A front-page story in Sunday's Oregonian by Michael Milstein details how local and state governments have undertaken numerous small measures that collectively help offset greenhouse gas levels and, in turn, help fight global warming. Between traffic signal improvements, tree planting and building efficiency measures, Milstein reports, the next few decades years will see these efforts alone reduce carbon dioxide by millions of tons. Of course, that's a good thing.
But one aspect of the report, even amidst the good news of carbon reductions, got me frustrated. According to a sidebar report, Portland transportation managers have recently cut greenhouses gases by adjusting traffic signals. The idea is to allow traffic to flow more efficiently with fewer red-light stops. At intersections like 39th and Division, Martin Luther King between Killingsworth and Broadway, and a stretch of Powell Boulevard, they've tracked traffic around the clock and created new timing plans with the help of computer programs.
At Southeast 39th Avenue, for example, "It shows that all the drivers on an average weekday will now stop 5,051 fewer times at red lights and will together spend 210 fewer hours driving the section of Southeast 39th."
Whoa, stop there a minute. (Or several minutes if you're at the Burnside/Sandy intersection with 12th.) Why did we need the threat of global warming to make traffic lights operate as efficiently as possible?
I'll be the first to admit that when traveling in the city, it's always better to be taking mass transit instead of driving. And frequently that's precisely what I do. My car only accrues a few thousand miles per year. But when I do drive, I want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. What driver doesn't? It's always seemed somewhat likely that not all traffic lights are timed together as efficiently as possible, but I always thought there must be people at various local and state departments of transportation working on this problem. And now we learn they've decided to make the stoplight system more efficient because it cuts carbon? How about cutting the years off my life spent stopped at red lights?
I think of all the times I've been in a hurry sometime, passed through one newly-turned green light and, no matter how fast or slow I drive, been forced to stop a block later for an ill-timed red light. Granted I'm probably more passionate about driving than most, but I want there to be a team of top experts working practically around the clock to determine exactly how to get all cars through all of the thousands of traffic lights in this city as efficiently as humanly possible. If they haven't been doing this all along, as in for the last several decades at the very least, then that makes me pretty frustrated.
And as much as I favor any policy designed to reduce carbon emissions and fight global warming, I must confess that I feel even greater motivation simply as a driver. Make these lights work as efficiently as possible -- like you should have been doing for our frickin' grandparents!