Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Infrastructureless #1: Traffic Lights

In a state with traffic as heavy as ours, and which prides itself on being modern and progressive, why is it that we are stuck with traffic lights from the 1950's?

First, why do we have so few traffic lights with left hand turn signals? How many of you have been in this situation? You're at a light either waiting to make a left hand turn or behind someone who is trying to do so. The light turns green, but you never get to make that turn because of the relentless traffic coming from the opposite direction. I've seen this happen where folks are stuck at the same light through several cycles because either they or the person in front of them are unable to make that left hand turn.

This frustration in turn leads to many who are attempting a left hand turn to try to "punch it" when the light goes green, in order to beat out the person in the opposing lane. And this of course leads to more shouting matches, accidents, road rage, and general confusion. The law clearly states that the person in the opposing lane driving straight has right of way. If you are turning left across an intersection you do not have right of way, you're supposed to wait until traffic is clear. But we in NJ seem to have become brainwashed into thinking that the polite thing to do is to let the left hand turning person to go first. I can't tell you how many games of herky-jerky-are-you-letting-me-turn aerobics I've witnessed because of this.

But there is an amazingly simple solution to all of this, a traffic light with a left hand turn signal. Such a simple investment would open up the blow off valve and release quite a bit of steam for stressed out (and delayed) NJ drivers. Sometimes, it is the little things that count, especially when they can positively affect our day-to-day lives.

Oh, and on a related note, traffic lights with sensors are helpful too. If you're at a light at 1am and there is no traffic to be seen, wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to sit at that antiquated, timed light for 2-3 minutes?

There was a time when I thought that this is just the way it is, that this is the best mankind had to offer, and since we live in a densely populated area, that we're just screwed. But then, about a decade ago, while out in the Midwest, I was introduced to the glory of the modern traffic light system, complete with traffic sensors and turn lights. But wait I thought, I'm from NJ, one of the wealthiest, best educated, most progressive states in the country! How is it that we don't have this newfangled technology? (and by new, I mean 10+ years old at the time).



  1. i hear ya on this one. Big time, brah.

  2. There are plenty lights with sensors. Look for the diamond shaped cutout in the roadbed or the small black boxes on the arm above the light. I've designed the timing on scores of "intelligent intersections". Remember, a left turn phase takes green time from the opposing traffic. It's a zero sum game.
    Both Rt. 18 and Rt. 1 as well as several miles of Bloomfield Av in Essex coordinated as a corridor (20 lights controlled by a central system. Those are the ones I know about from 12 years ago, I moved on from that field.

  3. -engineer

    What % of lights in NJ would you say have sensors? My own personal experience would lead me to believe that it's 20% or less.

    Traffic is a massive problem here, and I think that technologies and strategies to reduce it are a wise investment and ought to be given more priority. Lost time and frustration are not good for anyone, individuals or business.

  4. If the only problem is not being able to make the left hand turn because of the volume of oncoming traffic, there's nothing wrong with entering the intersection while the light is green, and completing the turn once the light turns red. This is not a violation if you are able to clear the intersection when the light cycles for the other drivers. This will allow a couple cars to complete the left turn per cycle.

    Obviously if you enter the intersection when you are not able to clear the intersection during the light cycle, that is a violation.

  5. Factor in 'jug handles' (which I believe only exists in NJ), and you can factor in another issue!

  6. Good call, jug handles deserve their own post.