Tag Archives: signals

County planning reflective borders on traffic signals

The in basket: Jack Ford says that during a recent power outage that hit Silverdale, he saw several cars blow through the darkened Levin Road traffic signal on Ridgetop Boulevard, probably unaware there is a signal there.

He wondered if reflective material can be put on signals so they can be spotted when the signals and nearby street lights are out.

The out basket: The state has been installing yellow borders on some of its signals where power outages are common for some time but I wasn’t sure if Kitsap County had followed suit. Ridgetop is a county road and the Levin light is temporary while Bucklin Hill Road is closed. It will be bagged Friday when Bucklin reopens and physically removed in coming weeks.

In driving around Silverdale I didn’t see any of the signals with the border. I asked if the county has any.

Jeff Shea, county traffic engineer, replied, “We have begun to install the heads with the reflective material around them, but they aren’t always that easy to see. We have the borders at some signals including Mullenix and Phillips (in South Kitsap), pedestrian crossing on Silverdale Way, and the new Bucklin Hill pedestrian crossing at Mickelberry.

“Even with the reflective material on the signal head some drivers don’t stop. Many of our power outages occur at night during storms making it difficult to see the roadway. Compound that with the height of the signal heads, which puts them on the periphery of the light your headlights project.

“For added safety because of the outages we experience, Public Works has been installing battery backups at our more heavily used intersections with plans to install them at all signals. These backups will allow our signals to operate for several hours after an outage occurs.”

The law says that a darkened traffic signal must be treated as an all-way stop.

Old Wheaton and Lebo could use yellow flashing lefts, says reader

The in basket: Joan Wright e-mailed to say, “The intersection of Wheaton Way and Lebo Boulevard (in Bremerton), heading north, would be so much better to have a flashing yellow light to turn left when no one is waiting, going in either location.

“It seems to stay red so long as we sit, sit and sit some more.  This seems to work very well in other locations and we can all move forward with a flashing yellow light to turn left,” she said.

The out basket: This is a popular improvement where it has been done, but it requires money that can be hard to come by.

Bremerton was able to add a bunch of the yellow left-turn flashers on Sixth Street last year, but got the money from a fund for sewer replacement work on 11th Street. Sixth Street was the designated detour during the work, so use of that fund for a street improvement was permissible. Once the flashing lefts were in, the city kept them.

The cost of the retrofits varies with the adaptability of the existing controllers at each intersection. The cities here generally choose to spend their street money otherwise.

Gunnar Fridriksson, the city’s managing street engineer said the Wheaton and Lebo intersection will be evaluated as part of the rebuilding of Old Wheaton Way next year, but complete removal of the signal in favor of a four-way stop might be the outcome. rather than  a more intricate signal.

The existing signal’s aged in-ground detection wires are prone to malfunctioning, which may create the waits Joan describes.

Kitsap County introduced yellow flashing lefts here, adding them incrementally in South and Central Kitsap, and most recently in North Kitsap at Miller Bay roads intersections withWest Kingston, Indianola and Gunderson roads.

“All the signals that warrant flashing yellow are complete,” says Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works. “The only place where new flashing yellow applications would be considered is new intersection construction.”

There is a new signal about to debut, at Highway 303 and Ridgetop in Silverdale, which is a county project but a state signal and it won’t have a flashing yellow left light.

There is a lack of enthusiasm for the yellow lefts at the state level in the Olympic Region, which includes Kitsap County, and no state highway signal here has them. The state’s position is that lessening the level of control at any of its intersections is acceptable only when the intersection is physically improved in some fashion, including modernization of the controller boxes to allow for yellow flashing lefts.

Jim Johnstone of the Olympic Region signal shop says Kitsap County has led the way on the flashing lefts and his shop doesn’t hear much demand for them from cities and counties elsewhere in the region, where motorists don’t see them.

He notes that the convenience for drivers is offset somewhat by greater danger to pedestrians, who are allowed to cross at the moments the drivers are permitted to turn left on yellow and might not be seen by the drivers.

Bootleg traffic signal changers targeted by Opticom upgrade

The in basket: For a couple of decades, Kitsap Transit buses and police and other emergency vehicles have had the capacity to change red lights to green in Bremerton and around the county as they approach.

But some private citizens have acquired equipment online or otherwise that enables them to do the same thing, though they aren’t supposed to and it’s probably illegal.

