Why Dallas' Traffic Lights Are So Terrible

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My personal traffic-signal nemesis is where Garland Road and Gaston Avenue meet at the southern tip of White Rock Lake. Woe to the southbound driver who, having hit the intersection at 6:30 p.m., and having just learned that the squirming 4-year-old in the back seat has to go potty RIGHT NOW, must then watch one, two, sometimes three green lights flash to red before he's finally allowed passage.

There are dozens of such intersections in Dallas, maybe hundreds, spots where the signals are so maddeningly ill-timed that they must be the work of some malevolent city bureaucrat who takes perverse pleasure in watching the veins bulge in drivers' foreheads.

On the contrary, the man who oversees Dallas' traffic signals is a mild-mannered engineer who seems to be making every effort to make drivers' lives easier.

We would tell you his name, but we missed it when he introduced himself to the City Council's transportation committee. When we called the number listed for the director of the city's streets department, and asked the name of the assistant director with the Indian accent who had given this afternoon's briefing on traffic control signals, we were placed on hold then, after about a minute, informed that the man had been interim City Manager A.C. Gonzalez. When we replied that, no, it wasn't, we were met with a sigh, placed on hold for longer this time, then told that the streets department doesn't oversee traffic signals. (Yes, it does.)

(Update: We have been informed that the engineer in question is named Aurobindo Majumdar.)

The fact that the streets department seems to be unaware of one of its basic functions doesn't inspire confidence in its ability to operate a system as complex as the city's network of traffic signals. Further investigation reveals that this lack of confidence is entirely warranted, which is why the mysterious streets department official was briefing council members today and beginning sentences with warnings like "If our computer system fails..."

"Basically, our system is old," he said of the immense network of sensors, timers and computers that control every traffic light in the city.

The central computer system, which is "at risk of failure," is the most vulnerable. It dates to the 1980s and once belonged to Time Warner until the company deemed it obsolete and pawned it off on the city. But other key elements of the system, like the on-site computer that actually tells each signal to turn green or red, and the equipment that relays information are also at the end of their useful life.

The proposed solution is a system-wide upgrade that will cost $12.5 million, last three years, and should avert catastrophic failure. As an added bonus, it will allow for real-time monitoring of traffic, so engineers sitting at the central computer can adjust signal timing and self-diagnose problems before a traffic light malfunctions.

This solution, however, is only partial. It leaves out the lights themselves, which are also old and nearing the end of their useful lives.

"Right now focus on getting the brains ... Then they're going to have to address the hardware," Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan said.

And even the new system will require human monitoring, which is currently at a premium.

"You're not even covering the p.m. rush," Jordan said. "The ability to change signals on the fly because of accidents, they can't do that now because of the equipment. Even if they had the equipment, they don't have the staff."

In other words, it'll be a while before you're commute's any less maddening.


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49 comments
MightyBearSeven
MightyBearSeven

If we didn't spend all that tax money on that giant LiteBrite on the skyline (and not get paid back for it), maybe we'd have money to repair and replace infrastructure.

kduble
kduble

The city needs to study replacing some of these signals with traffic circles and roundabouts. Our proclivity for preferring lights over circles is cultural; it isn't about safety at all. Circles and roundabouts move traffic more efficiently most of the time; they're particularly effective off-peak. When London had a black out a few years back, traffic moved more efficiently without the lights.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

It is called the revenge of the C- student.


At one time many, many years ago, it was possible to graduate from a college with a C- average.  This is because the C grade meant that, you were average.


The joke among engineering faculty is as follows:


The A students go to grad school and become the next generation of teachers.

The B students go to work in industry or possibly as a consultant.

The C students go to work for the government.

The C- students go to work for the state highway department or the city streets department.


Ashlee34
Ashlee34

This is a  good case to privatize this shit. Oh, and can someone mention how villified the ticket cameras are?  I swear they are rigged and are low hanging fruit...

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

I always thought it poor control.  Now I see no one is in charge.  You especially notice it after the light loses signal after storm or gets turned off for work.  If the road was tuned before, e.g., Ervay, it is now way out of synch.  The truth is it was just dumb luck that the original configuration was ok.

uptownguy1
uptownguy1

What's the deal with green lights having a blinds on them?   It's very difficult to tell if the light is actually working.  The yellow and red have no blinds. It's easy to tell when those are working, but the others are very frustrating.

jack
jack

I blame Obama.

Obummer
Obummer

Yo letz keepz it real, Dallas just wantz our red-light-camera money.

Chris Altschuler
Chris Altschuler

I am in Bahrain right now and I have to say I these drivers here train me for that. At least you guys have stop signs. Here they are just pretty signs.

Wilson
Wilson

I think they'd work a lot better if everyone's taxes were lower and the city staff wasn't so bloated.  In fact, city services would be at their most awesome if we paid absolutely zero taxes and had no city government whatsoever. Isn't that how it's supposed to work?

monosyllabicman
monosyllabicman

Can we just take a moment and acknowledge that, as bad as the signals are under normal circumstances, that, much like the Gremlins, if they become wet, they are absolutely and terrifyingly evil? Seriously, every time it rains, I'd say 10% of Dallas's traffic signals just STOP working.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

city-wide, real time traffic light control?!?!?!?!?!

