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Traffic Jams, Crossovers, and the Pedestrian Future of the NBA

Have you ever been stuck in traffic and wondered why it's not moving? Or why you had to sit through two lights? Or why some people think it's okay to text while driving (it's a 2-ton hunk of metal, folks - think!)? Well, today is your lucky day, as your friendly neighborhood engineer is here to not answer your questions and to make crazy comparisons to our favorite professional sport, the NBA.

I know, I know. This is strange, and in some cases, a stretch - just accept that we're about to go into tangent land and enjoy the ride. Listen to the nice music while you read and click on the links.

Jimi Hendrix "Crosstown Traffic" Studio Outtake

This one suggested by ATS.

Traffic - Dear Mr. Fantasy

Now, the goal of traffic engineering is to get the majority of traffic from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible, without running over any pedestrians or bicyclists. A properly designed traffic control device will direct pedestrians and vehicles where they need to go. But what does this have to do with the NBA? I'm glad you asked. A properly run organization will direct a team toward the NBA championship. And a poorly run one will end up here.


So without further ado, I present the following (from a Spurs fan perspective, of course) for your reading pleasure:

The Construction Zone


The Pistons have undergone wholesale changes this offseason, turning over half of their roster. So much like a construction zone, no one knows what to expect or where things are headed. Here's hoping this doesn't result in a multi-car wreck.

Parallel Parking

The Bobcats and the Grizzlies are to basketball management what suburbanites are to parallel parking. Have you ever seen a non-urbanite try to parallel park a large SUV on a city street? It's highly entertaining. The driver ends up with a rear wheel on the curb, the front end sticking out into the street, and eventually has to go around the block and start the whole process over again. Enough said.

Denver Boot


Although not technically a traffic control device, the Denver Boot is universally reviled in city neighborhoods. Once this bad boy gets clamped onto the front tire, your car ain't moving. Much like the Clippers. So sorry, Blake. You and Gordon might be BMWs, but you just aren't going anywhere with Sterling refusing to pay the fine and Dunleavy not being able to find the parking ticket department.



In recent years, roundabouts have become a more popular alternative to the signalized intersection in the U.S. When designed correctly, they function well and allow traffic to move freely. However, drivers who don't know how to navigate them can end up going around in circles. This reminds me of the Wizards. Unless they prove to be healthy, I envision them pulling a Clark Griswold for several more years.

Stop Sign


Do I really need to explain this? Despite the Rockets' admirable ability to adapt and adjust to bad situations and their fantastic performance against the Lakers in the playoffs, their progress stopped the minute Yao's injury came to light. Although Houston will probably compete for a playoff spot, they won't be winning a championship this year. Here's hoping we see Yao again in 2010-2011.

Yield Sign


For a team that was supposed to blow through the Eastern Conference playoffs this year, the Cavaliers sure did a good job yielding to the Magic (and the Spurs in '07). Of course, now they have Shaq and should be improved. But what are the odds the big fella actually yields to LeBron?

Traffic Signal Tree


Like the Seven Seconds or Less Suns, this seemed like a good idea at the time, but strangely enough, never caught on anywhere else.


Left-handers is one of my favorite terms (non-curse word variety) for people who camp out in the left lane on the highway. Although the driver is going the speed limit, he/she is impeding the faster drivers behind. Repeat after me - the left lane is for passing! Portland has been cruising along on potential for several years now. Time to speed up the process, Blazers, and live up to your name. Otherwise, you'll be forced to move over in the playoffs again.

One-Way Street


One-way streets are a great way to convey traffic, especially in urban areas. Most work in conjunction with another street running in the opposite direction, a one-way couplet. A driver can easily head either direction, without having to worry about opposing traffic. The Mavericks will be a heck of an offensive threat. However, Cuban and company forgot about the other direction. It's called defense, and the Mavs have none.

Denver Shuffle

The Denver Shuffle is a traffic signal that has a phase devoted solely to pedestrians. During the alloted time period, pedestrians are allowed to cross the intersection in any direction, even diagonally. It's a giant free-for-all. What team does this remind you of? Ah yes, the Denver Nuggets! Ironic, isn't it?

Pre-timed Traffic Signals


Pre-timed signals continuously repeat the same cycle and indications. They are great to use in downtown areas and lower speed urban streets. But the technology is old -- much like the Celtics. Let's face it - just because you're the oldest, doesn't mean you're the best. We learned that this year.

Actuated-Coordinated Traffic Signals

Actuated-coordinated signals work much like pre-timed signals, but include another element - detection. Unlike pre-timed, the signal recognizes when cars are present. For example, if late at night there are no cars in one direction, the signal will move that green time to a direction that has vehicles. The signal has the ability to adjust and still coordinate with adjacent signals. It's a big picture type of system - similar to the Spurs and the Lakers. Both teams have defined parameters, with the players knowing their roles. Yet both organizations have shown the ability to adjust on the fly to injuries and to redefine roles. However, can actuated-coordination be achieved by either team in the coming season? Let's be realistic - Crazy Pills could implode at any moment, going into full-blown flashing red mode. The new Spurs could drive Pop crazy by not playing defense, resulting in the JV being re-signed. Or (if we're lucky) the season will culminate with a classic battle in the Western Conference Finals.

So what's going to happen this year? Who knows - I sure as heck don't. Especially since you don't always see the speed bump ahead until it's too late.


Disclaimer from the Author: I realize we have many international readers. Traffic laws/devices vary from country to country, so feel free to make your own comparisons in the comments. And if you are a traffic engineer, please don't send an e-mail to tell me that I'm crazy and/or an idiot. It's common knowledge.