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April 7, 2004 10:51 AM   Subscribe

The Fast and the Frustrated. The city of Pleasanton, CA is about to install specially calibrated traffic lights which sense whether or not you are speeding. When speeding is detected, these traffic lights will change from green to yellow to red immediately, and will stay red for 10 to 30 seconds, all in an effort to stymie speeders.
posted by mosspink (36 comments total)
Kinda cool, actually. Stopping really helps you when you're speeding because then going up to the speed limit doesn't feel like you're slowing down. Also, it makes you stay under the speed limit so you're not punished, which is good as well.
posted by psychotic_venom at 10:59 AM on April 7, 2004

"The Pleasanton signal will allow a red light to shine in just one direction, letting the light stay green for the nonspeeding driver in the opposite direction. In such cases, any cross traffic will continue receiving the red light."

Perhaps a giant moat should open just before the crosswalk, swallowing up the offending vehicle.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:05 AM on April 7, 2004

So basically, a one speeder can fuck it all up for everyone else... speaking of well-sequenced traffic lights, that is. I'll probably hit every single light on the way to work now. Great!
posted by Witty at 11:07 AM on April 7, 2004

Pleasanton, CA, must earn more, per incident, from a red-light violation than their average speeding ticket.
posted by jammer at 11:08 AM on April 7, 2004

Isn't that just going to increase the number of people running red lights? Sounds dangerous to me.
posted by reklaw at 11:09 AM on April 7, 2004

Why can't they just use the camera to catch the speeder and send them a ticket in the mail? That can still deter speaders without screwing up everyone else's commute.

Also, any guesses on how many speeders will just run the red light?

[on preview, what everyone else said]
posted by falconred at 11:11 AM on April 7, 2004

I don't understand why speed has to be regulated this way. What happens if you have an emergency (like, say, someone about to give birth)? Do you run the red light and risk causing a collision in the flow of traffic? Furthermore, will speeders consciously resist in frustration and cause more accidents?

Sometimes, road conditions change and the driver must adjust to the flow of traffic. Are they to be penalized? And what of the driver who abides by the speed limit and who has to wait behind the red light because of some asshole driving 50 in a 35 zone?

This doesn't sound as if it's been thought out at all. It sounds more like tech pork than anything else. As the article states, there hasn't been an unusual number of collisions on the route. So why sully a good thing?
posted by ed at 11:11 AM on April 7, 2004

It also seems like having the lights change so quickly will cause some number of accidents as people try to run the yellow, etc. but perhaps they've already considered that.

Also, I wonder how the lights will tell the difference between Firetrucks/Ambulances/Police Cars and regular vehicles.... I can so clearly picture a car that just got an unexpected green light getting whammed by a speeding EMT vehicle that's running the red that the EMT itself generated...
posted by anastasiav at 11:11 AM on April 7, 2004

If the lights change immediately it seems as if there would be a proliferation of incidents where Driver A locks up his breaks to stop (dangerous), generating rear enders, or sails through what would oterwise have been a green/yellow now red, while Driver B sees the new green in his direction, pulls out & gets T-boned by Driver A. I expect significant increases in liability insurance rates forthcoming in Pleasanton.
posted by Pressed Rat at 11:15 AM on April 7, 2004

Doing some quick math, someone doing 50 would have about 4.8 seconds to realize the light was red and stop their vehicle. That seems like a short amount of time, especially if said speeing driver is also talking on the cell phone.
posted by falconred at 11:16 AM on April 7, 2004

We already have one of these where I live (Arlington, VA...DC suburb). It's at the bottom of a big hill that requires braking all the way down to keep under the posted limit.

Witty, correct that one speeder travelling alongside you can cause the light to turn. As an added bonus, traffic travelling in the opposite direction can do the same.

Originally I thought they were going to put a cop down by the light to hand out tickets but I haven't seen that yet.
posted by topherbecker at 11:17 AM on April 7, 2004

I can't wait for the inevitable I-thought-it-was-one-of-those-fake-red-lights-not-a-real-one accidents.
posted by The God Complex at 11:20 AM on April 7, 2004

The city of Pleasanton, CA
Read it as: The city of Pasadena...ha ha, "It's the little old lady from Pasadena Go granny, go granny, go granny go"
posted by thomcatspike at 11:26 AM on April 7, 2004

this auto-light may be a good idea. maybe not. depends on safety concerns (as mentioned above) and on how bad the problem is in the area. some regions, making it more difficult to drive is good. we don't need to have every road be a 4-lane highway. i can think of a few places i wish there was a remarkably lower amount of drivers than there currently are.

as far as traffic light improvement goes, i'm pushing for a metal spike strip that pops up 3 seconds after the light turns red, to blow the tires of all the asswipes who feel that blasting through a red light is a good idea. i can't tell you how many times i've started moving forward with a green light, only to have to slam on my brakes as some idiot comes flying through on the cross street. i mean, how friggin' red does it have to be before you stop? do you really have to t-bone a family of five or something before you start to think about the consequences of driving like an ass?
posted by caution live frogs at 11:29 AM on April 7, 2004

some regions, making it more difficult to drive is good.

