Self-Conscious Stop Lights Improve Traffic Flow

I. Hate. Stoplights. I loathe them, despise them, and if I were king for a day, I would tear down every stop light in the country. Sheer anarchy would follow of course, but I think everybody could use a little anarchy in their lives. My biggest problem with stop lights is that most of them are mindless, or even worse, part of some overloaded computer that thinks it's improving traffic flow, but in reality I've hit five red lights in less than two miles. How is that progress?

Perhaps we are going about it wrong. A new study suggests that traffic lights operating outside of a controlled computer system actually improve traffic flow. But how?

I live in a four-stop light town (I can remember when we had just one!), so stop lights aren't as much of a problem for me. For city dwellers though, many cities have tried to organize their stop lights to improve traffic flow, with longer greens during peak hours and lights that change with each other. But these systems cannot adapt to changes in the environment, like a traffic accident, or random gap in congestion.

By modeling traffic like a fluid though, and roads like a series of pipes, two European scientists think they have a better way. They think each light should be able to adapt to its unique situation, while feeding information into a central computer system. The computer could then crunch the numbers and share that info with other lights in the system. The key here though is that the lights wouldn't be pre-programmed. They adapt according to needs, relying on the immediate situation as well as information fed to them from the central system. Makes sense to me.

I still think we could get rid of stop lights and go to rotaries though. If Europe can figure it out, why can't we?

Source: Popular Science


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