Another OMG ATSAC article, should be WTF?!


“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.”

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

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 every time someone builds something in LA paying to have some jerk on the side of the road, or some little metal box with black hoses crossing the street,  counting  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 – forcing people to waste time and money hiring someone to stand on a corner and do the same job that ATSAC is doing already.

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. The MyFigueroa project is right now being held up for a month, and for what? You guessed it: a traffic survey!

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!

The ATSAC data needs to be:

  • Permanently retained
  • Published online
  • Be web-accesible with an API for coders
  • Integrated as a layer in Navigate LA

How hard would this be? If the mayor reached out, I am sure one of the academic institutions in LA would be over the bloody moon to host this data. Hell, let’s find out what the LADOT needs to pipe this data out to the world and we can DIY it in one of those coding festivals the iPhone and Prius crowd loves so much.


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