Tom Baker of the city of Bremerton electronics shop, told me, “There are emitters available on eBay that will work with the Opticom. I have seen signals pre-empted with no bus near by, so there are non-authorized users out there.”

If you are one of them, you may find yourself frustrated in Bremerton, where new digital controls have been substituted for the old ones this year, intended to prevent unauthorized use of bootleg emitters.

I learned this was afoot from Mike Singson of Advanced Traffic Products, which sold the old Opticom equipment back when it was first installed and was still around to help with the update. I encountered him at a big electronics convention at Sea-Tac in February.

The out basket: Wendy Clark-Getzin, Kitsap Transit’s capital development director (for another week or so) says it kicked in $31,000 to go with in-kind labor and services from the city to go with federal money that added up to the $200,000 project cost. It was finished April 30, she said.

In addition to ending unauthorized use of the signal changing equipment, it will reduce maintenance costs and replace some aging controller equipment,” she said.

She credited Jeff Collins of the city electronics shop with making the money stretch as far as it went, and former city engineer Mike Mecham for getting the money in the first place.

The work stops short of modernizing Opticom to the max, says Mike Singson. It’s capable of using GPS to track the buses and keep track of whether they are on time, taking changing of the lights out of the hands of the bus drivers, he said. They’re not supposed to use Opticom if they aren’t behind schedule.

Kitsap’s system won’t be using GPS any time soon and those behind the wheel of the buses still will be able to change the light to green.

You may wonder why Wendy will remain capital development director for only a short time. She will leave to become general manager of Clallam County Transit July 1, she tells me.

11th and Warren signals and missing turn lane draw comments

The in basket: Two commenters on a past Road Warrior column, first names Kari and Robin, have made observations about changes at the 11th Street and Warren Avenue intersection, which has just undergone  a substantial renovation.

Keri wonders about what he thinks are longer waits for the signals to change to green and Robin noticed something I hadn’t, that the dedicated right-turn-only lane from westbound 11th to northbound Warren no longer exists

“I commute through this intersection daily during the week, eastbound,” Kari said. “It seems that the lights for north-south traffic stay green, even when there’s no traffic. Just last Monday, at about 6 a.m., I timed the lights as staying green for 30 seconds without a single car going through the intersection, either north- or southbound. It used to be that the lights would change much quicker when no traffic was detected.
“I’ve learned that if I don’t catch the left turn onto northbound Warren,” he said, ” but the light is still green to go straight, it is much faster for me to go through the light and turn on Park Avenue (even if I have to wait for the turn signal there, as the lights cycle faster) and then back to Warren at 17th, than it is to wait for the lights to cycle back to a green left turn.”

“Aren’t there traffic detectors on the light poles now? ” he asked.

Robin said he asked Chal Martin, city public works director, about removal of that turn lane, and “he told me it was to better line up the lanes.

“I went on the record as being unhappy about losing the right turn lane and mentioned that the lanes lined up fine for my last 50 years in Bremerton,” Robin said.

The out basket: Gunnar Fridriksson of the city of Bremerton street engineers had told me a couple of months ago that most of the movements at that intersection would operate on timer during its paving, which required destroying most of the in-pavement wire detectors, called “loops.” Keri’s complaint sounded to me like a residue of that.

But no, Gunnar says,  “The signal there was never put on a time setting, we went directly from using the in-ground loops to the radar detection.

“There have been two changes here with the signal coordination package that we are currently working to adjust,” Gunnar said, “timing and coordination with the new signal on Warren at 13th Street and tying in coordination with the signals at Burwell and Sixth Street to the rest of the corridor.

“Our eventual goal will be to have the signals from Burwell all the way up to Riddell Road (synchronized),” he said. “We do have adjustments to make and that will be continuing for the next several weeks, as the (electronics) shop schedules this work in with regular maintenance, emergency call-outs, etc.”

And yes, the new radar traffic detectors are mounted on the poles at the 11th and Warren intersection.

As for the missing right turn lane, he said, it was deleted “to provide a five-foot shoulder area. This will make it easier for buses and trucks to turn northbound onto Warren, along with helping line the lanes up a little better through the intersection.

“If you get a chance to go out and take a look, you will see quite a few tire marks going across the new ADA ramps (for the disabled) and sidewalk at this corner.  It is a fairly tight corner and a tough one to make for larger vehicles with the lane adjacent to the sidewalk.”

Gunnar also noted that the most recent traffic counts done for 11th Street’s three westbound lanes, while dated, showed that of the 5,700 vehicles counted, only 1,800 turned right.

