You know when you’re driving around town and it feels like you’re running through all the red lights? All. Only. A.
It’s not in your head. While we often think of traffic as defined by jammed freeways and interstates, congestion on major city streets actually accounts for 60% of traffic delays in urban areas, researchers at Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute have found. . They set out to rank cities based on how often drivers are likely to hit red.
“American drivers share a common experience — and sometimes a common frustration — with traffic lights every day,” said Luke Albert, associate research engineer who worked on the study. “We’ve developed a way to compare these experiences across cities.”
The city that ranked at the bottom? Fresno, California. Let’s explain the math.
Researchers examined 210,000 traffic lights in 101 cities for one week in October 2020 to determine a “traffic signal effectiveness index” for each location. What does this number mean? It measures how much more likely a driver is to come across a green light than to drive to a red light.
The national average for all cities surveyed was 1.7, according to the report. This means the average driver is 1.7 times more likely to hit a green light than a red light.
But in Fresno, the score was 1.1. Drivers there had about the same chance of hitting a red or green light.
Another, much larger, California city was not far behind. San Jose ranked No. 5 on the list of worst-performing red lights. It scored 1.3 and just over half (56%) of arrivals at intersections gave drivers the green light.
Several other California metropolitan areas fell below the national average:
- Riverside-San Bernardino
- San Diego
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim
The Indio-Cathedral City metropolitan area and the San Francisco-Oakland area both fell very close to the national average of 1.7.
Only one California city, Oxnard, performed better than the national average when it came to red lights. But even then his score was 1.8 – just above average.
On the other side of the spectrum, Boulder drivers rarely have to hit the brakes. Their score was 2.6, meaning they see green lights at intersections 2.6 times more often than red lights.
The 15 worst-scoring cities nationally, where drivers most often hit red lights, were:
- Fresno, California
- Corpus Christi, Texas
- Jackson, Mississippi
- McAllen, TX
- San Jose, California
- Boston, MA
- Wichita, Kansas
- Riverside-San Bernardino, California
- Worcester (Massachusetts)
- San Diego, California
- Brownville, TX
- Providence, Rhode Island
- Tucson, Arizona
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Not a single Californian city makes the list of top performers.
The top 15 cities, where drivers were less likely to get stuck at red lights, were:
- Boulder, Colorado
- Raleigh, North Carolina
- Omaha, Nebraska
- Jacksonville, Florida
- Greensboro, North Carolina
- St. Louis, Missouri
- Denver Aurora, Colorado
- Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida
- Detroit, Michigan
- Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Cape Coral, Florida
- Cincinnati, Ohio
- Orlando Florida
- San Antonio, TX
- Salem, Oregon
The researchers found that cities with more red lights generally performed better than cities with fewer lights at intersections.
The study also looked at red light performance statewide. Nebraska, Wyoming, Alaska, Colorado and North Carolina had the highest scores, while Massachusetts, Main, Nevada, New Hampshire and Rhode Island had the worst results.
California ranked 14th from bottom.
They also noted that the time frame they studied might have had an impact on the results. For example, cities in Louisiana experienced power outages following Hurricane Delta in October 2020, which may have affected signals at intersections.
Suggest a fix