Mwa -hahahahahahahahaahahah!

HOW do I get that job?

Warren Johnson
Warren Johnson

Dallas traffic lights are a piece of cake. It's the Irving red light camera's that are MF'ers. I've gotten three in the last year.

Chris Stevens
Chris Stevens

What you guys need is roundabouts! They work a treat for traffic flow, and you wouldn't need the crazy overpasses that look ugly and get frozen as soon as the temperatures gets anywhere near the 30s.

Tom Blackwell
Tom Blackwell

Dallas has become a city of "No U Turn" signs that tie up the orderly flow of traffic. People are forced to travel out of their way, adding to the existing heavy traffic, just because of these signs.

Dawn Wildfang
Dawn Wildfang

LMAO I love the post comment you attached to this story... The lights do hate me... Actually I think they mock me with their "red gold and green... Loving would be easy if your colours were like my dreams Red, gold and green Red, gold and green!" Sorry had a culture club flash back

Jarratt Willis
Jarratt Willis

This is the reason I have a hard time using DART. The buses and trains are fine. It's getting to them that's the problem.

Mary Kulpon
Mary Kulpon

Lovers and Greenville....absolue worst.

Rob Hunter
Rob Hunter

I HATE THE WAY OUR TRAFFIC LIGHTS WORK! (and by saying that in all caps, YES I WAS SCREAMING!!!) They are mis timed as far as keeping a flow of traffic... MOST ARE TIMED BACKWARDS! And the length of so many, are so un-nessacary the should issue a monthly check to anyone with tags registered in Dallas for the wasted gas used sitting through them! No wonder people have such a high level of road rage.

gregmarcydagama
gregmarcydagama

If only we had more guns, less taxes, more toll roads, no public health care, jailed illegal immigrants, more privatization of public services, more religion in our life and government, more fracking on public lands, less unions and more right to work, voter id with photos, no social safety nets for anyone, those lights would work just fine. ~ / ~ OM 

lower9298
lower9298

The irony is that just north, in Richardson, you can drive for miles (especially north/south) and never stop at a light. And the cross, east/west traffic is seldom piled up. They somehow figured out how to do it.

Michael Howard
Michael Howard

BECAUSE PEOPLE IN DallA$$ DRIVE LIKE CRAP!!!! #DUH

jmckee3
jmckee3

Actually I've called the city and asked for the timing of two lights on my daily commute be changed and they were changed to my suggestion within a few days. If you are having more luck at the light at the Cedar Springs/Turtle Creek/ Bowen intersection, you know, the one where Cedar Springs intersects with itself or trying to turn left at the McKinney Ave/Cole/Oak Grove intersection I will accept your thanks for having the lights fixed.

Robert David
Robert David

duh the light stops hello ... even if you don't drive off for running a light or if you are just a little within the sensor range you get a ticket mailed .. it sucks.

dave832
dave832

@kduble Uh, yeah ... sure ... totally viable solution.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@Ashlee34 I hate red light cameras.  If snapped by one, I see several issues with it.  1) The fine I pay goes to a private company, not the city or county.  2)I cannot face my accuser in court.  There is no accuser to face.  3) they do not account for intangibles such as rainy and wet roads.  4) They are not consistent.  Even at the same light, timing varies at different times on different days.  They are designed to not only catch people racing yellows, but with shortened yellow light times, to force people into running reds.

dingo
dingo

@Wilson No, we are supposed to jack the traffic signals way out of synch so that commute times and frustrations are up because an undriveable city is a more walkable city.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @monosyllabicman Who needs them when it's raining?  Everyone acts like the stuff falling out of the skies is Radioactive Car Destroyer Bolts, and slams on the brakes randomly and often anyways.

ruddski
ruddski

Looks like someone has a case of the Mondays.

alteredjustice
alteredjustice

@lower9298 I wouldn't call that ironic. I think Richardson does quite a few things better than Dallas.

seat21d
seat21d

@Mike Howard Because all the idiots from the suburbs clog Dallas streets

casiepierce
casiepierce

@jmckee3 Willing to be MATA might have had a little something to do with that last one....

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@seat21d @Obummer try turning right on red, after coming to a complete stop, yep, you still get a red light ticket

CitzenKim
CitzenKim

@seat21d Yes, because all the high-school dropouts in Dallas are excellent drivers while those suburban master degree-holders are absolutely idiot drivers.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @brussell8691 @CitzenKim @seat21d Of course he's referring to the VAST gap between the 10.8% of Dallasites with a masters or higher and the 11.1% of Colin County residents with a masters or higher.

Because he's the sort of sooper geenyus that would know that.

IgnatiusJ
IgnatiusJ

@CitzenKim @seat21d You're right:  The hundreds of thousands of residents in Dallas City Limits (proper)  living in horrible housing in Lake Highlands, the Park Cities, Lakewood, Devonshire, Downtown, Uptown, the M Streets, the Multiple High Rise Luxury towers, Kessler, and other plain old folk like me consider you our masters.  We HATE our Museums, nightlife (that's replicated in the outer-lands), roads, music venues, etc.  Thanks for your great insight.

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