Here’s one idea among hundreds

Vision 2020 is looking for big ideas for Austin’s future. Here’s one that may not be big, but at least ought to qualify as medium-size: Let’s upgrade all of the city’s stoplights to the sort that sense traffic coming, or waiting, and change accordingly so that drivers can minimize their stops and their waiting time.

Drive down Oakland Ave. late at night, early in the morning or just about any time on a weekend and it’s a guaranteed opportunity to practice stopping, accelerating and just plain sitting. Most drivers don’t need much practice at those things, so it’s an opportunity looking for a reason to exist.

Still, Austin’s cranky, old-fashioned lights at least provide a great chance to think up medium-size ideas while we sit and watch absolutely no cars take advantage of the green light at the cross street.

Every local driver has his or her own list of annoying lights. The one on 4th St. NW by the high school is probably high on many people’s lists. Wouldn’t it be nice if that light “knew” that no cars were coming on the cross street, and let 4th St. traffic keep on rolling?

(It’s true that it would not be as nice as a plan for road construction that left open hardly any routes from the city’s west side to its east, as just about every driver noted this week. True, the state government shutdown forced some projects to be rescheduled, but this week’s barrage of inconveniently located projects is almost beyond belief.)

Even if changing stoplights lights raised community satisfaction just 1 percent, that would be a lot of satisfaction.

It would also save a lot of fuel.

An idling engine does not burn a lot of gas, but it is getting zero miles per gallon.

The bigger fuel cost comes when a car has to accelerate from zero up to 30 or 35 mph. If that happens every few blocks, it burns up a lot of gas.

So if during quiet traffic periods, cars and trucks could roll down Oakland unimpeded, rather than waiting for cross-traffic that is not going to come, it would be a double-benefit: fuel savings and happy residents.

This ideas doesn’t consider what it costs to change the controls for those stop lights or whether it is practical to do so. It’s just an idea that would make things a little nicer, improve the quality of life.

And that’s just what Vision 2020 is looking for: Good ideas, regardless of difficulty or cost. The committee — which will narrow about 1,000 ideas down to 30 based on community voting, and then to three that it is hoped will actually be completed — has already collected hundreds of ideas.

At 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28, the committee will host what it’s calling “A Big Night of Big Ideas,” with food, entertainment and a chance for everyone who’s interested in Vision 2020 to learn more about the project. The deadline for submitting ideas is Oct. 14; a quick and easy way to do so is via the project’s web site www.vision2020austin.com.

In interests of full disclosure, I’m on Vision2020’s data analysis sub-committee. The people working on the project form an impressive group and it seems likely that some really good things are going to happen in Austin as a result of their work. If you haven’t already checked into the Vision2020 web site, or submitted an ideas for consideration, it’s worth doing so. And it will be fun and entertaining to attend the Big Ideas night.

Unfortunately, being on the data committee provides zero influence over which ideas make it into the final 100 or beyond. My modest stoplight proposal will have to stand on its own merits.

So here’s hoping that some year soon, those late night trips from the southwest quarter to the downtown won’t involve sitting and idling, at light after light, while no other cars are in sight.

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