TODAY   |  April 03, 2013

LA syncs over 4000 traffic lights to ease gridlock

The city of Los Angeles, which has long been notorious for terrible traffic, launched an ambitious attack on gridlock by synchronizing every one of its 4,398 traffic signals. NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren reports.

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>>> if you're about to head out the door and you're dreading the traffic you'll face on the way to work, well, listen up. one major city has spent a fortune trying to make the commute a little more bearable. nbc's kristen dahlgren is in los angeles to explain. kristen , good morning to you.

>> reporter: good morning, matt. yes, it has to be hands down the biggest complaint about los angeles , the traffic, but the city since february has been trying this new program, these traffic lights , part of a technological assault on traffic, and they say it's working. if you live in los angeles , this is a common sight.

>> one of the things that i think people hate about living in los angeles is traffic.

>> reporter: so bad for so many, commuters spend an extra 61 hours a year in gridlock.

>> my commute is about seven miles and it takes me anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes to get home.

>> reporter: that's why los angeles has synchronized every one of its 4,398 traffic signals, first major metropolis in the world to do so, raising the almost mythical notion of push button traffic controls.

>> every day is different, whether it's the weather, traffic, construction, an accident, all of these things can change traffic conditions and from this center, we're able to change the signal timing .

>> reporter: the system itself built up over 30 years at a cost of $400 million actually adapts to the rules of the road , changing signal patterns as traffic conditions change and it's working.

>> what they're find something they're saving drivers over a five-mile stretch of road about two minutes on the travel time for that stretch just by doing this, and if you add up those minutes, it doesn't sound like much on a given day but over the course of a year that could be up to 17 hours.

>> reporter: and in a city where commuters live bumper to bumper , that's big news.

>> at the end of the day you want to be home and be home as soon as you can.

>> reporter: as advanced as the system is, it's not a silver bullet for eradicating traffic.

>> there is no way to eliminate traffic congestion in its entirety but we're working every day to make sure traffic is as good as possible in l.a.

>> reporter: and that's progress, even if it is just an inch at a time. now many other traffic congested cities are looking at this as an example and thinking about doing it. i do have to tell you on my way in this morning i don't think i sat at a red light but i'm note sure i would be willing to try this out at rush hour. how about you?

>> i have to defend new york city , we're known for traffic as well. i think they do a pretty good job of staggering and coordinating the lights in midtown manhattan . hats off to the folks here. kristen thank you.