Smarter Traffic Lights could save a lot of energy

Feb 15, 2008 Published by Tony Primerano

I hate traffic lights. I hate them even more when they have me stopped unnecessarily. I'm always thinking about the gas being wasted as cars are forced to stop and then idle. Sure, electric cars will recapture energy when you are breaking but there is still energy lost. I suspect 10% of the traffic lights in this country are unnecessary and of the remaining 90%, 50% of those are only useful for about 8 hours a day. Still more aren't needed on weekends.

As a teenager I was visiting Utica NY and there were stoplights at almost every intersection, despite the fact that Utica was already a ghost town (population was in steady decline since the late 1960s). Was it cheaper to leave them up than to install some stop signs?

What we need is a place where people can report useless stop lights so they can be removed. We also need a way to report enhancements. On my way home I come to a light that I turn right at. There is a right turn lane but no arrow. This results in all cars stopping when the light is red even though the cross traffic runs one way at a time. A turn arrow would easily save 500 cars a day from needing to stop. How much gas would that save? I guess I should write my county government but I'm sure this will be a time consuming and painful process. If people stuck at intersections thought about issues with the intersection and were able to report them easily, think of all the energy (and time) we would save.

Besides removing lights, some municipalities need to work on making their lights facilitate the flow of traffic. You should never be driving down a main road and get stuck at over 50% of the lights. It kills me when I'm stuck at a light and I see the next light in sequence turn green only to be red by the time I get there.

I always loved driving late at night when most of the traffic lights were blinking yellow. I think most lights should do this much earlier and some should do it all weekend.

More traffic circles would also save energy, if only American's knew how to use them. People are too timid resulting in less than efficient operation. Also you have the confusion made by differing rules. Most states use the same rules as Europe (traffic in circle has right of way) but New Jersey made up their own rules.  Even with US circle inefficiencies I suspect traffic circles are a big energy saver.

As an experiment I'm going to see if I can get a right turn arrow put in at that intersection I mentioned.  I suspect it won't happen because there is no incentive.  It will cost money to install and will provide the county no benefit.  In fact they'll lose a little tax revenue from gas sales since we'll be using less.  ;-)

Of course if everyone was reporting light change suggestions the county could prioritize them by impact.   How many cars per day can you stop from stopping would be one measure and idle time reductions would be another.    That's all for now.  Let me figure out how to request a light!

  • A photo of Sonya Sonya says:

    Don't be mockin' Utica, it's my home town...... ;-)

  • A photo of Sonya Sonya says:

    You amaze me, the wheels in your brain are always turning!

  • FYI.. I was in Dublin last week and my co-workers informed me that in France the people entering the circle have the right of way. So much for consistency. :-\