Faster trips across town. Fewer delays at malfunctioning stoplights. Quicker exits from crowded Kansas University sporting events.
Such are the potential payoffs from a planned $500,000 program to install cameras atop traffic signals, run fiber-optic cable under roads and set up a system to coordinate traffic-management functions guiding vehicles on Sixth Street and a portion of Iowa Street.
Designs for the system will be developed later this year, with hopes for installation early in the next.
Corey Burton, for one, can't wait.
The recent transplant from Houston - where signal coordination, traffic management and efficiency efforts are more commonplace than chili, barbecued ribs or Texas toast - figures he could use a taste of home when slogging through his daily delays on Sixth.
"As long as they don't do the red light cameras," said Burton, a parts specialist at Advance Auto Parts, 1501 W. Sixth. "Those kind of sucked. I got caught by those a couple times (back home)."
No, plans for the new system will not include components for snapping images of drivers running red lights, said Shoeb Uddin, city engineer. At least not yet.
Instead, the system will begin with the most basic components:
¢ Fiber-optic cable, running in a loop to connect all six traffic signals at intersections along Sixth, from Massachusetts to Iowa streets. As financing permits, signals on Iowa Street, south of Sixth, also will be connected.
¢ Cameras, offering 360-degree views of each intersection and stretches of road in between.
¢ A traffic control center, at the city's Traffic Engineering building at Fifth and Mississippi streets, where engineers and other staffers will be able to track traffic flows, monitor equipment problems and adjust signal timings - all to ease congestion and reduce delays for folks already frustrated by a road that's already operating at its designed capacity.
Snagging red-light runners is not part of the plan.
"Ours is for a technical and public-service orientation," Uddin said. "The objective is not law enforcement. Nothing is out of the question - it could happen someday - but we've had no discussions or plans on that. I don't see that we will go in that direction."
Instead, Uddin and others working on the system are choosing to focus on the potential for improved service and a broader reach.
Among the possibilities:
¢ Installing message boards in high-traffic areas. That way, drivers could be alerted immediately about a traffic-blocking accident, an ongoing detour or even a missing-child Amber Alert.
¢ Giving emergency personnel a real-time, real-image view of an accident scene, to assist first responders and give others a view of what to expect and how such an incident might be causing problems farther down the road.
¢ Adding the vast majority of the city's traffic signals - there are more than 80 now - to the loop system, so that all traffic patterns could be managed, in real time, from a single location. Such a system could lead to customized traffic patterns for use during major winter storms or scheduled special events, such as home football and basketball games at Kansas University.
"That will have to wait till we have a few more signals on line," said David Woosley, the city's traffic engineer. "Whenever there's money to add them to the system."
Project ready to go
The initial project has been in the works for months. Last year, City Manager David Corliss had included $250,000 for the project in his recommended budget, but the work never materialized.
This year, the city's money is there and will be paired with $250,000 from the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Burton, who watches traffic back up on Sixth from behind the parts counter at Advance, likes the idea of easing traffic congestion through the use of technology.
Especially if the cameras aren't directed toward getting people pulled over.
"I can't see this as doing anything but help," said Burton, who moved to Lawrence four months ago. "Especially during rush hour."