Stop Signs Are Killing The Planet

Our city has passed an anti-idling bylaw presumably to cut down on vehicle emissions.  I doubt they intend to enforce it but it is a nice gesture I’m sure.  It is incontrovertible that a car that is turned off emits less than one that is running, but as with all political gestures, it makes no sense.

The argument is that in the winter you should not need more than 3 minutes to warm up the engine to drive.  Probably true, but sadly the engine is not then warm enough to operate the window defroster adequately, so driving becomes seriously unsafe.  What to do?  Hit a pedestrian or violate the law?

But that is not the dumb part of it.

If the real purpose is to reduce emissions then I submit that there are better places to start.  How about by eliminating most stop signs and making traffic lights rational?  It costs far more emissions for a vehicle to stop from 50 kmh, idle briefly, and then accelerate back to 50 kmh than cruising along at 50 kmh.

My vehicle’s trip computer tells me that while accelerating carefully from zero to 50 that average fuel consumption is about 38 liters per 100 kilometers.  Around 7.5 miles per Canadian gallon.  I also know that continuous driving on a flat highway at 50 kph use around 13 liters per 100 km.  A little over 20 mpg.  Seems to me that reaching cruising speed costs far more than just driving along.  So why stop or slow down?  Because there are others on the road, right.

The sad reality is that stop signs require everyone to stop.  Sometimes when there is a need and often when there is not.  The cost in fuel and emissions is identical whether needed or not.

Same thing with traffic lights.  Some are convenient for a few hours a day.  Sadly they run for 24 hours a day.  Why do traffic lights operate the same old way when there are few cars on the road?  Say at 3:00 am

Better still, why do traffic lights stop many cars to allow a few to pass.  Just this week, a light stopped 23 cars and slowed at least another 15, so two cars could pass through the intersection.  Both of them near the end of the cycle.

The planners need to recognize that traffic congestion causes more emissions than almost any other variable.  It is time to stop with the car is the enemy idea and begin to behave to minimize the problems.  Reduced congestion automatically produces fewer emissions.  Increased congestion adds emissions.

If you drive any significant distance in the city, using existing vehicle technology efficiently would both reduce emissions and reduce the cost to drive.  I’m okay with both.

Unfortunately the bossy folks would rather demand higher standards for the engines.   (higher cost to build and therefore buy)   Once that is done, let’s make driving efficiently much harder.  That is just more bossiness.  You must stop here and every intersection hereafter.  What is the point guys?

Working at cross purposes like this is inefficient and by mediocre use of reasoning ability, stupid.  Let’s quit with stupid.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.  |  Twitter @DonShaughnessy  |  Follow by email at moneyFYI

2 Comments on “Stop Signs Are Killing The Planet

  1. Excellent article. Perhaps you should submit it to Letters to the Editor, or somehow get it to the attention of the City Fathers (and mothers).
    The idling issue will be eventually solved by the adoption of the Prius technology of running on electric reserves with the gasoline engine stopped, at stop signs. But the overall revision of many stop signs to yield signs, and the installation of intelligent traffic lights is FAR overdue, and needs to be championed by all ecological visionaries.

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