“Every highway intersection is obsolete,” thundered Norman Bel Geddes—the designer and showman perhaps most noted for the Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair—in his 1940 tract Magic Motorways. “The intersection is the chief stumbling block for highway designers and the chief headache for the traffic police,” he noted. “Why should the crossroads most heavily traveled today be the ones that are least adapted to the safe flow of the vehicles that use them?”
The question resonates today. In 2007, for example, the Federal Highway Administration reported there were 2.4 million crashes at intersections, representing 40 percent of all crashes, and one-fifth of all fatal crashes. Most intersection crashes fall under the category of “crossing paths,” and the most common path-crossing crashes, according to federal statistics, involve left turns.
Not so long ago, UPS drivers worked off maps, 3-x-5 note cards, and their own memory to figure out the best way to run their routes. That changed in 2005 when UPS began to implement a $600 million route optimization system–think MapQuest on steroids–that each evening maps out the next day’s schedule for the majority of its 56,000 drivers. So sophisticated is the software that it designs each route to minimize the number of left turns, thus reducing the time and gas that drivers waste idling at stoplights.
Between optimization, new design and even things like our in-car/phone GPSes limiting left turns we might not need as many left turns…