Ominous ramp minions (commonly called “metering lights”) started appearing along the Eisenhower Highway in Solano County a few years ago.
Having relocated from Silicon Valley, I know the unbridled frustration waiting in line for the glorious green light produces. I hoped that the light posts and black diamond signs would remain deactivated and turned to the side in shame, shame for a silly concept that should never be allowed to spread. Alas, my heart was broken recently at the news that the lights would be activated, whether Fairfield likes it or not.
The first question that pops into commuter’s heads usually ponders the question “Who is monitoring the metering light?” Is it some Cyberdyne Systems robot, or is it some cube dwelling minion dozens of miles away? No one can be certain; the only known fact is that it is not a human actually at the ramp adjusting the light to current real time traffic conditions.
In addition, metering lights don’t mitigate traffic, they just back it up onto city streets. Those of you who have endured the eastbound crawl through Fairfield on a Friday evening know that it is not a result of too many cars entering the highway from Fairfield; rather most vehicles are just passing through, containing Bay Area residents and employees headed home or to the mountains.
The metering light also diminishes traffic safety by cutting the ramp length by at least half, if not more. When our local ramps were designed and built more than 50 years ago, they were designed to be long enough so when a vehicle enters the ramp, they have enough room to accelerate to highway speeds. Putting a stoplight at the end of the ramp destroys that concept and now you have a parking strip.
When someone gets the green light to hop on the freeway, they now have 50 feet to get up 60 mph, rather than 100 yards. Imagine being a tractor trailer roaring along at 60 mph when a tiny car pops in front of you going 20 mph.
The ramp carpool lanes are meant as an incentive to leave a car at home and buddy up so you can bypass the man-made backup. Unfortunately, as many people have witnessed while languishing in needless traffic, many technically legal carpools are not “real” carpools. When someone takes a cab, what is the net number of cars removed from the road? Zero. They simply hired another car to replace theirs.
A case could be made that the cause of heavy traffic backup on eastbound highway 80 through Fairfield is the loss of a lane approaching (the former) North Texas Street interchange. Rather spending resources on metering light programs, why not find a way to add another lane on highway 80 to Vacaville and beyond?
The technical arguments against metering lights are plentiful, but there is something more disturbing about the current metering light campaign. Historically, the city council of the affected town would have the final say in activating the metering lights. However, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission unilaterally decided that ramp metering lights shall be activated in Solano County, without approval from the communities affected by the metering lights.
What recourse do we the people in our cities have when the collateral damage caused by metering lights jams up our city streets? Which public servants at the state, county or municipal level do we get to air our concerns and grievances? Which public servants facilitated or permitted this heavy-handed approach to traffic mitigation?
Having the concerns of citizens in our community be nullified by the decree of some quasi-elected group who have essentially said, “Do what we tell you or you will not get any money” should send chills down our spines and ripples of anger coursing through our veins. As our community expands, solutions to traffic growing pains should remain in the hands of the people most affected by the traffic: Local citizens.
Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.