CityFixer

Can Traffic Signals Ease Congestion Without Discouraging Walking?

The best responses from this week's The Big Fix

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Reuters

In this week's The Big Fix, we looked at how and whether traffic signals can improve commute times, pedestrian safety and even air quality. In Minneapolis, officals are installing a centralized traffic light system that will, they hope, cut down on congestion by responding to traffic patterns in real time.

In Atlanta, activists have lobbied for signs and signals that help keep pedestrians safe. Here are some of the most interesting insights from our readers:

Many worried that Minneapolis' new plan would negatively impact pedestrians. Commentor Matthew:  

The system may be built brand new but the ideas in it are still 70s vintage (sour and disgusting). Not one word in this article mentioned "pedestrians." Do people live in Minneapolis, or is it a city built only for cars? Are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of the 20th century over and over again?     

Eric Fischer agreed:

Actuated signals are terrible for pedestrians. That part of the plan must be scrapped.     

Commentor Tijmen Stam offered a European perspective:

I'm from the Netherlands. Here almost all traffic lights are equipped with loop detectors and pushbuttons for pedestrians and bicyclists (if applicable). Going to America and Canada awhile back I was amazed at how basic all your traffic lights are, and I think they wreak havoc on the environment (stopping and acellerating is needed half the time even if there is no cross traffic), troughput and in my subjective belief also passenger waiting times.

Another problem with speed limits I noted in your cities: Your roads invite to speed. They are very wide, straight and apart from traffic lights, there is no incentive to slow down anywhere - they are almost to freeway standards.

Others debated the funding source. Commentor Joe_Magarac asked:

why are federal grants being used for what is, by definition, a local road system?

I can understand why the federal government pays for interstates; they facilitate connections between states. But I don't understand why federal taxpayers in Los Angeles or Atlanta or (in my case) Pittsburgh are paying for something that will only benefit residents of Minneapolis.

Several defended the federal contribution. BugMeNot:

Firstly, issuing federal grants for local infrastructure projects allows municipalities to complete much-needed projects while avoiding nearsighted political considerations over revenue generation. You might imagine that the citizens of Minneapolis would be less supportive of this project if its $5 million cost was paid for through a "temporary" sales tax surcharge or a bond issue. While not all projects receiving federal aid are time-critical, some (such as bridge repairs or road safety improvements) simply can't wait for the local populace to hammer out a plan to fund them, especially given current political attitudes. 

Secondly, taxpayers in Los Angeles, Atlanta, or Pittsburgh who contribute funds for a project in Minneapolis can rest assured that they are receiving their share of projects from the same funding source. Just as the money is collected from across the nation, the grants are distributed evenly in all areas. 

Finally (and perhaps most importantly), projects that receive federal aid must conform to regulations set forth by federal agencies. This is most relevant when ensuring that, for example, roads are signed and marked consistently or that bridges meet similar safety standards. If most projects were funded completely from local sources then agencies would have less incentive to follow standards, resulting in a hodgepodge of local regulations that would make driving experiences vary greatly across the nation and reduced safety in all transportation modes.

And finally, the last word from our Atlantic Cities Facebook group:

About the Author

  • Amanda Erickson is a former senior associate editor at CityLab.