Why smart traffic lanes are a dumb idea

Tue, 2013-07-23 06:10 -- Jesse Berst

By Jesse Berst

The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune is out with an update on the smart traffic lanes installed about a year ago. The lanes have large signboards at periodic intervals. Messages signal lane closures and suggested speeds. According to the article, smart lanes have been used in Europe for about 10 years. They've produced a 30% decrease in collisions and a 22% increase in roadway capacity.

But apparently they are too confusing for American drivers, at least in the Twin Cities and Seattle, the two U.S. communities that have them installed. The Star Tribune reports that drivers don't understand the meaning of the recommended speeds. And since I live in Seattle, I can report that I didn't know what they meant until I read the article. (As pictured here, the Seattle signboards suggest how much to slow down to avoid slamming into upcoming congestion.) 

My take: Smart lanes and message boards are a clumsy, old-school way to pass alerts to drivers. Far better, in my view, to set up systems that pass messages to smart phones and GPS navigators.


Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to subscribe to SmartCitiesNow, the weekly newsletter highlighting smart city trends, technologies and techniques.