowded than it was a couple years ago when I was last taking it regularly.

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