The Problem With Traffic Lights

MLewyn's picture

I had always thought that traffic lights calmed traffic.  But last week at the Partners for Smart Growth conference in Kansas City, I learned that at least sometimes, there was a better alternative.   Some of us went on a tour of the city's Westside neighborhood.  The neighborhood's major intersection once had traditional red, yellow and green lights, and now has a blinking red light telling drivers to slow down (essentially a kind of electronic stop sign). 

Why were the regular traffic lights replaced?  The neighborhood activist leading the tour explained that drivers speed through green lights trying to get away from the intersection before the light turns yellow, and speed through yellow lights so they can leave the intersection before the light turns red.  Such fast travel increases traffic noise even when there are no pedestrians walking through the intersection, and creates a high risk of inadvertent red-light running and the resulting accidents.  By contrast, stop signs and blinking red lights cause every car to slow down, making intersections less noisy and less scary for pedestrians. 


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