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Posted on Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Dave!Apparently, we have more tax dollars than we know what to do with here in Washington State.

Yesterday Seattle pressed the "on button" for their new "Smart Highway" project. In theory, it sounds fantastic. Highways which adapt to traffic conditions and help to regulate congestion by controlling the speed and position of vehicles on the road.

These new "Smart Highways" interact with reconfigurable signs like this...

Smert Highway!

In the above example, there's been a car collision, and the right two lanes have been closed. In preparation for this, there were instructions to merge earlier up the road...

Smert Highway!

And even earlier up the road, the traffic was slowed in order to make the merge happen more smoothly... and also to compensate for the loss of two lanes.

Smert Highway!

See? Fantastic. In theory.

In practice? Not so much.

Because the big glaring flaw in all this is that drivers aren't going to give a shit about any of it. People are going to wait until the last second before they merge (as always). People are going to ignore the reduced speed limits and go as fast as they can (as always). People are going to slow to a crawl as they approach the accident so they can gawk (as always). And it doesn't matter if you tell everybody that police will be enforcing compliance with the signage, because they don't really comply with the signage we have now.

And controlling traffic around an accident is the BEST CASE SCENARIO for making use of the "Smart Highway" signs. It's completely ineffectual for anything else. Case in point? It's ineffectual for managing heavy Seattle traffic, because no sign can change the fact that I-5 Northbound goes from five lanes to two lanes once you hit downtown. What can a sign... even a changeable sign... do with that bottleneck? And every time I saw that the speed had been reduced to "help with the lane flow" it was still posted as faster than what anybody was driving. And, even if somebody could exceed the ever-changing speed-limit, how the hell are the police going to enforce anything? The speed is 50 MPH one second and 40 MPH the next. How do you enforce that?

And, everything else aside, is it even SAFE to take people's eyes off the road for constant changes, updates, warnings, instructions, or what-not?

Millions spent. Nothing's changed. Maybe things are even worse.

So sadly typical.

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Categories: Travel 2010Click To It: Permalink


  1. Sybil Law says:

    Yep – bigger, more obnoxious signs – that people will continue to ignore, for the most part.

  2. delmer says:

    Maybe they could have Tom Bergeron doing traffic updates on 530 a.m. to round out the whole Hollywood Squares feel of the thing.

  3. Neil T. says:

    The M25, which is the main motorway around the edge of London, uses a similar system in places; variable speed limits are applied to keep traffic flowing smoothly. And I think they are mostly adhered to.

    Most of the modern and/or busiest motorways have signs above the lanes which can show if lanes are closed, but in reality these tend only to be used late at night for maintenance purposes.

  4. A. Lewis says:

    “Nothing’s change”??? I thought they just started it yesterday? How does anybody know if it’s working yet???? I think it’s cool…..if it works. It gives total flexibility to changing direction, speed, warnings, etc. Rather than nothing. Come on D2, give the pretty fun lights a chance?!

  5. Walt says:

    Here in good old Pennsyl-tucky our brilliant Department of Transportation have taken four lane highways and reduced them to two lanes “for safety.” Yes, that’s right they’ve taken the fast lanes out to control traffic so you have to follow trucks and buses up giant hills. It’s awesome! Two perfectly good lanes sitting in the middle just covered by yellow lines. Every other state tries to move forward with some sort of progress but here in PA we fight it tooth and nail!

  6. Sounds like Phoenix. They put in speed cameras on the freeways a couple of years back. Last month they turned them all off. They’re still there but they don’t fire when you speed. Nice waste of tax payer money. Never created the revenue they were hoping for, wasn’t really any “safer”.

  7. muskrat says:

    There’s NO WAY I could’ve made it to the airport today without these signs. I don’t know what your problem is.

  8. Barnmaven says:

    The lesson to be learned from this? DO NOT DRIVE ON THE I-90. Bypass, Dave, bypass. That traffic sucks balls.

  9. I have an image of Bruce Campbell advertising this a la “rmy of Darkness.”

    “Drive smart! Drive Seattle’s Smart!”

    I need to get a life.

  10. martymankins says:

    Those signs do actually help, but only if you are paying attention while driving. So those that look down to eat their burger or drink their latte or (god forbid) grab your phone to text someone, they are completely useless.

    Which leads to why that one sign says “Collision Ahead”

  11. Michael A says:

    Funding for the sign project came from federal grants, not WA tax dollars. If WA had any tax dollars, I’d be getting my first raise in… oh… four years?

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