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Attacking a commuting scourge. (Photo: Richard Drew / AP)

You know the routine — wait at one red light, only to meet another at the next intersection, and another. In cities, we are spending 40% of our time idling, according to Stephen Smith, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. The time adds up: the average American spends 42 hours a year in traffic — almost two complete days, says Inrix, an analytics firm. New Yorkers spend more than twice as long — 89 hours.

Why it matters: Smith says our traffic systems have not changed in a half-century. Down the road, we will have self-driving cars. Before then, though, we can enjoy less road anxiety.

What is happening: In Pittsburgh and Atlanta, drivers are now more systematically moving along major streets, the result of the installation of intelligent traffic systems designed by Smith. Using cameras, radar and radios, the systems figure out on the spot which lights should be red, and which green.

Cities and companies are catching on to the chance to use new technologies to get people through lights faster. There are apps that tell you when a light will turn green. But Smith notes that none of them actually changes the lights according to what is going on in real-time. His systems cost about $20,000 per four-way intersection.

In the future, Beverly Hills, CA., Portland, Maine, and Dubai plan on installing Smith's system, he says. For now, writers are citing the traffic system as part of why Pittsburgh seems so cool these days. And last month, Atlanta launched "North Avenue Smart Corridor," including the technology. The 2.3 mile corridor, which has 18 intersections, includes Georgia Tech and Coca Cola's world headquarters. Speaking of the corridor in DC on Oct. 5, Mayor Kasim Reed said, "It's going to be a living lab for the city of Atlanta."

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai detained on fraud charge

An activist holds a placard highlighting China's Tiananmen Square massacre as pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrives at West Kowloon Magistrates' Court in Hong Kong in November. Photo: Isaac Wong/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai is being detained until an April court hearing after the pro-democracy supporter was charged Thursday with fraud, per his Apple Daily news outlet.

Why it matters: The 72-year-old's arrest and denial of bail is another blow for the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony amid concerns about a fresh crackdown on activists.

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Inhofe loudly sets Trump straight on defense bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe speaks with reporters in the Capitol last month. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Senator Jim Inhofe told President Trump today he'll likely fail to get two big wishes in pending defense spending legislation, bellowing into his cellphone: "This is the only chance to get our bill passed," a source who overheard part of their conversation tells Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans are ready to test whether Trump's threats of vetoing the bill, which has passed every year for more than half a century, are empty.

Conspiracy theories blow back on Trump's White House

Sidney Powell. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

President Trump has rarely met a conspiracy theory he doesn't like, but he and other Republicans now worry the wild tales told by lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood may cost them in Georgia's Senate special elections.

Why it matters: The two are telling Georgians not to vote for Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler because of a bizarre, baseless and potentially self-defeating theory: It's not worth voting because the Chinese Communist Party has rigged the voting machines.