TagOECD

Chicago has too many traffic signals

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People wait at a stop light on the first major ring road in the city center of Amsterdam. Photo: Northeastern University, Boston

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.

Let’s review

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.

Driving

  • 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)

Population

  • 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.

Signals

Results!

  • The Netherlands has over 39 signalized intersections per billion kilometers traveled.
  • Chicago has over 167 signalized intersections per billion kilometers traveled.

Stats from the OECD: Comparing traffic injuries of the United States and Netherlands

For an article I’m writing for Architect’s Newspaper about the Chicago Forward CDOT Action Agenda, I wanted to know about traffic injuries and fatalities in the United States, but compared to the Netherlands and Denmark and other places with a Vision Zero campaign (to have 0 traffic deaths each year).

I already knew the OECD had a good statistics database and web application. With a few clicks, I can quickly get a table of traffic injuries (casualties) listing just the countries I want. I can easily select the years I want, too.

In one more click the web application will show a time animated bar chart. A feature I’d like to see added is dividing the figure (in this case traffic injuries) by the population. Check out the video to see what it looks like. The United States looks to be in terrible shape, but our country has several times more residents.

I had trouble downloading and opening the CSV file of the data table I created. The XLS file was damaged, also. The built-in Mac OS X Archive Utility app couldn’t open the .gz file, but I used The Unarchiver app successfully.

My calculations, based on data from OECD (national population and traffic fatalities), Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), and the American Community Survey:

Fatalities per 100,000 in 2009

  • United States: 11.02472
  • Denmark: 5.48969
  • Netherlands: 4.35561
  • Sweden: 3.84988
  • Chicago: 16.74891
  • United Kingdom: 3.83555

Chicago’s fatality rate per 100,000 citizens in 2009 was 16.75 (473 deaths on the roads). The fatality rate dropped in 2010: just 11.65 deaths per 100,000 residents (315 deaths on the roads; the population also decreased).

Updated September 28, 2012, to add the United Kingdom. 

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