Tag Archives: traffic signal

Shrouds on traffic signals serve more than one purpose

The in basket: As I sat at a stop light one recent afternoon, I watched the signals on the side street, waiting for a subtle change from green to amber on the signal heads, which I couldn’t really see. The circular shrouds that protrude from all traffic signal lamps conceals the impending change unless it’s dark.

I wondered if that’s the reason for them,  to keep antsy motorists from jumping or at least matching the light change and getting a quick start. That would negate the benefit of the one-second delay nearly all signals have between the light turning red in one direction and green in a conflicting direction.

The out basket: That’s one of the reasons, says Claudia Bingham-Baker, spokeswoman for the Olympic Region of state highways.

“The purpose of the visors is multifold: 1) to make the lights more visible to motorists facing them; 2) to help reduce washout from other light sources such as the sun; and 3) to shield the lights  from the view of drivers on adjacent or side streets that would be conflicting traffic movements,” she said.

Morning rush is maddening at SR3 and Sunnyslope Road

The in basket: Darwin Alm read a Dec. 7 article in this newspaper about a $40,000 grant to study how to reduce speeding deaths on the local highways and thinks he sees a much better use for the money.

“I live in Sunnyslope just off Highway 3!!” he wrote to Andy Binion, the reporter who wrote the story.  Andy forwarded Darwin’s e-mail to me.

“We have to enter Highway 3 early in the morning to work at the shipyard!!” Darwin continued. “Every morning we wait at that intersection for at least 10 to 15 minutes because of high traffic!! Trying to get on 3 is a joke; sometimes you just take a risk and go for it!!”

Darwin really likes exclamation points. I wonder if he shouts when he talks.

“If you have someone in front of you taking a left to go to Belfair,  you will have a very LONG wait !!!!!” he went on. “My question to you is why can’t you spend some of that 40 K to put in a stop light at that intersection before someone gets killed, especially a child, instead of spending it all just to study how many deaths we have a year over a cup of coffee!!!! Looking forward to hearing back about this matter before we read in the paper about another preventable death !!!”

The out basket: Grant money usually is pretty limited in what it can be spent for, and $40,000 doesn’t go far in adding a traffic signal at an intersection these days. Andy pointed out to Darwin that he just reports where money comes from and how it will be spent. He doesn’t have a say in the decision.

But there are funding sources for traffic signals and I asked Claudia Bingham-Baker of the state’s Olympic Region of highways where the Sunnyslope Road intersection with Highway 3 stands in qualifying for one. I also asked for an approximation of what signals cost these days.

“Improvements like traffic control signals are installed as funding allows,” she replied. “A dozen intersections on SR 3 between Shelton and Gorst have higher collision histories than the SR 3/Sunnyslope intersection, so typically signal funding would be allocated to one of the other signals first. Unfortunately, that means it could be a while before drivers see a signal there. I wish I had better news.

“Depending on bids,” she said in reply to my final question, “an average signal purchase and installation costs closer to $400,000.”

Power outage provision at new SK signal won’t include generators

The in basket: Doug Pinard is concerned about the new traffic signal being installed on Mullenix Road at Phillips Road in South Kitsap when the lights go out.

He lives in that area, he said, and “it’s very prone to power outages.”  The intersection is not well lighted and drivers will have trouble seeing that there is a signal there when the power is out, he said. He asked if the lights will have backup generators.

The out basket: Backup generators at traffic lights are rare. The only one I know of in the county is at the single point interchange in Silverdale where highways 3 and 303 meet. So I wasn’t surprised when Kitsap County officials said none are planned at Mullenix and Phillips.

They will be bordered in a reflective gold color, which is the accepted provision for power outages. In fact, the signal heads have been mounted already on the cross bars and they have the border.

The intersection will be better lighted when the lights are on. The signal poles have street lights atop them and I spotted at least one additional street light there. That won’t help when the power’s out, of course, but the reflective borders will.

Tick-tock, Ridgetop/303 signal project

The in basket: Yvonne Dean and Sam Watland are the latest to ask about the seemingly endless project to put a traffic signal at the southbound off-ramp from Highway 303 (Waaga Way) to Ridgetop Boulevard in Silverdale.

