The Herald Bulletin

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May 25, 2013

LA stoplights synchronized but road war endures

LOS ANGELES — It seems that the impossible has occurred: The nation's most congested city has become a model for traffic control.

Yes, gridlock still prevails and drivers' blood pressure still spikes as LA's traffic arteries seize up during every morning and afternoon rush hour.

Yet, with the flip of a switch earlier this year, Los Angeles became a worldwide leader by synchronizing all of its nearly 4,400 stoplights, making it the world's first major city to do so.

The result? Well, it can still be hell to cross the City of the Angels by car. Synchronization has allowed LA to boast of real improvements on paper, however, the average driver won't always be able to discern the difference of a project that took nearly 30 years to complete.

"To be honest with you, I haven't felt it, yet," said Jack Abramyam, who has been driving a cab across LA's mean streets for 20 years.

"Late at night, maybe, yes," Abramyam said as he sat outside his cab on a street in Chinatown recently, waiting for a fare. "But it was never really bad then anyway. During the day it was bad. And it's still bad."

The way synchronization works is simple enough: With all the signals synchronized, if you drive down a street at the posted speed limit you should be able to make every green light — from one end of this sprawling city of 469 square miles to the other.

Of course there are any number of obstacles that can prevent that.

On a recent mid-afternoon test drive down eight miles of Wilshire Boulevard, for example, I was cut off by a bus, stuck behind more than one right-turner waiting for pedestrians to cross the intersecting street and at one point had my lane blocked by a delivery truck.

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