The fight against gridlock

As the population of the United States increases exponentially and the number of vehicles on the nation's roads and highways skyrockets, new methods of traffic control and organization have become necessary to manage a growing traffic crisis. Geographically, Los Angeles is the largest city in California and the second-largest urban area in the nation. As a major center of commerce, entertainment, manufacturing, and industries, Los Angeles is home to more than four million residents and a network of streets and highways. In the past fifteen years, the number of vehicles in Los Angeles has increased by nearly two million (DMV), the number of licensed drivers has increased by nearly half a million (DMV), but the size of the general population has only risen by several hundred thousand (U.S. Census Bureau). Between the years of 1995 and 2009, the average number of miles driven by Southern Californians was well over six thousand annually, while the number of miles of roads increased only slightly (Federal Highway Administration). By wide margins, Los Angeles leads the nation in urban traffic congestion. For example, the metropolitan region ranks number one for total annual hours of delay and gallons of wasted fuel. With the mounting effects of traffic in Los Angeles, the revision of current and application of new systems to coordinate and organize traffic is crucial. Part of the overload of traffic in Los Angeles occurs off the highway and on the local streets. In order to solve the urban crisis, it is vital to analyze and resolve the local traffic problems that plague the corridors and intersections of the city of Los Angeles.

Cars and other vehicles are an enormous cost to society, costing billions of dollars per year. These expenses are caused mainly by traffic accidents, traffic jams, and the environmental hazards created by the large number of vehicles on the road. Traffic jams, along with traffic accidents and the poor signal timing, account for more than one half of the traffic congestion in the United States. Excess traffic produces numerous negative effects on society and its drivers. The most prominent cost drivers pay is time. Since time is limited, the more time that is spent waiting in traffic, the less there is for civic and productive activities. Seeing as congestion is a non-productive activity, it reduces regional economic health. Also, when drivers are unable to forecast travel time accurately, they allocate more time to travel "just in case", and less time on dynamic activities. In fact, the annual delay in traffic per person in Los Angeles is 136 hours (Texas Transportation Institute). Delays also result in late arrival for meetings, employment, and education, resulting in lost business, disciplinary action or other personal losses. Congestion also ties up economic development by: forcing supply-chain managers to bulk up inventories and constructs more distribution centers (The Washington Post), increasing vehicle operating costs (CIE), and alter businesses' ability to produce and deliver goods. As many more vehicles make use of roads, the amount of poisonous hydrocarbons unleashed into the atmosphere steadily increases. In fact, traffic congestion accounts for a large percentage of environmental damage. Wasted fuel increases airpollutionand carbon dioxide emissions which contribute toglobal warming. Cars stuck in traffic emit nearly twenty metric pounds of carbon per gallon of fuel (Car Almanac). In a recent study, research shows that Los Angeles' traffic congestion is responsible for releasing eighteen tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. On the other hand, increased fuel use also results in the rise of fuel costs. Wear and tear on vehicles increases as a result of constant acceleration and braking, leading to countless repairs and replacements. Reduced health would result from stress, frustration, and road rage caused by traffic. Moreover, blocked traffic may prevent the passage of emergency vehicles traveling to their destinations where they are urgently needed. Unmistakably, traffic congestion is a dominant and complicated problem that must be addressed with bold countermeasures, or it will take its toll on the economy, the environment, and quality of life.

