Red light, green light 

Traffic engineers look at new ways to smooth out commutes

Some of the red arrows that keep left-hand turn lanes - clogged may disappear in coming months. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Some of the red arrows that keep left-hand turn lanes clogged may disappear in coming months.

Everyone is seeing red.

Mayor Lionel Rivera sees it often at a school crosswalk, even when he doesn't see any pedestrians.

City Councilman Jerry Heimlicher routinely stares it down from a left-turn lane near his house, even when he can't see another car.

Once again, traffic-signal coordination has City Council flushed.

"There's not a lot of us who travel through Colorado Springs, who at one point or another haven't sat at a stoplight and thought, "Why can't they get this fixed?'" Councilwoman Jan Martin says.

No kidding. Last year, the Springs was reconfirmed as America's most-congested "small" city (fewer than 500,000 people) by the Texas Transportation Institute.

The good news: The city's traffic engineering department says it may be closer to giving everyone more green time. A recent $60,000 study funded by the Pikes Peak Regional Transportation Authority brought in representatives from peer communities like Boise, Idaho; Portland, Ore.; and San Diego to explain what works for them. The visitors also drove the Springs' busiest corridors and gave feedback.

"We are looking at all kinds of ways just to make our system better or maintain the level we have now," says Traffic Engineering Division manager Scott Logan.

Believe it or not, the city already uses a high-tech system of controls at lights to monitor intersections, set and adjust signal cycles, and detect traffic with sensors mostly at night, explaining why you'll often get a quick green at 3 a.m. Logan says the city is upgrading that system, but still relies on the public to complain about problem intersections. (Call 385-5966.)

Logan says additional improvements are being used and/or tested as a result of the peer study. Here are a couple changes you may see.

Left-turn signals: The red left-turn arrow in some intersections is there to prevent accidents, but can be a nuisance during slow hours. Some intersections now may have a red arrow during rush hour, but no red arrow (or possibly no arrow at all) during slower times. Busy roads may also get two green left-turn arrows in a single light cycle. And that green arrow might come before or after the all-green, depending on which method proves best at reducing congestion at a particular spot.

Light timing: Under one suggestion, the city would give a green light to cars a block ahead of you before it turns your light green. The goal is to get those cars up ahead moving early enough to be out of your way as you approach. The most congested streets will also likely get longer green lights. And the system that detects cars on the side streets and gives them the green will be tweaked so those lights don't stay green longer than needed.

Left-turn signals have already been altered on Powers Boulevard. More changes are planned this year, and hoped for in 2009, focusing on major corridors like Academy Boulevard, Cimarron Street, Austin Bluffs Parkway, Garden of the Gods Road and Woodmen Road. But officials know all of this still may not satisfy motorists.

"I'm not sure you're ever going to have a straight shot without having to stop," says Councilwoman Margaret Radford. "That's why they call it an intersection."



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