One of my personal urban pet peeves is that the traffic signals on a street like New York’s Fifth Avenue, on which a majority of users are pedestrians, seemed timed in such a way to interfere as much as possible with smooth ambulatory progress. Seriously, I feel like I have to stop at every single light on Fifth.
From the invaluable Streetfilms comes a look at what would happen if a street like Valencia in San Francisco had its signals timed such that cyclists had a green wave. What about cars, you ask? Isn’t that anti-car-ism? Well, actually, as San Francisco Streetsblog points out: “Recently, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) found that during peak commute times vehicles run more efficiently when signals are timed at the speeds they actually travel during congestion — 12 to 15 mph — rather than the current 25 mph.” Not to mention that cyclist signal compliance rates will inevitably rise. On streets to which you’re trying to attract cycles, why not offer the carrot instead of merely the stick? Synchronization, in a grid city, has its natural limits but it’s certainly worth favoring certain modes on particular streets.
I often find some of the most hazardous urban driving behavior to be people accelerating between lights, or emerging from a pack of congestion. The question is how to get drivers to stick to speeds that are lower overall, but actually promote smoother, more fuel-efficient driving. ISA (intelligent speed adaptation) is probably the most far-reaching tool, but in some ways a political non-starter in the U.S. (for now, at least). I suspect that merely telling drivers through signage that the only way to get a row of greens is to drive 15 or 20 mph will somehow not work (the average driver is an incredibly opportunistic, short-range planner, only concerned with getting to the next red light as fast as possible).