“According to the sign the highway people put up,” said Yvonne, “the road project was to be completed the end of February, but as of March 6, there still isn’t a traffic light installed.  What is the hold up now?  Before it was the pole and the state programing the signal box.”

Sam quipped that he hopes the continual delays on the signal project aren’t an omen about how long Bucklin Hill Road really will be closed this year and next for the replacement of the culverts through which Clear Creek pass under it.

Yvonne also said the heavy rains the past two weeks have raised questions in her mind about the drainage slopes nearby. “I travel the lower part of Ridgetop several times a week,” she said, “and I have noticed with the heavy rains we have been having a lot of water that never gets to the drainage areas that are in place and therefore the water tends to accumulate at lower places causing puddles.

“The specific area I am talking about is at the intersection of the exit to Ridgetop coming north from Bremerton and going right up Ridgetop Junior High.”

The out basket: The county’s weekly Road Report says work was to resume this week with modification of the bases for the signal cross-arm poles, which have arrived. Field testing of the new controller cabinet also was to be done this week and completed Friday.

“The transfer over to the new service system begins this week,” it said. “The contractor is starting additional drainage work at the ramp entering the Ridgetop Boulevard Intersection.
“Two small areas of sidewalk modifications within the project limits are also planned. Remaining channelization markings will be installed upon completion of the new signal system.
“All paint markings, including the crosswalk across Ridgetop Boulevard, will be completed after the signal is operational.  Until that work is completed pedestrians should use marked crossings at other intersection locations.”

Public Works spokesman Doug Bear ways the drainage issues described by Yvonne are outside the signal project boundaries and have “been dispatched to road maintenance crews to resolve.”



Klahowya entrance still not bad enough for a signal

The in basket: Tim Kennedy of Bremerton has raised a familiar issue.

“I am truly concerned about the young drivers coming and going from Klahowya Secondary School,” he said in an e-mail to the county, which reached me second-hand.

“Someone is going to get killed. In the two-plus years I have been driving my daughter to school I have seen the results of multiple collisions at that intersection. I have seen three sets of cars in process of being cleared and on many occasions the plastic debris from other collisions.

“I do not want some family to have to deal with the tragedy or loss of a loved one because the county could not see the true need for a traffic signal at this intersection,” Tim said.

Tim suggested a signal that operates red-green only at the beginning and end of the school day.

The out basket: I was CC’d a copy of the county’s response to Tim, which comes from Traffic Engineer Jeff Shea, who has explained the county’s reluctance to put a signal there in Road Warrior before. That position hasn’t changed. In short, he said the county already has done a lot to make that intersection safer and accident records say it’s working.

“A significant investment of road funds has already been made at this intersection,” Jeff said, “The Public Works Department has provided additional street lighting, signage, warning flashers, and new technology utilizing rapid flashing pedestrian beacons.

“A traffic signal is an expensive traffic control device.  In this location a traffic signal would cost in the range of $500,000 to $1 million.  You are correct that we can program them to operate with minor impact to the mainstream flow of traffic during non-school traffic periods.   However, a traffic control signal exerts a significant influence on both operations and safety on the intersecting streets, so it is imperative we only install warranted signals.

“Since a signal is such an expensive device to install and maintain, we only consider them if they meet the criteria spelled out in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (a federal document that sets national standards for traffic control devices).

“This location does not currently meet these warrants for a signal installation.

“Signals are primarily installed to allow for the orderly movement of traffic and improved operation of an intersection. However, they can also be installed due to a collision history if a signal will reduce the types of collisions that the intersection is experiencing, such as right angle collisions.

“The minimum number of collisions to meet this warrant is five within a 12-month period.  In this location there were only two collisions in 2008, two in 2009 and none in both 2010 and 2011.

“Another consideration in signal placement is that signals can cause more accidents; especially rear-end collisions, than existed before the signal was installed.

“Our Annual Road Improvement Program project selection process relies heavily on documented and potential safety concerns.  We review all our collision records on a bi-yearly basis for the purpose of identifying high accident intersections, corridors, and spot location.  The high accident locations are then evaluated for safety countermeasures and potential safety improvement projects.

