Traffic on the 10. Photo by Raymond Shobe/ CC/ Flickr.

Traffic on the 10. Photo by Raymond Shobe/ CC/ Flickr.

The relationship between Angelenos and traffic is a dysfunctional one. In a city without much weather, we obsess, instead, over traffic.

So a trip to ATSAC is sort of a traffic pilgrimage. ATSAC is the Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control center located under City Hall East, downtown. The computerized system monitors and controls every traffic light in the city, making real-time adjustments based on traffic conditions at about 4400 intersections. ATSAC was first used to route vehicles around the Coliseum during the 1984 Olympics; now it’s one of the largest and most sophisticated traffic control systems in the world.

Brian Taylor, director of UCLA’s Institute for Transportation Studies, says ATSAC has increased the efficiency of traffic flow but is fighting a losing battle against the city’s high population density and limited road capacity.

Los Angeles ranks second among major American cities in the number of residents per mile of roadway. (Honolulu is #1.) Projects that might significantly ease congestion in the long term, like double-decker freeways or rationed access to roads and parking, are either too expensive or politically unpalatable.

Below, we get a God’s eye view of LA traffic, and find out if the crosswalk buttons actually do anything

ATSAC staff can view live feeds from more than 400 cameras mounted on poles and buildings around the city.

ATSAC staff can view live feeds from more than 400 cameras mounted on poles and buildings around the city.

Edward Yu is the director of the city’s Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control center.

Edward Yu is the director of the city’s Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control center.

Photo of loop seen on ATSAC monitor: More than 20,000 wire loops in surface streets throughout Los Angeles detect passing or stopped vehicles.

Photo of loop seen on ATSAC monitor: More than 20,000 wire loops in surface streets throughout Los Angeles detect passing or stopped vehicles.

 

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7 Comments »

  • Felix said:

    I find it infuriating that these are the main solutions to LA traffic. Why don't we start by building up our public transportation system so that people can take trains to work instead of millions using their cars everyday? The extension of the rail from Culver to Santa Monica is a great step towards that realization but imagine if there was a train running down the middle of the 405? Everyone living in the valley who works in LA proper could take it, everyone living in LA City working in the valley could make use of it, the thousands of people miserable on the 405 north coming from Orange County and Long Beach could take it to work, effectively getting a large percentage of cars off the road, reducing smog and pollution, and laying the groundwork for what seems the only real long-term solution for such a giant metropolitan area.

  • ubrayj02 said:

    Every article on ATSAC takes a "gee whiz" angle to this story instead of the more appropriate "WTF?!" stance.

    Let me explain:

    Have you ever tried to build something in LA? It costs thousands to perform a traffic survey when you want to build something in this town. That is millions of dollars every year being spent to have some jerk sit in a car and count other cars passing through intersections.

    ATSAC uses loop detectors to record this data and somehow we never "know" what car traffic volumes are in hearings on development?

    Further, in Los Angeles' city hall in meetings with the mayor or council (the highest level of local governance in the city) it takes at least A MONTH for a traffic survey to be performed by again sending some jerk to go out and count cars. ATSAC is, again, recording all this data continuously.

    How much did ATSAC cost? It started with the 1984 Olympics and was completed under Villaraigosa's term. It has cost us millions and millions of dollars to digitize and control traffic signals in LA and the maintenance costs for that system are not cheap either.

    And yet … and yet we take all this data and we throw it in the digital dumpster every month.

    If ever someone was looking for a sign that we, as a people, are stupid and feckless the ATSAC system and its use would be it.

    There are multiple pHds in transportation studies and environmental justice, sociology, politics, fine art you name it waiting to be explored if we could look at this ATSAC data going backwards in time. If it was stored and we could see what happens when there are parades, earthquakes, new developments – so we can let reality help us make public decisions instead of stupid anecdotes about how much "traffic" there is in LA!

  • Another OMG ATSAC article, should be WTF?! said:

    […] -”Inside the nerve center of LA traffic surveillance” April 1, 2014 by Gideon Brower on KCRW’s Which Way L.A. […]

  • ถุงยาง said:

    You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something which I think I would never understand.

    It seems too complicated and extremely broad for
    me. I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

  • Kevin Pham said:

    That's a great traffic system…thanks for nice share about that!

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