Wasting Money On Poorly Timed Traffic Lights

The first electric traffic light was installed around 1920 in response to numerous accidents as the automobile picked up in popularity. Since then, there have been hundreds of thousands of traffic lights installed as well as a lot more intricate technology.
In the 1990’s, the county where I live began implementing a new type of traffic control system. At most major intersections, they began installing cameras or pavement sensors to detect traffic. The purpose is to adjust the timing on traffic lights based on traffic at the intersections. It is designed to adjust traffic during high volume times, as well as to avoid people sitting at intersections where there is no traffic, yet wasting gas because of a red light.
For the most part, the statistics show that these systems have helped relieve congestion versus a standard traffic light system that changes on fixed intervals. I can see the benefit at times, though there have been some frustrating areas.
One thing that drives me nuts is how the system deals with gaps in traffic. The system is designed to sense a gap in traffic, and change the light if there is traffic waiting to go the other way. In theory this makes sense, but I think it can be improved. Right now, the system detects gaps via cameras placed near the intersection, and it can sense the number of cars at or near. That’s great most of the time, but I wish that they would take it one step further and place sensors further away from the lights. This way, the system would know what’s coming.
I’ll illustrate why I think this could be an improvement. There have been times where a gap is created because of someone driving a little slow, or someone who pulls out of a side street or business, and hasn’t gotten up to full speed. The sensors see only the break and change the light, but as a result, a whole line of traffic gets stopped. I think that if the system had knowledge of what’s further back, it may be able to allow more traffic through at a time. The system could anticipate as well as react.
The other thing I wish they would do is consider reducing the number of lights in operation during non-rush hour times. Obviously, lights at major intersections need to run all the time, but it’s the other lights that drive me nuts. The lights around subdivisions or shopping centers are the two most common types.
I can understand having many of these lights operate during high traffic times, but how many times have you been stopped at a light that could easily be a blinking yellow for 16 hours per day? I know some might say I’m being impatient, but I see that it’s a waste of money if people have to spend time idling and burning gas unnecessarily.
Hopefully the technology for these ’smart’ traffic light system improves and saves time and money for drivers.

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