U.S. gets D- on use of traffic-signal timing to reduce delays

April 22, 2005

Traffic congestion, frustrated commuters and polluted air are just three effects that demonstrate the need for changes in how our nation supports the operation of traffic signals. The nation's poor grade shows that not enough money is allocated for traffic signal timing and therefore, local traffic agencies cannot keep up with demand. The nation scored an overall grade of D- according to The National Traffic Signal Report Card, issued by a group of transportation associations.

"It's not just about signals turning green, yellow and red," stated Institute of Transportation Engineers Associate Executive Director for Technical Programs Shelley Row. "Just because the signals change color doesn't mean they are operating efficiently. The problem runs much deeper and can be fixed. With as little as a $4 investment per car each year, or 1% of funds spent annually on transportation, agencies can reduce delays--your commute time--and improve their grade to an A."

The group of associations known as the National Transportation Operations Coalition (NTOC) sent out self-assessment surveys last fall to localities across the country. Grading themselves in five areas, 378 agencies in 49 states completed the self-assessment and received composite grades.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony A. Williams commented, "This report card on traffic signal timing should be a wake-up call for all mayors. In D.C., we are updating our signals and timing to improve traffic flow and to lessen congestion. As president of the National League of Cities, I urge my colleague to do the same in their cities.";

Studies around the country show that the benefits of investments in signal timing outweigh the costs by 40 to 1 or more.

Those benefits include:

• Shorter commute times;

• Improved air quality;

• Better fuel efficiency; and

• Decrease in driver frustration.

NTOC is calling for more support for traffic-signal timing, including funding, staff and attention from public leaders. Coalition members are asking citizens to demand more from their local elected officials in this area.

"We depend on these signals to get us to our destination, not put the brakes on our progress," said Gordon Thrall, vice president of sales and marketing at Guernsey Office Products Inc., a Chantilly, Va., office product company with 150 employees and $40 million in gross annual sales.