Thursday, April 21, 2005

Traffic lights get an F in efficiency

This headline appeared in the online version of USA Today in Yahoo.

The nation's traffic lights are woefully inefficient and outdated, forcing frustrated commuters to sit in congestion, waste gasoline and pollute the air, a traffic engineering group said Wednesday.

Two-thirds of 378 traffic agencies in 49 states don't actively monitor traffic lights, or they simply respond to problems as they occur, the Washington-based Institute of Transportation Engineers reported.
Below is a copy of a letter I sent to Michigan officials.

September 9, 2003

Governor Jennifer M. Granholm
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909

Sen. Gilda Z. Jacobs
Post Office Box 30036
Lansing, MI 48909-7536

The Road Commission for Oakland County
31001 Lahser Road
Beverly Hills, MI 48025

Wayne County Department of Public Services
Administration Division
415 Clifford St., 8th Floor
Detroit, MI 48226

Subject: Traffic Management

As an owner of two homes in Oakland County and a frequent traveler in Wayne County, it is apparent that there is an inconsistent effort to manage traffic flow on major surface roads. This has a significant economic impact within Southeast Michigan in time lost and fuel wasted.

As an example, Newburgh Road in Livonia between Five Mile Road and Eight Mile Road is posted at 40 mph. The signal progression is precisely the opposite of the posted speed so that traffic is halted at every light in that stretch. Other examples of signal progression that is idiosyncratic are M24 (Lapeer Road between Silver Bell Road and the Palace (sometimes, but not always, the world’s shortest green light southbound at Brown Road), and Telegraph Road between Maple Road and Long Lake Road.

There are many other high traffic locations that I could cite, but the point should be clear: lack of signal progression is wasteful and too frequent. Given the amount of taxes dedicated to roads, a simple improvement that would immediately benefit all would be attention to signal progression. It is not rocket science or even difficult mathematics. With computer control over signals, it should be nothing more than simple diligence. This is an opportunity to make a noticeable improvement in traffic at very little cost. And this improvement is totally independent of road construction costs.

By the way, the first time I brought this subject up was in the 1980s… and I haven’t seen a lot of improvement since.


Bruce Hall

To be fair, some improvements have been made, but overall, very little progress is evident. Let's presume that poorly timed lights and resulting congestion increase fuel consumption by 25%. At $2.25 per gallon, that means that you are spending about 50 cents or so of each gallon on the failure of traffic engineers, who are paid with your taxes, to do their jobs properly.

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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
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Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)