Despite the overwhelming problems that exist with present systems of transportation and traffic control, numerous solutions exist that may prove both efficient and effective. These include utilizing better techniques of road design and construction, formulating new methods of transportation, and developing better traffic signaling and controlling equipment. Major transit infrastructure and highway related options were not evaluated in solutions, only measures that focused primarily on local passenger travel. One feasible alternative that has been a prominent prospect for many years is the addition of roads. Since the concept of traffic congestion functions like an economic model, analysts have suggested that the problem could be solved by increasing the supply. If the limited supply of roads was expanded, it would counteract the immense demand of vehicles. Road capacity could be incremented by adding more roadways, such as lanes and streets, as well as creating new routes for vehicles and widening existing streets, all which could potentially combat traffic congestion. With more supply, traffic could flow freely and the imbalanced equation would reach a more reasonable equilibrium. However, the defects of this proposal outweigh any prospective benefits. Undermining this congestion-reduction strategy is the concept of "triple convergence". With the introduction of new roads and reduction of delay, travelers who had previously changed their travel patterns to avoid congestion will notice the improvement and return to driving along the once-busiest routes. (RAND) Some will shift from other times of travel, some from other routes of travel, and some from other modes of transportation. This pattern slowly erodes the initial congestion-reduction benefits offered by the increase of roads. (RAND) In essence, traffic flow improves for a short period when new lanes are added but returns to being congested within just a few years. Further, the road network in Los Angeles is already by far the most extensive in the nation, and there is very little space to add more road capacity in the areas where congestion is most intense. (RAND) In addition, "many local communities oppose the construction of new or expanded roads in their neighborhoods, for social, health, or environmental reasons, and this further limits the possibility of adding new roads." (RAND) Therefore, increasing road capacity is inefficient and ineffective in easing the congestion problem in Los Angeles.

The only productive method for reducing traffic in Los Angeles is through optimization of existing road technologies and infrastructures. Poor signal control is accountable for a large fraction of urban congestion. If signal control is inefficient, congestion may expand like a ripple throughout the area. The introduction of the Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) system is proven to synchronize and compose traffic on even the busiest corridors of metropolitan cities. ATSAC is a "computer-based traffic signal control system that monitors traffic conditions and performance, selects appropriate signal timing strategies, and performs alert functions. Sensors in the street detect the passage of vehicles, vehicle speed, and the level of congestion. This information is received on a second-by-second basis and is analyzed on a minute-by-minute basis at the ATSAC Operations Center, located four floors below the street in the City Hall, to determine if better traffic flow can be achieved by changing the signal timing." (LADOT) In short, the signal timing is either automatically changed by the ATSAC computers or manually changed by the operator in response to current traffic demands. Many times, signals remain fixated for extended periods of time when no vehicles are present or rapidly switch to red when large volumes of vehicles require passage. The ATSAC traffic sensors would correct this prolonged defect and diminish traffic at intersections. The major benefit of the ATSAC System is the ability to effectively manage dynamic traffic flow. When bulks of cars assemble within small vicinity, there must be a system to harmonize and lessen traffic. Evaluation studies of the ATSAC System show that travel times, traffic signal delay, vehicular stops, air emissions and fuel use are significantly reduced. (LADOT) ATSAC also provides the capability to continually measure traffic volumes and congestion levels for analysis of transportation trends. This system has been implemented in thousands of intersections across Los Angeles and has proven to significantly reduce the intensification of traffic. Additionally, non city grant funding will provide approximately two thirds of construction and implementation costs, with one third of funds appropriated from the local government. The system would be implemented in all intersections across Los Angeles, ensuring traffic reduction. The cost of introducing this system city-wide may appear expensive, but it is incomparable to the colossal expenses of traffic congestion. In 1984, ATSAC stabilized and synchronized traffic flow around the Olympic Games in the Coliseum. In 1992, the ATSAC system received the distinguished award "Innovations in State and Local Governments" from the Ford Foundation. Thus, improving the efficiency of the existing roadway system through the implementation of advanced technologies is one of the best and proven approaches to alleviate gridlock in the long run. Through analysis, the ATSAC system is a recognized solution capable of reversing the complications of traffic.

Among the strategies that address congestion, reduce unexpected delays, and make the most of the Nation's existing investments, advancement of traffic control technologies proves to play a critical role in the battle against traffic by optimizing efficiency. Unlike the proposal to increase roadways, ATSAC system is a qualified solution that serves the city of Los Angeles and its resident's in their best interests. Working together, transportation agencies can accelerate the solution to congestion by embracing and being more aggressive in advocating the need for improved transportation management, engineering and advancement. It does not take a huge reduction in traffic to make a difference; even a small percent reduction of cars on the road could reduce congestion by a noticeable margin. All in all, the local traffic problem of Los Angeles will be relieved; it's only a matter of time.

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