City Workers Guilty Accused Of Hacking LA Traffic System

from the life-imitates-the-movies dept

We’ve been interested in the past in plans to make the roads safer by cutting back on or even eliminating lights and signs. The idea is that without guidance, people will actually become more conscientious about their driving. So far, in the few places where this theory has been put into practice appear to be successful. Another reason to do away with traffic lights is to cut down on sabotage, apparently. In Los Angeles, two city workers have pled not guilty (update: changed this to “not guilty,” rather than “guilty” as we originally mistakenly wrote) to tampering with traffic lights and deliberately causing a traffic jam. From the city’s centralized traffic-control center, the pair were allegedly able to tie up four intersections on the eve of a major strike by city workers. The idea, apparently, was that the traffic problem would exacerbate the effect of the strike. The city will look into ways it can secure the security of the traffic system, but it’s not clear why they waited this long. The climax to the 2003 remake of The Italian Job involved hacking the LA traffic light system to facilitate a heist. It seems that nobody got the message.

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Comments on “City Workers Guilty Accused Of Hacking LA Traffic System”

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Witty Nickname says:

Remove lights and signs to increase safety? This might work in rural areas, but I assume if I come to an intersection without a stop light/sign, or a yield sign, I assume the right of way and blast on through.

Assuming it was well publicizecd and everyone knew what was going on it would occur to me that busier roads would have unimaginable backups as everyone did a 4 way stop or tried to wave others through.

I am interested in this concept though, please, tell me where I am wrong.

kneeL says:

Re: Re:

Well in the Netherlands that is because people mostly ride bikes. And it had to be a rural town in Holland, as Amsterdam and the other cities stil had lights in them.
Yeah it seems impossible in certain areas. Maybe it would help in some out-of-the-way areas, that would make sense. In the middle of nowhere, lights are always ridiculous. But as anyone knows from a bad intersection that becomes so bad they end up HAVING to install a light there, I do not think we could live without those.

Anonymous Coward says:

Witty Nickname-

Did you click on the neat little link in the story!?

“…I assume the right of way and blast on through.”

The idea is that instead of assuming right of way and blasting through intersections because the little green light said it was okay to go, you would pay attention and decide for yourself if it’s clear. Yes, it requires faith in other people’s ability to discern when it’s clear, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you aren’t already doing that.

Rules don’t make you safe, they make you feel safe.

lancerM says:

regarding Europe

I don’t believe the concept is to just remove stop lights and stop signs and leave it a free-for-all. That would be a nightmare. I’ve lived in Europe and where they don’t have a stop sign or light, they typically use a turnabout. I’ve seen them increase in popularity in the US over the past few years – and they do help in speeding the traffic flow through some intersections.

misanthropic humanist says:

take your pick

As a matter of disclosure I must say I’m emotionally biased, having witnessed a multiple fatality RTA in Spain which involved a decapitation. That is one image that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

So I will argue this from points of logistical fact (to the best of my knowledge).

Queueing theory is really difficult shit. It’s up there with turbulance as a hard mathematical problem. It just happens that one way to get an almost optimal solution is to use an emergent algorithm – in other words let each driver decide for themselves.

It can also be solved (again almost optimally) by using traffic signals and doing the computations on sensor and timing data.

So, of course removing the signals makes it look like everything works just fine.

The first solution converges on an almost optimal throughput, while the second solution forces an almost optimal throughput.

The difference is that the first solution costs no money to implement and leads to the high likelyhood of loss of life, while the second costs lots of money to do but reduces the likelyhood of fatal collisions to a very small value.

So here is my (and the only salient) question? Which is more important, safety or traffic throughput?

Jack Sombra says:

“So here is my (and the only salient) question? Which is more important, safety or traffic throughput?”

Except more lights don’t necessarily lead to increased safety. Most common example of this is a person see’s green light and just goes without looking once if the the traffic going the other way has actually stoped just because some little light says it is safe to proceed, majority of drivers (and pedestrians at road crossings) do this every single day without thinking

There are arguments both for and against lights and both can be right and wrong, just depends on location/situation. For this reason both should be used widely unlike how it has been uptill now with putting lights EVERYWHERE

misanthropic humanist says:

Re: Re:

Except more lights don’t necessarily lead to increased safety. “

I agree Jack. I didn’t suggest there is a correlation between the number of lights and the safety of road users. And I accept your example which fits under a discussion I encouraged recently on “blind faith” in technology.

The position I am opposing is that which suggests that because removing lights often leads to a an increase in traffic throughput it is a universally applicable policy.

One could cynically argue the case, both ways, that a derth of traffic signals benefits the pockets of local road authorities since they do not have to pay for them, and at the same time an excess of signals benefits the contractors to whom that money would go.

There is clearly a happy medium where signals are applied at those points of most danger.

Agent Smith says:

Witty Nickname: I think you’re right;

“…This might work in rural areas, but I assume if I come to an intersection without a stop light/sign, or a yield sign, I assume the right of way and blast on through.”

By your statement, I think that 60% of the metro population will make ASSES of U and ME; ASSUMING that they have the right-away and BLAST theirselves on everyone else.

The other 40% will be too passive and confused by the apparent lack of order and authority to make a decision on proceeding.

This topic has many analigies into human behavior and society’s solutions to the related problems.

The answer is that there is no good answer; everything is subject to change and there are only bandaid fixes to transportation problems and many other civilized society issues.

Dosquatch says:

Joe Job

The climax to the 2003 remake of The Italian Job involved hacking the LA traffic light system to facilitate a heist. It seems that nobody got the message.

Those insufferable government buffoons! I’m just left gaping that the alert level wasn’t raised as soon as The Italian Job was released, because every scenario dreamed up by a writer and played out by Hollywood on the big screen is plausible.

See? It turns out that Jack Thompson is just trying to protect us all from alien abduction. Who knew?

|333173|3|_||3 says:


The traffic light system in Adelaide (possibly all of S Aus) is kept controlled by a little computer in a big case by each light, with a server in one of the Govt. offices. The relevance of this is that they are linked by some form of dial-up telnet, which allows the emergency services to change lights around fire stations etc. THis means that in theory, any ‘phone user can dial in and change the lights to suit himself. While the numbers may be undialable from normal lines, I have heard that this is not in fact the case. HTe difficult part of this would be figuring out the interface/commands, and creating an automated systtem.

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