Editorial: A simple way to reduce SoCal pollution and fuel consumption

As I spent several days in Los Angeles, CA last week I came to several realizations. First I never want to live there. While air quality has dramatically improved since the 1960s, the geography of the region means that it will never be as good as other places. Since the 1960s, California politicians and regulators have continually tightened emissions standards to the point where more than 99 percent of the pollution produced by cars and trucks in those days has been eliminated, and yet they want to go further.

Now they want to regulate CO2 which is a de facto way of limiting fuel consumption. While I am all for reducing consumption of fossil fuels, the reality is that cars and trucks last a long time. If, starting today, every car sold in California had zero emissions, it would still take more than 20 years to turn over the entire vehicle fleet. Actually given the current economic situation and rate of car sales it would probably take a lot longer than that. For the foreseeable future, people will be keeping their cars even longer, meaning that if we want to reduce emissions we have to find another way. Fortunately there is one. Read on after the jump to find out.

When you think of Los Angeles what is the first image that comes to mind? Silicone, sunshine, wild fires and traffic, right? Here at ABG we will just concern ourselves with the last one for the moment.

Clogged freeways and streets are a pox on Los Angeles. As we were being shuttled to the LA Convention Center from our hotel last week, I noticed a significant pattern on the streets of Los Angeles. Most of the time the car would go one block and then stop. Go another block and stop, rinse and repeat, ad infinitum. Cars sitting idling in traffic jams waste enormous amounts of fuel and emit millions of tons of CO2 annually. There didn't appear to be any accidents or other obstructions along the route except for one: traffic lights.

It seems that in Los Angeles all the traffic lights are timed in order to limit forward progress. Sitting in the car watching the visible lights ahead, they did not appear to be sequenced so that if you caught one green light and then proceeded to drive at or about the speed limit, each subsequent light would turn green as you approached allowing traffic to proceed more or less unimpeded. It's a simple thing. It works in other cities, but Los Angeles, which seems more desperate than most to do something about air quality, still doesn't seem to understand after 40 years of trying.

Turning over the LA vehicle fleet will cost hundreds of billions of dollars and require expensive new infrastructure to support charging or filling of emission-free vehicles. The lights already exist and may already be computerized. The investment would be minimal to adjust the timing. Why isn't this being done now? Perhaps if you live in Los Angeles you should ask this question of your mayor and city council. Why is traffic being artificially obstructed?

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