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The Meters Are Coming

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Muzzled beneath black tarp-like shrouds, traffic lights stand at the ready at 22 on-ramps along the I-95 corridor, from NW 62nd Street north to Ives Dairy Road.

Miami's ''Metered Stop Ramps" were scheduled to go online in 2005; now mid- to late-2007 is the time when motorists aiming to ascend the artery can expect to see red instead.

These metered ramps are more trypical of California highways. But consider a recent Reason Foundation report called the Mobility Project, which says that by 2030, drivers in 11 other major cities — including Miami -- will be stuck in daily traffic jams worse than what Los Angeles' brave drivers bear today. (Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Portland, San Francisco-Oakland, Seattle-Tacoma, and Washington, D.C. are the other cities. Seattle and Minneapolis are two of this biggest users of metered on-ramps.) So maybe these new traffic lights make sense. Sorta.

95 is becoming the 5. Or the 101. Or the 1. Whatever.

According to Jesus Martinez at the SunGuide Traffic Management Center, the lights -- the first in the state, aside from one stray light somewhere in the Tampa Bay area -- will be deployed only when needed, meaning a.m. and p.m. rush hours, special events, and when there are accidents. The benefit, he says, is in reducing what is typically a "platoon of cars" entering the highway all at once, which creates "turbulence."

"Drivers here in South Florida are so friendly, they don't allow other drivers to merge," he says with a twinge of sarcasm.

Metering will allow one or two cars onto I-95 at a time. Some ramps are too short, and will be programmed to always allow two vehicles at a time. The magic number, Martinez says, is to allow 900 cars onto the roadway every hour. The metering system, he says, allows "maximum volume, more reliable trip times, and better fuel efficiency." In some parts of the country it's been shown to reduce accidents by as much as 60 percent.

Oh sure: Safety, fuel economy ... what's not to like? But if things actually get friendly, we might feel lost.-Frank Houston

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