Clear Signal for Improving Traffic

By now, even the most optimistic of us have discarded the notion that a subway will run across the San Fernando Valley any time in the foreseeable future. So, too, are hopes for a light-rail line a longshot as the cash-strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority redraws its long-term rail plan. How, then, can the Valley start to unclog its streets? As unglamorous it sounds, part of the answer may lie in traffic signals.

Over the next two years, the city of Los Angeles and the MTA plan to install automated signal lights in 109 intersections across the north Valley. Total cost: about $8 million, or about 1/40th the cost of a mile of subway. Automated signals reduce traffic delays by synchronizing lights on a stretch of road. Such technology is not new--almost all of Los Angeles' lights are timed in some way--but the new system is far more flexible and allows engineers to adjust the signals to respond to changing conditions.

Flexible systems can cut travel time by as much as 18% and increase road speeds by as much as 16%. And they benefit everyone on the road--private motorists as well as buses. As Valley business and political leaders try to sort out what sort of transit system the region needs for the future, The Times urges them to adjust their expectations away from rail and toward more reasonable improvements such as buses or new technologies that squeeze more use out of existing roads.

Better traffic signals are a start.

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