I was just getting ready to leave for work this morning, when I heard beeping. Spitting toothpaste, I went to look and sure enough, it was my UPS. Power was out. So much for that last look at the web before commuting. I turned the computer off and left.
All the lights on 29th street were out, most of the way to the interstate. I made great time. I waited briefly at one intersection for traffic the other way, but mostly it was going my way and I cruised all the darkened intersections.
Do traffic lights serve a useful purpose? Well, yes. In heavy flow both ways, they clearly create fairness in accessing the intersection. In light flow, they tend not to be that efficient. Mainly they make it clear who has right of way, thereby eliminating "chicken" games in an intersection. That is, they may not be efficient in terms of traffic flow (which was what I was perceiving), but they may be efficient in terms of safety and traffic flow collectively.
Would road companies competing with each other for customers find more efficiencies? I expect so. The state has little or no incentive to do so. It suffers neither from loss of customers to competitors nor to liability when the streets are not safe. Why should it change anything?