The red light enforcement camera watching westbound traffic is still there and functioning as before, he said.

New questions about revised 11th & Warren

The in basket: As I drove down 11th Street eastbound toward Warren Avenue the other day, I noticed a boxed area created by yellow stripes across Warren, westbound, where a left turn pocket would be. Left turns have been prohibited there for as long as I can remember.

I wondered if they will be allowed when the new widened intersection is fully opened.

As my wife and I sat at the eastbound red light, we discussed the four signal heads controlling the three lanes, two lanes for for left turns and the other two for straight ahead movements in the one lane dedicated to that, historically.

I recently wrote in this column that the extra signal head complies with federal regulations that the main movement at a signalized intersection have two signals for redundancy if one burns out or is blocked by a large vehicle.

But when the lights turned green that day, one of the two in the center showed an arrow to the left and the other an arrow pointing straight ahead. It seemed like a likely source of confusion for a newcomer to the intersection as to what is permitted from the inner left turn lane.

The out basket: First, says Gunnar Fridriksson of the city traffic engineers, no left turn is being created on westbound 11th to go south on Warren.

The striped box “was just an attempt to outline the hatched area that was here

previously.”

The only change in permitted movement at the completed intersection will be that only the outside southbound lane on Warren will allow right turns. Previously, both outside southbound lanes allowed right turns, though I hardly ever saw anyone use the innermost of those lanes for a right turn.

Gunnar said I am not the first to ask about possible confusion about the four signal heads, and even sent along an inquiry about it from Bruce Hall, originally sent to his city councilman, Greg Wheeler.

Gunnar’s answer is as I had described, “The federal guidance we are required to follow for designing a signal

system has the through lane (single eastbound traffic on 11th Street)

with two sets of lights, and a single set of lights for the two turn

lanes.  So there are four sets of lights for the three lanes.”

It’s a puzzling issue to arise now, Gunnar said, since the same four-signal display for three lanes was there before the intersection was redone, but hanging from wires instead of the new metal poles and cross arms.

Trying for all-green signals on Highway 305

The in basket:  Dr. Craig Benson writes, “Perhaps you can help me crack the code of the traffic lights along Highway 305 in Poulsbo. I read in the Sun that as part of the revamping of the 305 corridor the lights were supposed to be timed to provide for smoother traffic flow and less stopping, to save gas.

“Since I live off Hostmark and often shop at College Marketplace,” he said, “I have occasion to pass through all six lights in between at various times of the day and night, sometimes with no other traffic interfering, but rarely at rush hours. I’m pretty sure I’ve never made it through all the lights without stopping.

“I’ve tried setting my cruise control right at the posted limit, a little higher, a little lower, accelerating faster and slower from the lights, everything I can think of to pass through the lights as timed, without success.

“This is an every day occurrence for me,” he said, “and probably for hundreds if not thousands of others – those stops add up! Can you find out from the powers that be what I’m supposed to be doing to get through the corridor without making unnecessary and inefficient stops?”

The out basket: The state gets this inquiry enough that it has posted a discussion of the limitations of synchronization on its Web site, at wsdot.wa.gov/Operations/Traffic/Signals/signal_coordination.htm.

After noting that synchronization requires the same number of seconds for each signal to serve all of its various traffic flows,, it poses a question of itself: “Does this mean I will never have to stop for a red light?”

 

“Unfortunately, the answer to this question is No,” it replies. “There are many reasons why, even when traffic signals are coordinated, you will still have to stop at red lights.”

Among the reasons:

– Pedestrians. Whether those on foot consume some of the time devoted to the various movements  affects the amount of time for other movements.

– Side streets. Even where through traffic is given preference, such as on Highway 305, making for long waits for a green, the goal is to make sure all cars waiting when their queue gets a green light are served. The number of cars crossing affects the main line timing.

– Left turns. The amount of time devoted to them and the number of vehicles waiting to turn subtracts seconds from the main line.

– Two-way traffic flow: Coordinating flows in opposite directions is difficult, especially if the signals in the corridor are spaced differently. “If the spacing is not equal between traffic signals, the green lights may only ‘line up’ well in one direction,” the site says. “When this happens, the green lights will normally ‘line up’ better in the direction with the most traffic. The traffic in the other direction may have to stop.”

– When you drive. Many coordinated system are taken out of synchronization at night and on weekends.

I’ve had to abridge the information on the Web site, for space reasons. Look it up for a more detailed explanation.