This is What Happens when the Traffic Lights Go Out


IMG_20140430_080808_431It is a regular day as people everywhere get into their cars and quietly go towards work. For the most part, the city seems normal. At least it was until a huge demand in electricity caused an outage which turned off the lights at a peaceful intersection. With only a few people present at the time, it wasn’t hard to figure out what to do. The individuals involved proceeded to approach the crossroads like a 4-way stop and everything continued without a glitch. A couple of seconds later the power returns. Red lights turn to green, sprinklers regain their schedule spraying the lawns with mists of water vapor, and traffic continues.

Since there was little traffic, only a minor inconvenience occurred. However, this was not the case at another intersection just down the road. The lights are still black there and the area is on a much busier street making the individuals much more tense. Instead of waiting for each vehicle to proceed one by one, the people on opposite sides push through in groups. The ones parallel to each other move on after that, taking turns crossing the road’s center point. Power does return, but only after a lot of honking and yelling.


Just as the scene calms down, another malfunction happens. This time all the lights are blinking red. The system resets, but the controller mechanisms haven’t re-calibrated yet. No one knows what to do. Then, all of a sudden, the cops show up trying to figure out what is going on and pedestrians start taking photos. This extended period of time without working lights forces two people who are not paying attention to interact. Tires screech and metal collide pushing into the frames of the two vehicles like dented beer cans.

Although money will exchange hands addressing the cost of damages, the sudden lack of power on the grid shows that the infrastructure put in place is not sustainable. At some point in time, the cracks will show.



Remove all the traffic lights and push towards automated driverless cars. People will still be able to to travel. There will just be a heightened sense of awareness until they get more comfortable with the new system. Now replace the steering wheel with a touch display and let the cars drive themselves. Allow each vehicle to talk directly to each other without having to communicate through a centralized server. This will keep each car asking where the other vehicles are in relation to each other. Each node would be able to see what the others are connected to maintaining the context of the roads. After installing all this, then you won’t need any faulty signal lights trying to direct the traffic that changes at any given moment anyways, and everyone can continue on their way back to work even if the power goes out.



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