Monday, April 13, 2015

Smarter Traffic Control - Part 2

As promised from part 1 of the smarter traffic control I want to discuss stop signs.

These non-tech octagonal, red objects that most of us really don't like but deal with anyways are a daily part of our lives. Do a Google search on stop signs around the world, they are basically the same everywhere. There is no mistaking them, yet there is a fundamental problem with them, actually a few.

1. They are not always needed.
What I mean by this is that they may be put in place just to attempt to slow down traffic. There have been many studies that show more stop signs will actually increase the mean speed on a street(1).

As an example to this, the residential street where I grew up and my parents sill live on never had any stop signs except for one major intersection. The "loud" neighbors demanded traffic calming solutions to slow down the speeders on the street. First they tried speed humps but the fire department complained that it slowed their trucks down too much. So out went the speed humps and in went 4 stop signs at each intersection along the street. Now we have more problems with speeding but the cops seem happy enough to give out tickets for not making complete stops.

They even went as far as to put two stop signs on a corner just so there was an even amount between the street above and our street. As far as could I read into the local laws, that is not even an intersection and the stop signs are not even enforceable! My parents live at the end of the street. So each and every day minutes of their lives as well as all those around them are wasted unnecessarily. That can add up to almost a quarter of a day over the course of a year.

2. They can do more harm than good.
If a stop sign is unnecessary or misplaced it can actually cause more accidents(2). This is because there is a complacency from drivers that approach the intersection. Each driver is trusting that the other drivers will stop and follow the traffic rules. Instead most drivers that stop tens if not hundreds of times a day will make their stop and continue, many times without even checking if anyone else stopped.

3. When they are needed people are tired of them.
As I stated above drivers become complacent and blindly continue through an intersection after a stop. When going through many stop signs on a street drivers become "numb" and are more likely to make a mistake. Whereas on a street that may not be that busy and an intersection say has a two way stops for lower traffic side streets. Those drivers are much more likely to pay attention.

What we should do.
- Local governance should create rules about when a stop sign is required and these rules should used to decide if a sign is warranted or not. Such as:
  * How many accidents does the intersection have each year?
  * Are their blind corners near the intersection?
  * Is it an actual intersection where there is cross traffic?
  * Is there a substantial enough amount of cross traffic to cause one direction or another to have to wait for an extended amount of time?
  * Will it make the intersection safer?
  * Is it just being requested to slow traffic? If so then the request should be denied for this reason alone.

- Use of more yield signs where traffic speeds are slower. This will keep cars from having to stop all the time while still alerting drivers to pay attention for cross traffic.

- More 2 way stops vs all way stops. When there is cross traffic that is significantly heavier than say a side street. Why stop 100% of the cars when you only need to stop 5% of the cars.

- More traffic studies before installing a stop sign. Just do a simple traffic study on an intersection to decide if a stop sign is really needed. If it is determine what type of stop. 2 way, all way, 1 way, whatever way.

- Don't let squeaky wheels influence traffic control decisions. Democracy when it comes to traffic control does not work. Statistics and engineering need to decide how to control traffic, not loud mouth residents.

Lets get rid of stop signs as much as we can. Just think of the global impact all the cars stopping and starting for millions of stop signs around the world has on our environment. Not to mention all the brake pads, transmissions, engines, and anything else that moves on your car. Sure auto mechanics, part shops, and part manufactures love stop signs, but you don't have to.

Last note:
This goes out to all law enforcement that like to sit there and give out tickets to people that don't make a complete stop at a stop sign (California rolling stop). There are much better things for you to do than to prey on your tax paying constituents that "broke the law" by not coming to a full stop. They are not hurting anything and all you do is make people dislike you (law enforcement in general)... Yes it is revenue but it is not making anyone safer. In my opinion it causes resentment and will make people disrespect stop signs and those that enforce them. Now that can be dangerous.


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