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Needle in a haystack

By Bernard Chen

(picture of intersection)
I saw this group of stop lights during a long drive from Los Angeles to Houston. The city that the stop lights are in was in the middle of a wide-open desert (like many things between LA and Houston.) The contrast between the empty desert and the stimulus-rich intersection was a little overwhelming; I was a little stunned and confused as to where I should be looking.

It looks as if the people designing the stop lights were counting on the fact that a driver can only see the "business end" of one set of lights at time. Although this is true, having extra sets of stop light housings forces the driver to sort out a lot of visual noise.

Design suggestion

The conventional, single stop light is much easier to interpret because it does not need to be separated out of a field of similar-looking objects. In California, the stop lights are presented on long, metal arms that hang out over the intersection. There's typically one stop light for the left-turn lane and one for the central lanes. In some parts of Houston, they use a traffic light, suspended on a cable running horizontally across the far side of the street. Both examples are better because they provide only as much information as the driver needs.

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