“No amount of safety improvement eliminates mistakes made by poor driving habits and bad decisions. There are many safety improvements in place here, and the recent accident history shows a reduction in collisions. We will continue to monitor the data at this location.”

Comparing costs of roundabouts and traffic signals

The in basket: Robert Balcomb of Silverdale wasn’t satisfied with the answer he got from the Road Warior column in December about the comparative costs of a roundabout, such is being built south of Silverdale, and a traffic signal there.

“Here I am again,” he wrote on May 21. The public has a right to know what these ‘awful’ (as stated in this morning’s Sun) traffic circles cost compared with traffic lights.

“Let the brains who decided on these monstrosities answer to residents of the affected neighborhoods, especially those living on the north end of Silverdale Way, who (for how many months?) must drive miles south to Eldorado, north on Provost to get to Silverdale.  No more of their weak excuses, tell us the dollars.”

That was missing from the December response, which instead focused on the greater safety and lower future maintenance costs of roundabouts.

So I asked the county for the numbers to build each.

The out basket: Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works says a cost analysis comparing the Silverdale roundabout with signals there says the roundabout would be less expensive in the first place, $1.35 million to $1.4 million.

I don’t know how persuaded Robert and others who dislike roundabouts will be that signals would cost $1.4 million. You can look at that cost analysis at http://www.kitsapgov.com/pw/pdf/SWay_design_rptapp.pdf. and judge for yourself.

Either option includes contingency allowances running into the hundred of thousands of dollars, but those amounts are about the same for both.

Nearly a quarter of the signals’ cost  – $199,500 – would go to constructing a soldier pile wall, nearly as much as the $300,000 for the signal equipment itself.

Doug says “The variables in considering costs are numerous which makes a direct comparison challenging. (Besides the initial construction costs), ongoing maintenance costs are generally higher for a signalized intersection than the cost of maintaining a roundabout.

“Where long-term costs are considered, roundabouts eliminate hardware, maintenance and electrical costs associated with traffic signals, which can cost between $5,000 and $10,000 per year.

“Engineers also consider how the improvement affects the capacity of the intersection, and how the improvement affects traffic flow. Every intersection is unique, and the particular characteristics of each project are considered as the project is developed.

“What is clear in almost every roundabout application is that roundabouts are safer for motorists than signalized intersections. At a four-way intersection there are, at least, 32 possible vehicle-to-vehicle conflicts. At a four-way roundabout there are only eight.

“Roundabouts reduced injury crashes by 75 percent at intersections where stop signs or signals were previously used for traffic control, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Studies by the IIHS and Federal Highway Administration have shown that roundabouts typically achieve:

·        A 37 percent reduction in overall collisions

·        A 75 percent reduction in injury collisions

·        A 90 percent reduction in fatality collisions

·        A 40 percent reduction in pedestrian collisions

The combination of lower speeds through the intersection, no light to beat, and one-direction travel improve safety in the intersection. In addition they also generally reduce delays and improve traffic flow. Roundabouts promote a continuous flow of traffic which allows the intersection to handle more traffic in the same amount of time.”

More information can be seen at www.kitsapgov.com/pw/pdf/silvway_Roundabout_V_Signal.pdf

New traffic signals must be framed in yellow

The in basket:  Gary Reed says, “I see the new traffic signals at the Bremerton end of the Manette bridge have yellow reflective tape or paint around the edge of the fixture. …I have been seeing that treatment more often around lately, and not just in Kitsap County.

“What is the purpose of the reflective tape or paint?” he asked. “I’m sure it must add many more dollars to the cost of the fixture.

“And why must we have two fixtures per lane? Surely technology has advanced to the point where two bulbs (LED’s maybe) can be used, with a circuit designed to hold one in reserve and trigger a small indicator on the outside of the fixture that one lamp needs replacing. If it is a law that requires the two fixtures per lane, seems it would be easy to allow a modern unit with the stroke of a pen.”

The out basket: I first saw the yellow edging at the Sedgwick interchange on Highway 16 a few years ago, and was told it was done to make the signal heads more visible in a power outage, to alert drivers to cross traffic and the need to treat it as an all-way stop. I was told then it was being used where power outages were most common.

