Traffic Lights Are Bullies Who Push Us Around

by Will on October 17, 2010

For no good reason! Half the time I’m sitting at a traffic light, there’s no cross-traffic. I’m just sitting there in my box of metal that wants to kill me, quietly sitting there and burning gas that isn’t even being burned for my transport.

I try to drive in a way that minimizes the traffic lights in my life. I take right turns at red lights and use alternate streets. Or I use routes that involve more stop signs and fewer thoroughfares. I wish they would just turn a bunch of the lights off, publicize that dead lights are to be treated as Yield signs, and let us get about our business. This has been tried in other places. It reduces traffic.

But this may just be another case where private companies running the roads for profit might do a better job than our city planners have done. The more I think about this idea, the more I like it, and also the more hurdles I see. First: it would need to be done federally, as a municipality that tried it (San Francisco?) might suffer from people and businesses avoiding it because they don’t like the toll or subscription roads (although the experience of London and other places that have introduced congestion pricing makes me hopeful). This is related to the second problem, that people will initially hate their free roads being sold off and doing what they have to to run a profit. Third, I can’t decide whether we should sell everything to one business and regulate them (monopoly! It will try to screw it’s customers, and succeed!) or sell competing roads and freeways to competing companies, to make sure they’d compete to provide better service (the lack of standardization will confuse people, making people further hate the private roads!). I think perhaps the best way would be to sell roads to competing firms, but keeping administration of billing and collection in the government’s hands so that it can be standardized everywhere. But the billing schemes should be left in the private companies’ hands, to encourage experimentation that will make the roads more efficient.

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