It is a tool that every commuter would drool over.
A $500,000 project will begin next month that will allow city engineers to control about a dozen Lawrence traffic signals via remote control.
Figuring out a way to make Lawrence streets friendlier for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users will be the topic of an upcoming city-sponsored discussion.
City planners are hosting a presentation on Complete Streets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.
Carol Kachadoorian, a planner with the National Complete Streets Coalition, will provide an overview of the subject, and discuss how existing streets can be retrofitted and how new street designs can save the city money.
The goal of the Complete Streets movement is for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities to be able to travel conveniently along any street.
City leaders are touting it as the first step in a high-tech plan to get traffic moving more efficiently through the city.
“This should give us a lot more flexibility to meet immediate traffic demands,” said Chuck Soules, the city’s director of public works.
The project will involve burying fiber-optic cable that will connect traffic signals on parts of Sixth Street and parts of Iowa Street. The signals then will be connected to a new control center that will be housed in the city’s traffic engineering building at Fifth and Mississippi streets.
From that building, traffic engineers could type a few commands into a computer and tell a light to stay green to clear out a batch of particularly heavy traffic. Now, the only way to get a light to change before its normal cycle is for a traffic engineer to go to the site and adjust its timer.
City leaders think the new remote control system will be helpful in several situations. Kansas University game days, accidents and traffic signal malfunctions are near the top of the list.
“The system will automatically notify us when there is a malfunction at the light,” said David Woosley, city traffic engineer. “It even will allow a technician to log in from home during the middle of the night.”
The system also allows cameras to be installed at intersections. That creates the possibility of real-time video being fed to the control center, where an operator can change lights based on actual traffic conditions. Woosley said that won’t be how the system will operate initially because the city doesn’t have the staffing to do such intensive monitoring, and the initial system will include only about six cameras.
“But we do hope that this is just the beginning,” Woosley said.
The project has been discussed for more than a year at City Hall, but it is now moving forward after commissioners this week accepted a bid for the construction work to begin in mid-October. Work is expected to last through February.
Traffic engineers are cautioning that the new system won’t solve all problems. That’s in part because the system is starting out small. On Sixth Street, only lights between Massachusetts and Iowa streets will be connected. On Iowa, the project will stretch from Sixth to 23rd streets.
The city is receiving $250,000 in state grant money to help fund the project. The city also is hopeful that it will be able to recoup some of its investment by putting the fiber to other uses. City staff members have been in discussions with KU and the county about a partnership that would allow those two groups to use some of the excess fiber capacity for their communication needs. The city also may use some of the fiber to connect city facilities and cut down on the amount of money it pays for Internet service. The city also plans to issue a request for proposals from private companies interested in using some of the excess fiber capacity.
“The fiber optic cable really is the hidden treasure in all this,” said Commissioner Mike Dever, who has been lobbying for the project. “This could be a chance for us to offer an economic incentive to a company that wants to do business in Lawrence, and it might be an incentive that won’t cost us much because we’re already getting the value of the fiber.”
If the project works well, Soules said the city likely will pursue state funding to connect the lights along 23rd Street. Soules said the city decided to start with Sixth and Iowa streets because those were the two major streets closest to the command center at Fifth and Mississippi.