For years, Los Angeles has been known throughout the world for its incredibly bad traffic problem. On average, it takes drivers 20 full minutes to travel just five miles, and this information isn’t exactly new. Rising commute times, however, have led to a massive city-wide efforts to synchronize traffic lights.
While it’s not necessarily a magic pill that will help drivers beat Los Angeles traffic, this new system will help the city to synchronize its 4500 traffic signals across 469 square miles of densely-populated metropolitan living space. Unfortunately, even the system’s most ardent supporters are still acknowledging that this won’t be a cure-all for chronic LA gridlock.
A Traffic Light System Thirty Years in the Making
As it turns out, Los Angeles has been working on solving its traffic problem since the 1984 Olympics. Back then, the city needed a way to deal with the massive crowds of people flocking to the Coliseum. Its solution has been something of a trend-setter, with other countries around the world doing their best to match it, but seldom coming close.
For the last three decades, Los Angeles has used advanced technologies like a centralized computer system and several hundreds of cameras scattered throughout the city in its efforts at helping traffic to move along. They obviously haven’t solved it completely, but just a few weeks ago, some of the final pieces of the puzzle were put into place.
Now, the system — formally known as the Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control System — has been updated with magnetic sensors in just about every intersection. These sensors, which can even record the presence of cyclists, continuously send real-time information to the ATSCS’s central computer system. The central computer then makes constant adjustments to ensure that moves cars along with the most efficient commute time possible.
There’s just one problem, though, and it’s the burning question on just about every Los Angeles driver’s mind:
Will It Actually Change Anything? No. It Won’t.
The problem with this $400 million traffic system is that it doesn’t do enough to reduce total traffic time.
Every year, the fine folks at Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute conduct what they call an urban mobility report. Last year’s report noted that the amount of time drivers waste in traffic has been climbing steadily since 2008.
With this information in mind, they’re suggesting that these improvements will almost definitely not reverse the traffic problem in LA… and might only do a little bit in the way of reducing it. According to The Los Angeles Times:
“Even the system’s boosters admit that it may not be enough to prevent gridlock.”
Indeed, the early stats are pretty disappointing. While it typically takes 20 minutes to go five miles in LA, that number is down to 17.2 minutes under the new system. Hooray? Average speed on an LA street is up to 17.30 miles per hour, which is a pretty negligible improvement from the 15 miles per hour that everybody was used to going a month or two ago.
James E. Moore II, a professor of environmental and civil engineering from USC, brought up another interesting point. He points out that better traffic times will simply lead to more people getting on the road. Over time, these improvements won’t do anything to combat Los Angeles traffic in a serious way, at all.
The number of commuters that hit the road every day in Los Angeles reaches about 7 million, and that number is constantly climbing. The city has done everything it can think of, from subways to light rail lines, to soften the blow that commuters are dealt just about every morning and evening.
This new traffic system, while still bearing the neat distinction of being the most sophisticated of its kind in the world, might not really be the answer we’re all looking for.
What do you think might help us reduce traffic times in a city like LA? Sound off in the comments below!