The Atlantic Cities recently noted that synchronizing traffic lights may not actually work because it can incentivize more driving. It’s an interesting idea, but raises a larger point: making driving slightly less convenient can ultimately lead to less driving.
The article argues that by making driving easier, it encourages more people to drive. It’s more or less the idea of induced demand, which I discussed in this post. But if demand can be induced by making something easier to use, the reverse is also certainly true. In other words, making driving more annoying reduces the number of people who are willing to put up with it.
Realistically, out-of-sync traffic lights — which I personally find annoying, by the way — won’t radically change the transportation environment in Provo or anywhere else. And I’m not necessarily suggesting Provo officials go un-sync every light in the city.
Instead, the point is merely that if the goal is more efficient, safer ways to get around — i.e. fewer cars on the road — little things that are occasionally annoying can help tip the scale in favor of other modes of transportation like buses, bikes or even walking. Parking permit programs work the same way by making driving, or simply car ownership, that much more of a pain. All of this can potentially mean a more frustrating immediate future, but better results in the long run.