So Audrey Moore has been elected chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. What is the effect of that on traffic?
First, it means that John F. Herrity is no longer on the board. Herrity went to all the local functions and fought hard to make the county grow and prosper, but the growth he promoted outpaced necessary road construction. Voters held the traffic against him. Life in Fairfax County today means traffic jams for hours in the mornings and evenings, and all day Saturday.
A Springfield architect tried to leave home Saturday afternoon to go to Alexandria but found the roads so congested he turned around. "I had to come home because I couldn't leave Springfield," he said. This affects nerves and family relationships. It drastically affects quality of life. It is something voters can see. Much of Audrey Moore's majority can be attributed to anti-Herrity sentiment. Moore has been strident about the need to control growth and develop the county in a balanced, sensible way, but decisions in courts and in the state legislature have allowed landowners to push beyond that. At the same time, she has voted against a number of major road projects, and some of those votes have contributed to the traffic mess today. "The voters want us to get the traffic moving," she said triumphantly at her victory celebration. She's right. And it remains for Moore and the new board to deliver. Quickly, please. Wasn't it a touch ironic that on the very day that Herrity was losing big on the growth/traffic issue, Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer was winning a 4-to-3 council vote that would provide for massive redevelopment in Silver Spring, attracting thousands of new jobs -- and more cars -- to that urban setting? Kramer said the redevelopment would bring more economic prosperity to the county. He won a narrow vote over the protests of people who said the redevelopment would bring too much traffic. The opponents seemed to be saying that Kramer and the four council members who voted for that development should understand that economic prosperity is more difficult to measure than traffic. If the politicians don't believe that, they should ask Herrity.
One of the most frequently asked questions is why there aren't more synchronized traffic lights. The answer varies in the different jurisdictions, and we'll take them one at a time: Dear Dr. Gridlock:
My question concerns the synchronization of traffic lights on main rush hour arteries. As a rush-hour commuter, I regularly use New York Avenue and Constitution Avenue. In some stretches of these streets you can see four or five lights in front of you. You can see when they're not synchronized when you pass through two or three of them with traffic moving freely and then hit a red light at the next one. This causes gridlock situations. Sometimes you learn the pattern which requires you to speed through some lights while going below the speed limit through others. At other times, you'll find the lights synchronized for traffic going in the opposite direction during rush hour -- this is especially true near the Capitol on Constitution. Are traffic lights synchronized through a master control system or is each light synchronized manually with other lights? JIM GALE Lanham
District of Columbia traffic officials say that with nearly 1,300 traffic signal lights, most of them clustered closely together, attempting to please everyone is a difficult task. Ideally, they would like to see motorists drive around the city with the least amount of stops and gos. With a new centralized computer traffic system planned for full operation by 1990, that may be more of a reality.
According to George Schoene, the city's traffic chief, traffic lights are synchronized three ways: They are coordinated with each other differently for the morning rush hour, evening rush hour and all other times.
Simply put, they try to have a row of lights turn green in succession on a stretch of the street with the heaviest rush hour traffic flow. A motorist going the opposite way of the rush-hour traffic or caught in a cross street may stop more frequently because the lights are coordinated the other way or for the other street. It is imperfect, but the best that can be done with the centralized radio system they have now, Schoene said.
With the current system, which will be changed to a central computerized system by 1990, a transmitter sends signals to a receiver that tells the lights to change. The biggest problem arises, according to Schoene, when the signal lights are faulty and do not change when they are supposed to. With the current, one-way system, there is no way of telling whether a light is appropriately working or not unless someone calls in to complain.
When the new, $25 million system is fully operational, there will be a two-way feedback in which traffic engineers will be able to know immediately whether a traffic signal is working appropriately or not. It also will allow for multiple traffic plans instead of the limited three-way plan in existence now. With the multiple plan, traffic lights can be synchronized not only for morning and evening rush-hour traffic, but for special events, holidays and other factors that might hamper traffic flow.
Once it is fully operational throughout the city, the new computerized system should be able to adapt to increases as well as the changes in the traffic patterns of the city, making driving in the city a little less irritating, Schoene said.
In the meantime, the city has been receptive to fielding complaints from the public about traffic lights that don't work. They recently fixed ones that were out of sync at 13th and T streets NW and at Ninth and I streets NW. If you know of one that doesn't seem right, jot down the location, direction of traffic flow and problem and send it this way, and we'll forward it to Schoene.
Dr. Gridlock appears in this section each Friday to explore what makes it difficult to get around on roads, from misleading signs to parking problems to chronic bottlenecks. We'll try to find out why bad situations exist and what is being done about them. You can suggest topics by writing to GRIDLOCK, c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.