THE CITY Dallas has 1,146 traffic lights-and there’s at least one you’ve never made in your life, right? The reason can be found in the city’s Traffic Management Center, where a cadre of engineers analyzes traffic flow, then synchronizes traffic signals accordingly.
Not surprisingly, the longest light cycles, two to three minutes from green to green, can be found on Northwest Highway, Preston Road, Coit and LBJ and other heavily traveled streets and intersections. As for that one light that has your name on it-well, part of traffic management is letting drivers creep a ways, then making them sit.
And then there’s the nightmare of the broken traffic light in rush hour traffic. With the exception of the Central Business District (CBD), Traffic Management depends on irritated citizens to report lights on the fritz. The office gets about 22 calls a day, many via cellular phones from irate motorists.
“Then they call back five minutes later and complain that it’s still flashing red,” says Elizabeth Ramirez, supervising engineer over signal operations. “Well, if they haven’t been able to get to the intersection, neither can our trucks.”
This situation should improve in January when a $4 million computerized system linking much of the Central Expressway corridor with the Traffic Management Center will go on-line. The CBD currently has such a system. When a light malfunctions, an alarm goes off in the office, and a graphic of the offending intersection is put onto a screen. An engineer sitting at a control station can sometimes fix the problem immediately. Most breakdowns will still require on-site repairs, but the response time will be much quicker. And then maybe a few mobile phone bills will be lighter.