Archive for Monday, September 15, 2008

City engineers get green light on signal management system

A view from Florida Street looking east along Sixth Street through the traffic light-controlled intersections at Michigan, foreground, and Maine streets.

A view from Florida Street looking east along Sixth Street through the traffic light-controlled intersections at Michigan, foreground, and Maine streets.

September 15, 2008


City engineers get green light on signal management system

When a light bulb goes out at home, it's an inconvenience. But when one goes dark in a traffic signal, it's a safety-threatening nuisance. Enlarge video

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.

Improved service

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."


Chris Ogle 9 years, 9 months ago

Maybe the potholes are the newest form of "traffic calming devices" . I would rather drive down a street without damage to my tires by potholes, than have signals, cameras, etc @ the cost of over 500k.

compmd 9 years, 9 months ago

Just a few months ago the Lawrence Freenet people proposed laying fiber for the city for free. I wonder who is laying the fiber now and how much they are charging the city.

Chris Ogle 9 years, 9 months ago

And they wonder where the money goes...

OnlyTheOne 9 years, 9 months ago

Corey Burton, for one, can't wait.The recent transplant from Houston - where signal coordination, traffic management and efficiency efforts are more commonplace ...... - 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, ...... "Those kind of sucked. I got caught by those a couple times (back home)."Hey, Corey. If the traffic control system in Houston is so good why did you have to run the red lights?Jus' wunderin'

Chris Ogle 9 years, 9 months ago

Analysis: State transportation program's prospects iffy for next year...oh well... Lawrence will do it anyway

jumpin_catfish 9 years, 9 months ago

I would suggest that the city engineer go to the light on 31st street in front of the Home Depot store and across from the Post Office. I aged a week waiting for the left turn signal, to be honest because there is so little traffic except at rush hour, I just check for cops and run it. I wouldn't have to do that if the light was proper programmed.

kusp8 9 years, 9 months ago

For the record....the fiber that the city (or whoever) is going to lay is a different kind of fiber than the kind that freenet proposed laying.

gccs14r 9 years, 9 months ago

And if they put the $500k into the bus system, they could pull a bunch of cars off the road, too.

Poon 9 years, 9 months ago

Now Lawrence, you have no idea what you are getting into. You do not realize trouble technology can bring. Just because other cities have tried such newfangled gimmicks like "smart" lights, there is no reason to abandon conventional lights which have worked perfectly since the days of the Model T. Experimenting with silly ideas like coordinated lights may start innocently enough, but it can lead to other risky behaviours and endeavours such as adding turn lanes, painting new lines, and installing signage well ahead of merges. Who needs more then 1/4 block warning anyway?Show restraint Lawrence. Before you know it, citizens will take coordinated lights for granted and start demanding extreme nonsense such as underpasses.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 9 months ago

First they replaced working traffic lights with expensive new traffic lights to fix a perceived problem and now more big bucks because that did not work. In reality how fast people drive is what makes them work in the first place. Rush hour traffic will remain such and miracle traffic light systems cannot control rush hour traffic. Live with it as hidden cost of growth I say.Can a miracle traffic light system truly control thousands upon thousands of sports fans? Massive congestion is beyond the power of high dollar traffic light systems.Build wider sidewalks to make Lawrence more walkable and bike friendly. This is the greener Lawrence we keep reading about.......but when is the question?

ukillaJJ 9 years, 9 months ago

Wow, 20th century technology! In Lawrence!Maybe the city should purposefully make the lights worse for traffic? This might increase ridership on the T!

HootyWho 9 years, 9 months ago

I wish the city would fix the giant hole in the 1800 block of Tennesse,,,its a monster,,,,

bmwjhawk 9 years, 9 months ago

Good. This past rainy Saturday morning, with 6th street nearly deserted, I hit 5 of the 6 red lights. That's ridiculous and bad for the environment and my mood.

Chris Ogle 9 years, 9 months ago

Spend...Spend../ It seems like Lawrence is booming again.... or do they just ignore the fact that we need to live within our means.

Trobs 9 years, 9 months ago

Build more roundabouts! That'll fix traffic!

