Special Reports

All signals point to smarter traffic flow

You know the drill.

Drive down U.S. 41 at 45 mph in the slow lane. Sure enough, right on your tail - almost in your trunk - is somebody desperately trying to pass you up. The driver gains the fast lane, then pounds that pedal, weaving in and out - until you both rendezvous at the next light, where he sits waiting for you.

Or you try to make a right on red onto a four-lane road, but the cars turning left from the other direction sweep into the outside lane - your lane by traffic law, but they've hogged both.

Both examples demonstrate that transportation is a behavioral science. In fact, "road rage" has moved into the criminal justice arena. The more people hurry on the highway, the more uncivil and inconsiderate we become. We have a rule book on safety, but very little instruction on driving intelligently.

Ah, but there is good news on our horizon. Government operations are looking much smarter. For several years, every level of government has struggled with how to do a better job of managing road capacity. The amount of money and time needed for road improvements are staggering. During several local problem-solving sessions, we were told by experts that an integrated signalization process called "Intelligent Transportation Systems" is the absolute "best bang for the buck."

The high point of the story is that Manatee and Sarasota counties have received state funding to install this technology. The central command center will be housed in the new facility on 47th Avenue East. The building is 75 percent complete and should be up and running this year.

Initially, the Florida Department of Transportation will install the network components that control information flow from street to control center and back to street and drivers through video cameras and upgraded traffic signal control equipment at major intersections.

Returning from California four years ago, my granddaughter, Nicole, told me about Smart Lights: "Wow, how smoothly the traffic moved with a lot less crowding at the red lights. Actually, it was more friendly to pedestrians."

Many of our local citizens are familiar with places where this is at work. We all know that this is but one facet in today's advanced technology. ITS, along with ATMS (Automated Traffic Management Systems) will not only help us in day-to-day travel, but in times of emergency evacuation, disaster and security alerts.

This is just a brief sketch of a major endeavor. Call the MPO at 359-5775 for more information.

We are a free and mobile society in love with our automobiles and convenient commerce. Highway signals may only play a small part in easing our distress, but they may become a beacon toward a brighter future. Maybe smart and intelligent technology will influence the way we act.

After all, transportation is a behavioral science.

Pat Glass, just-retired from political office after almost three decades as Manatee County commissioner, writes every Wednesday to Herald readers about key issues and concerns with her unique insights. To reach her write to her c/o Bradenton Herald Metro Desk, 102 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, FL 34205.

Pat Glass

Citizen at Large


Find previous columns by Pat Glass in the Special Coverage area of our Web site.