I was flabbergasted to learn today that there are only 5,500 signalized intersections in all of the Netherlands. I was reading Mark’s blog “Bicycle Dutch” and he interviewed a city traffic signal engineer in Den Bosch, who described how different road users are prioritized at different times based on the complex programming. (Watch the video below.)
In Chicago there are more than 3,000 signalized intersections. And I believe this is way more than we need.
I understand more than the average person how traffic moves in each place and how it “works”. There is such a thing as too many traffic signals because at some point the signals (their proximity and their programming) start causing delays and conflicts.
Saying that traffic – of all kinds, bikes, trucks, buses, delivery vans, and personal vehicles – moves better in cities in the Netherlands than in Chicago is an understatement.
Aside from their impacts on traffic (which can be good in some situations, but aggravating existing problems in other places), signals are very expensive to purchase, install, and maintain.
In Chicago, an alderman (city councilor) can use part of their $1.3 million “menu” money annual allocation to purchase a traffic signal for $300,000. That’s money that won’t be used for transportation investments that reduce the number of severe traffic crashes as well as reduce congestion like bus lanes and protected bike lanes.
I compared their populations (about 17 million in the Netherlands and 2.7 million in Chicago) and saw that Chicago has a lot more traffic signals per person.
On Twitter, however, I was challenged to find the number of traffic signals per mile driven, not per capita.
So, I did, and I was surprised by the result.
This assumes I collected the right statistics, and converted the driving figures correctly.
The surprise: There are more passenger miles driven (known as VMT) in the Netherlands, per capita, than in Chicago. I actually can’t even get passenger miles driving in Chicago – I can only find “all miles” driven. And that includes trips on interstates that pass through Chicago but where the driver or passengers don’t stop in Chicago.
Here’s the analysis, though.
- According to the OECD, there were 145,400 million kilometers driven on roads, for passenger transport, excluding bus coaches, in the Netherlands in 2013 (the latest year for which data was available in the Netherlands). That’s 145.4 billion kilometers. (Source, no permalink.)
- According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, there were 11,150,109 thousand miles for all kinds of road transport, in Chicago in 2013. That’s 11.2 billion miles, which converts to 17.9 billion kilometers. (Source)
- In 2013, the Netherlands had 16,804,430 inhabitants (they had declared reaching 17,000,000 this year), according to the OECD.
- In 2013, the City of Chicago had 2,706,101 inhabitants, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009-2013 ACS 5-year estimate.
- The Netherlands has over 5,500 signalized intersections.
- Chicago has over 3,000 signalized intersections.
- The Netherlands has over 39 signalized intersections per billion kilometers traveled.
- Chicago has over 167 signalized intersections per billion kilometers traveled.