Mark Jakubauskas 9 years, 9 months ago

Not enough money for crack-sealing the streets.....Not enought money for sidewalk replacement....Not enough money for curb replacement.....Potholes across the city....Special taxes to fix streets in disrepair....But we sure have $250,000 for a 360-degree cameras and a "traffic control center" for the city engineer boys to sit in and get their high-tech jollies !GET BACK TO BASICS !!!!!! FIX THE STREETS FIRST !!!

Jim Phillips 9 years, 9 months ago

Perhaps the city traffic engineer could come out of his office once in a while. Maybe even drive around town at different times during a 24 hour period. Perhaps he would get fed up with sitting at a red light for two minutes when there is no cross traffic coming. Perhaps he would see how truly pathetic traffic flow is in this "progressive city".

Danimal 9 years, 9 months ago

I've lived in and visited a lot of places, and Lawrence's streets (I'm not joking around) are on par with Managua, Nicaragua's and Monrovia, Liberia's. Now before someone jumps all over me, I know it never freezes there so there isn't much cracking in the pavement from the freezing and thawing cycles. My point is simply that this city can do much, much better, they simply lack the will to do so.

gccs14r 9 years, 9 months ago

If vehicular traffic were banned on Mass from 6th to 11th, that would allow simplification of the light at 6th and Mass. Then convert the northbound bridge approach to a grade-level ramp and the southbound bridge departure to a flyover and ramp to avoid crossing 6th at grade. That would cut the number of signals from three to one. Maybe New Hampshire should be one-way northbound from 11th to 6th and Vermont should be one-way southbound from 6th to 11th. Close the intersections on Mass at 7th through 10th to stop cut-through traffic, put up signage pointing folks to the parking garage, and run a trolley loop from the garage over to Mass to take shoppers on an up-and-back route, then back to the garage. That would allow removal of even more signals.

been_there 9 years, 9 months ago

JUST WONDERING: This sounds like this would involve the use of computers by the persons monitoring the lights, I could be wrong though. I do know that the school flashing beacons are controlled by the city's computers and when they go down, and they do, the beacons do not come on at the scheduled time. What is the backup plan if the computers fail, will they somehow switch back to an automated system?

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 9 years, 9 months ago

P.S. I don't mind you looking at me through your stupid cameras if you fix your d**n streets. Thank you, Lynn

gphawk89 9 years, 9 months ago

Over 20 comments and so far no whining about the cameras infringing on privacy rights. I'm impressed...

BigPrune 9 years, 9 months ago

If you drive 46 MPH down 6th Street you will hit every green light but one from Mass to Kasold. The speed limit is 35 so watch out for the coppers. Actually this was the way it used to be a few years ago. Probably won't work now, but it was all about the timing. Instead of 46 MPH, why not adjust the lights to work at 35 MPH? No fiber optic expense, just saved Lawrence a million bucks.

David Rahija 9 years, 9 months ago

--QUOTE--For the record:.the fiber that the city (or whoever) is going to lay is a different kind of fiber than the kind that freenet proposed laying.--QUOTE--Check the proposal again, Freenet was going to lay fiber that the city could use for this very project. Seems to me it would be the same type of fiber.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 9 years, 9 months ago

The traffic in Lawrence is horrible. I dread having to go there. It will never get any better without lots of money spent to widen streets, and repair the ones you have. Some of the streets are like riding on a washboard. Fix your streets before you spend $ 500,000 on cameras and fiber optic cable. How stupid are you people anyway? Wake up and see the real problem! Thank you, Lynn

bearded_gnome 9 years, 9 months ago

$500,000K for this? you've gotta be kidding! no money for the T, special tax to help fix streets. still putting up traffic cusions (thanks Merrill) what the heck? it isn't real money anyway! ***please, somebody down at city hall! get a grip on reality! let's see, if we stopped this, and the random vague depot Then, we stop Merrill from his traffic cushions/roundabouts, and we'll save a lot more as he looks down his elitist nose at sports fans from high atop his lawn mower, eh Lawnmowerman? refurb, there's 1.5mil we've just saved the city right there! c'mon! you can do better than this.

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