City leaders approve $250K for study to improve Lawrence stoplight timing
photo by: Nick Krug
City leaders have approved a study that aims to decrease the time spent sitting behind a red light while commuting across the city.
At its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to amend the 2019 budget to include $250,000 for a city-wide traffic signal coordination and timing study to improve the flow of traffic throughout the city.
Municipal Services and Operations Director Dave Wagner told the commission that he thinks improving the flow of traffic so people spend less time traversing the city will be a win in several regards, benefiting city infrastructure, motorists and the environment. He said it has been a long time since the completion of a traffic synchronization study, and that the study would inform immediate and ongoing changes.
“From a cost perspective, we won’t know what the paybacks are, but I think intuitively we can certainly assume that if you spend 25 percent less time traveling the highways down Lawrence, we’re all going to win,” Wagner said.
The highest priority streets to improve the flow of traffic will be Sixth Street, 23rd Street/Clinton Parkway and Iowa Street, according to a memo to the commission. In the memo, city staff notes that the time it takes to drive across the city and the frequent stops required have been cited as a source of frustration by many residents in citizen surveys, letters to the editor and correspondence with city officials.
MSO Deputy Director Mike Lawless said there is outdated equipment that needs to be replaced or upgraded and that new traffic signal software can better coordinate timing of signals and pedestrian crossings and react to traffic increases from events. In response to questions from the commission about future funding for such needs, Lawless said the department’s capital improvement plan will recommend a placeholder amount of $250,000 per year for the next five years, but that the amount could be more.
In response to a question from Mayor Lisa Larsen about why the changes were not proposed as part of the regular budget process, City Manager Tom Markus said that the recent merger of the city’s public works and utility departments had refocused attention on different parts of those operations and identified some shortfalls that needed to be addressed.
Commissioners generally agreed that traffic flow in the city needs to be more efficient, with Commissioner Matthew Herbert adding that he hopes the study indeed helps to address stoplight timing and coordination on an ongoing basis.
“Traffic light coordination is not an issue that we are going to solve and then be done with forever,” Herbert said. “This will be a continuing effort to improve.”