Are sure, look at what they had.

Many neighbors are so peeved with the popularity of the road that they didn't want a traffic signal at all at Montevino because it would allow traffic to flow better than the stop sign it replaced. At least the stop signs made speeding impossible and persuaded some commuters to steer clear, neighbors said.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:33 AM on April 7, 2004

Beside the odd light, the street is weird: Witty, correct that one speeder travelling alongside you can cause the light to turn. As an added bonus, traffic travelling in the opposite direction can do the same.
Not really: Drivers on the two-lane Vineyard, as they approach Montevino, will see an electronic sign that gives the speed limit -- 40 mph heading west and 35 mph going east -- then flashes their actual speed.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:39 AM on April 7, 2004

Wouldn't gridlock ensue using these lights. The description seems to state that any speeding will cause a red light.

Here in LA, that would mean that the light would NEVER be green. (SMILE)
posted by dewelch at 11:41 AM on April 7, 2004

I vote for rapidly deployed speedbumps, like air bags. If you speed, your shocks will pay and you get to take a coffee shower.
posted by badstone at 11:42 AM on April 7, 2004

Nice. Here's an application of Game Theory where someone only thought through the initial cause-and-effect chain. Why not give part time jobs to anyone willing to fire a rocket launcher at speeders? That would keep everyone 5 miles under all the time. What's going on in that town that they need to stop speeding so completely?

Another alternative would be the soap beatings from Full Metal Jacket. The Marines there operated on a similar theory.
posted by yerfatma at 11:45 AM on April 7, 2004

If the speeding-tripped red light only lasts 10 to 30 seconds, it's unlikely that the cross-street will get a green light for that duration, so accidents of that sort aren't all that likely. However, rear-end collisions due to inattention to the sudden red are definitely going to be a problem.

Sounds like a poorly thought-out solution to me. I wonder how badly the traffic will snarl as frustration with the device mounts and more drivers try to speed to compensate for the red lights.
posted by me3dia at 11:47 AM on April 7, 2004

This may explain the light better: "Pleasanton plans to address at least one of those issues: the opposite- direction speeder. The Pleasanton signal will allow a red light to shine in just one direction, letting the light stay green for the nonspeeding driver in the opposite direction. In such cases, any cross traffic will continue receiving the red light. "

Then the light is like a penalty for one dirction only, 10 to 30 seconds depending if cross traffic is at the light. But what do you do when you see your light red and the cross traffic light is red too? go.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:47 AM on April 7, 2004

Perhaps the issue of social pressure is suppose to be in play as well. I know if some idiot triggers the red light everyone around him at the light is going to send a lot of bad vibes his way. (granted this won't deter, or affect some people out there, but might keep the mom in the mini van somewhat aware of the MPH) There are some safety concerns as mentioned elsewhere, but perhaps if sensors where either sensitive enough or placed away from a light to detect traffic speed sufficiently before the light to allow for safe braking speeds some of those concerns may be addressed. I would guess a majority of speeders are speeding because of thoughtlessness/not paying attention rather then the need for speed. So what we need to talk knowledgeably on the topic is a study of motorists motivations for speeding? I think it has potential if developed and implemented correctly. Oh, regarding emergency vehicles, I know many areas use sensors already to turn lights green with the approach of ambulances & the like. (a looong time ago the mag 2600 had descriptions on how to modify a party strobe light to essentially hack street lights to turn green for you upon approach) So I think this issue would be well addressed. (you never know though, sometimes people overlook the stupidest things)
posted by edgeways at 11:50 AM on April 7, 2004

I also live in Northern Virginia; I've seen a couple of these deployed in some of the more urbanized areas, where it would be dangerous to be going much faster than the speed limit anyway, and it works out pretty well. I'm not sure if this is a comparable implementation, or not. It'd be nice to see the area surrounding the intersection (satellite photos, anyone?).

Did anybody else notice the quote "it's depriving you of another one of your liberties -- going fast"? Say what, now?

