Yup, waiting at red lights takes time; what'd you expect?


Every week, scads of emails roll in at Road Warrior Headquarters with all manner of complaints.

Bad drivers, rules or traffic signs that don’t make sense, rough roads, never-ending construction.

Congestion, too. People hate red lights. It takes forever to get from one side of town to the other, readers have complained, because the timing of traffic lights is so awful.

One guy, whose email inexplicably has disappeared into the Gmail ether, even said it takes just as long late at night without traffic to get from one end of Sahara Avenue to the other as it does during rush hour.

Oh, really?

It’s 17.3 miles from the west end of Sahara to the east end, according to the odometer on my jalopy. There are more than 40 traffic signals.

I set out at 7:54 a.m. My plan was to go the speed limit and stay mostly in the middle lane. I’d write down what happened at every traffic signal and time how long the red lights lasted.

I’d do it again in the afternoon, and then again late at night.

The trip started at the Las Vegas Beltway and ended at the Las Vegas High School parking lot.

I made a huge spreadsheet, but I’ll spare you the details. Here’s a quick summary.

The morning round trip lasted an hour and 14 minutes. I hit 27 red lights and was stopped for 17 minutes and 40 seconds. My stops lasted an average of 39 seconds.

The longest light, at Sahara and Lamb Boulevard, lasted a minute and 28 seconds.

The afternoon round trip, which ended at 5:01 p.m., took longer, an hour and 29 minutes. I hit 34 red lights and was stopped at them for 20 minutes. The stops lasted an average of 35 seconds.

The longest light, at Sahara and Rainbow Boulevard, lasted a minute and 30 seconds.

The nighttime trip, which ended at 11:02 p.m. a week later because my car broke down, was much smoother. It lasted an hour and one minute. I hit 23 red lights and was stopped for seven minutes and 30 seconds. The stops lasted an average of 20 seconds. I hit only two lights that lasted longer than 20 seconds, pulling up the average. Most were just a few seconds.

The bottom line: The traffic lights work.

The nighttime trip was 31 percent faster than the afternoon trip and 18 percent faster than the morning trip. This wasn’t just because traffic was lighter. It was because the lights were quicker, too.

As bad as things seem out there, the truth is traffic in Las Vegas is about average. It’s bad, but it’s bad everywhere else, too.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the average commute here is about 24 minutes, just a few seconds longer than the national average. Sure, getting to work in the morning is quicker if you live in Barstow, but you’d have to live in Barstow.

I talked with Brian Hoeft, director of the Regional Transportation Commission’s Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation, which is called FAST.

Hoeft, the guy in charge of timing the lights around the valley, didn’t exactly say “duh” when I told him my results, but I’ll bet he was thinking it.

The red lights are shorter late at night, he said. They tend to favor traffic heading into the middle of town during morning rush hour and to the edges of town during the afternoon.

Of course, there are all sorts of variables. Cars on the west end of Sahara tend to drive faster going east than the ones going west because east is downhill. The lights have to account for that.

An ambulance can come by and switch the lights. They’re allowed to do that. Or a car could break down in the middle lane. A school bus could make you stop.

Some dude in a Lexus could be driving 10 mph below the speed limit for no apparent reason and you might get stuck behind him because everyone in the other lanes is purposely boxing you in because they know you’re in a hurry and you can see them laughing as you flail your arms about, to no avail.

Or something like that.

I encountered all of those at some point. But I figured I would. That’s what it’s like out there, whether you’re driving in rush hour or in the middle of the night.

Got a transportation question, comment or gripe? Ship it off to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com. Follow the Road Warrior on Twitter @RJroadwarrior.