Mass adoption of electric vehicles is proceeding slowly, but one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today could be addressing poorly timed traffic lights, the traffic data analysis and controls firm Inrix claims.

The company is hawking an analytics tool it claims will allow traffic agencies to run their networks of stop lights more efficiently, potentially reducing emissions. Inrix claims a typical vehicle with a 3.0-liter internal-combustion engine generates two pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for every 10 minutes of idling. In cities with lots of stop-and-go traffic, that can add up quickly. 

Well-timed signals can have a significant impact on emissions. In a city the size of Atlanta, 269,000 tons of CO2 emissions could be prevented, equivalent to the CO2 absorbed by a forest 3.3 times the size of Atlanta, according to Inrix.

How poorly timed traffic signals increase emissions (via Inrix)

How poorly timed traffic signals increase emissions (via Inrix)

In a city the size of Chicago, well-timed traffic signals could prevent up to 655,000 tons of CO2 emissions, and in a New York-sized metropolis they could prevent up to 14 million tons of CO2, Inrix claims.

Some cities do have smart traffic lights aimed at optimizing traffic flow and reducing vehicle idling time. Audi's traffic-light recognition system can interface with these traffic signals and tell drivers when a light is about to change. Other automaker's haven't followed Audi's lead in that area, although Honda has some good ideas with "green wave" tech that could save fuel.

And as we've long underscored, driving an EV—or a hybrid—will help mitigate some of the emissions effects of starting and stopping and urban congestion.