Combining this with a red-light camera would solve the light-running problem rather nicely, though. I wonder how it reacts to EMS.
posted by mote at 11:53 AM on April 7, 2004

I'm ideologically opposed to red-light cameras, but this I have no problem with. I think it's great.
posted by waldo at 12:05 PM on April 7, 2004

The only solution to speeding problems, in my opinion, is to hit people where it counts - their wallet. Increase the fines for speeding. Some people won't care of course. But some people won't care no matter WHAT you try to put in place. "When money talks, people listen" er... sumthin'.
posted by Witty at 12:05 PM on April 7, 2004

Yay Pleasanton: I happen to live there.

The road where this thing lives serves as an in-city alternative to the parking lots that are our interstates/*ways.


The most probable reason for the difference in speeds is that for whatever reason our interstates/*ways pile up faster in the evening when everyone is heading east, thus more people choose to use this road.

Look at the map.

Knowing the mentality of drivers out here, this scares me.
posted by AmaAyeRrsOonN at 12:16 PM on April 7, 2004

Increase the fines for speeding.

Lately, there's been construction on the GW Parkway. There's a sign that says the penalty for speeding is a maximum of $5000.00 fine, 6 months jail time. I assume those are increased penalties for work zones, but still...

It doesn't seem to slow anyone down.
posted by Jart at 12:26 PM on April 7, 2004

when everyone is heading east
AmaAyeRrsOonN, Aww the parking lot roads, do know what you are talking about, the 91 Freeway was my favorite.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:28 PM on April 7, 2004

It doesn't seem to slow anyone down.

Correct. I take that road to work everyday... from Old Town Alexandria to McLean. I admit that I rarely obey the 40-50 mph speed limit (depending on which section we're discussing).

The THREAT of a fine of that size, or even jail time... is one thing. Actually following through with it is another. I doubt that anyone ever goes to jail for speeding, much less, for 6 months. A friend of mine was caught for speeding on that road (which turns out to be a "the United States vs. speeder" case, by the way) and only coughed up 300 bucks for it. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a construction zone at the time. But I guarantee he never sped on that road again.

But I'm saying, in general, if they want to curb speeding, they should increase the fine for doing so. I know that if I had to fork out 300-500 bucks per ticket (or whatever it may be), I would be less likely to "push it".

(Man, it just hurts going 40 mph on the GW Parkway.)
posted by Witty at 1:06 PM on April 7, 2004

I, for one, welcome our new Skynet overlords.
posted by swerdloff at 2:25 PM on April 7, 2004

We had these in the small town I used to live in. They worked fine I think until you figured out where the sensor was (it was not difficult) and you could avoid it either by slowing down when you passed over it or, if there was no traffic coming from the other direction (a fairly common thing), crossing into the other lane of traffic briefly.
posted by synecdoche at 2:40 PM on April 7, 2004

Driving too fast is not an inalienable right. Tax-payers built the road, tax-payers decided on the safety rules that apply on it. If you don't want to obey the rules, go somewhere else. As long as the punishment for speeding isn't grossly disproportionate (waiting 10-30 seconds, as opposed to a public flogging for example), I'm OK with new measures designed to stop speeding.
posted by Triplanetary at 2:48 PM on April 7, 2004

40,000 people die in car accidents in the US every year. Car accidents is the leading killer of Americans aged 1-33. 30% of accidents are related to speeding.
posted by Triplanetary at 2:56 PM on April 7, 2004

As long as the punishment for speeding isn't grossly disproportionate (waiting 10-30 seconds, as opposed to a public flogging for example)

why would you stop for this red light?
posted by lescour at 2:59 PM on April 7, 2004

Even without these, speeders often force others to stop for a red light they wouldn't other wise have to: especially when the lights are synchronized for the speed limit.

Basically what happens is: speeder reaches the light while it's still red, stops, light turns green, driver behind has to stop because speeder hasn't pulled away yet, other cars behind all have to slow down or stop, whereas they'd have generally got the green in the first place if it hadn't been for the speeder. Happens a million times a day.

I have never understood why some people are in such a hurry to get to a red light.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:07 PM on April 7, 2004

I can tell you what will happen:

Speeders will trip the light. They'll get angry. To compensate, they'll drive faster to the next one. To compensate for that one, they'll spin their tires upon it changing. etc, etc. The driving gets continually agressive until an accident occurrs.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise that'll happen. Not to mention the increase of right-turn, u-turn, right-turn light beaters.
posted by shepd at 5:48 AM on April 8, 2004

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