Editorials

Editorial: End the aggravation of out-of-sync traffic lights

Kansas City now has an opportunity to upgrade its traffic flows, and the city should seize it. The City Council could ease driver frustration by allocating funds for traffic-light synchronization.
Kansas City now has an opportunity to upgrade its traffic flows, and the city should seize it. The City Council could ease driver frustration by allocating funds for traffic-light synchronization. File photo

The problem. With driving. On too many major Kansas City roadways. Is that. You’ve got to stop. For traffic lights. Often. Sometimes three or four in a row. It’s a pain, sort of like reading this paragraph.

Start, stop, Start, stop. It can drive you crazy.

You’d think in this computer age we live in there would be another way.

Turns out, new systems are available. Cameras mounted atop traffic signals and connected to computers that anticipate arriving cars are one fresh way forward in traffic-light synchronization. Adoption of such a system would offer a helpful supplement to Operation Green Light, which is now in place.

It’s not hard to think of several locations around town where daily bottlenecks could be dramatically eased: U.S. 71, for instance, at 55th and 59th streets and farther south. What about the daily rush-hour grind getting across the Broadway Bridge? Or Barry Road up north? Or in downtown Kansas City? The Main Street corridor where the streetcar now runs is using adaptive signal optimization, as it’s called, to good effect.

The recent passage of the $800 million general-obligation bond package provides a pot of money for projects such as new traffic-light synchronization and the planting of more trees. And before that April vote, the council wisely adopted a resolution to guide the city’s spending that included these environmentally friendly approaches. The city also committed to these concepts back in 2008 with its Climate Protection Plan.

The City Council appears poised to push ahead on these fronts, and we’re all for it. The timing is important in the wake of President Donald Trump’s misguided decision to pull this country out of the Paris climate agreement. Many cities now are stepping forward to fill the void. Kansas City Mayor Sly James has signed a letter with dozens of other mayors criticizing the move and pledging to continue local efforts to combat climate change.

The benefits of traffic synchronization are well documented. Toxic emissions are cut and wait times are reduced. Traffic flows more easily. Travel times are shortened. Less gasoline is used. Traffic accidents? They decrease, too.

Driver frustration also declines, and that’s a beautiful thing.

One example of the impact of a synchronization upgrade is along Missouri 291 in the Lee’s Summit area. In 2009, the Missouri Department of Transportation installed an adaptive system at 12 signals along a 2.5-mile stretch. A study concluded that stops were reduced by 95 percent, delays were cut by 87 percent and car accidents dipped by 17 percent.

As the City Council considers its first round of appropriations from the recently approved bond package, traffic synchronization should be in the mix.

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