David Woosley, the city's traffic engineer
Soon, there will be no doubt about which is the smartest street in Lawrence.
A nearly 1.5-mile section of Sixth Street from Iowa to Massachusetts will have that distinction if city commissioners follow through on a City Hall budget recommendation to use new technology to coordinate traffic signals on the stretch of road.
City Manager David Corliss has put $250,000 into his recommended budget for 2008 that would allow fiber optic cable to be installed along Sixth Street. The cable would allow the signals to communicate with one another.
"We're hoping that it will make for a more efficient movement of traffic," said Chuck Soules, the city's director of Public Works. "The idea is that if you get the green light at one light that you would get the green light at the next one, too."
That's also been the idea behind past traffic signal synchronization projects in the city, David Woosley, the city's traffic engineer, said. Both Iowa Street and Sixth Street have been set up to be synchronized, but that sometimes is easier said than done. That's because each traffic signal operates on its own independent clock. If one of the clocks is off, that means the entire synchronization is off.
Woosley said having all the signals - there are six on that stretch of road - connected would mean they all operate on a common clock. Woosley said the fiber also will allow his staff to make changes to the timing of a light via computer rather than manually changing the timing mechanism at each light.
That should allow the city to more precisely time lights to meet traffic flow, Woosley said. For example, if traffic engineers notice an intersection is consistently backing up every weekday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., crews would be able to change the light's timing for that hour. Woosley also said the lights could be specifically programmed to deal with Kansas University football games, special downtown events or even snow days when traffic is moving more slowly.
"We hope this first project will just be the first step in a larger system," Woosley said.
Planners are developing a plan for how "intelligent transportation" technology could be implemented throughout the city. Having that plan on file will allow the city to apply for state funding for future projects. Woosley said 23rd Street, Clinton Parkway, Iowa Street, North Second Street and the remainder of Sixth Street all would be strong candidates.
Mayor Sue Hack said she supports the $250,000 budget item and wants city staff members to determine how the technology could be implemented in other parts of town.
"I would love to see it on 23rd Street," Hack said.
Woosley said the city began with the Sixth Street area because it is the closest major street to the traffic engineering department building at Fifth and Mississippi streets, which is the starting point for the fiber cable.
Corliss said he included the item in his budget, in part, because residents have been clamoring for the city to improve traffic flow.
"One of the things that was very clear from the citizen survey is that we need to continue to work on east-west traffic congestion," Corliss said. "We're not going to be able to build very many new east-west streets in the interior part of the community, so we have to make the ones we have function better."