Don Anders of the Olympic Region signal shop, says, “This edging started as a pilot project when they first went in several years ago.  They are now required on all new signal projects and also required in the 2009 Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices which WSDOT adopted recently.

“The cost is minimal for this product,” he said, “but I do have concerns with how it will hold up over time because we will have to replace as needed.”

Its basic reason is “for power outages at night so the vehicle displays can be seen when dark,” Don said.

“The dual display (of signal heads) for each major movement has been a federal requirement for many years,” he said, “and is to provide better visibility and extra safety if one lamp burns out.  I doubt that rule will change because in the new 2009 MUTCD more vehicle displays are now required than in the past.”

Shorewood Drive signal on Kitsap Way misbehaving

The in basket: My grandson-in-law, Steven Christensen of the Lake Symington area, told me at a holiday dinner that he had run into a frustrating situation at the Shorewood Drive traffic signal on Kitsap Way in Bremerton on his way to and from graveyard shift duty at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton.

The signal has been defaulting to green on the side street and red on Kitsap Way, resulting in long and unnecessary waits for those, like him, on Kitsap Way.

Whenever he gets stopped at a red light at the next signal north, he can see the Shorewood Drive light,  Steven said. When a car is waiting at the red-light on Kitsap Way, it eventually will turn green, letting the car proceed. But it then immediately turns red again, green for Shorewood traffic (of which there is usually none that time of night) before he can get there.

The out basket: Jeff Collins of the city of Bremerton signal shop says the contractor working on the Winco supermarket preparation had to cut the in-pavement traffic detection wires on Shorewood during storm drain work, causing the signal to conclude there are always cars waiting on Shorewood.

The problem is less noticeable during the day when Kitsap Way’s signals are coordinated with one another.

The contractor plans a temporary fix to be done this week, Jeff said. Perhaps it’s already been done.



Roundabouts vs. traffic signals

The in basket: Robert Balcomb of Silverdale e-mails to say, “I have wondered about the compared cost of the roundabouts at CK Junior High, at Silverdale Way and Newberry Hill, and at Manette, versus stoplights there instead.  I think stoplights would have been considerably cheaper, involving less construction time, and be less problematic.”

The out basket: Two of the three spots Robert asked about were Kitsap County projects, so I asked county public works for a comparison.

Jeff Shea, traffic engineer for the county, said, “Discussion papers I’ve reviewed talk about the costs of signal hardware being offset by the additional cost of right-of-way needed for a roundabout.

“Although cost is a major factor when making the decision on what type of intersection control to use, there are many other factors that play into the decision. Also, while construction costs may be similar, the ongoing costs of maintenance and electricity for signals are also a consideration when making the choice between signals and roundabouts.

“Each intersection has unique characteristics, and both signals and roundabouts have pros and cons, depending on the application.

“Collision rates are generally lower in a roundabout than at signalized intersection, and the severities of the collisions are usually minor. Fewer vehicles are required to come to a complete stop in a roundabout, and because of slower speeds they provide some traffic calming benefits. Reduced speed through the intersection allows for safer pedestrian crossing in most instances.

“They do take up a lot of space, and present some challenges to bicyclists. In some instances they restrict access to adjacent properties and some multi-lane roundabouts have a learning curve (for drivers) before they achieve optimum efficiency.

“Traffic signals take less space and can generally be built within existing rights-of-way unless additional lanes are constructed. In many applications, signals can be programmed to allow continuous progression of traffic flow. They can be programmed to facilitate the majority of traffic flow and usually have minimal affect to access property adjacent to the intersection.

“Signals require regular maintenance and are more expensive to maintain. Signals are susceptible to power surges and outages and create a challenge for motorists when they are not working properly.

“In the end, it comes down to what works best for the particular intersection that is improved. Traffic signals are well understood and good choices for certain locations. Roundabouts are gaining in acceptance, and are being used at many intersections traditionally served by traffic signals. In each improvement project we consider the alternatives and choose the one that our studies conclude are likely to be the most effective.”


13th and Warren to get a new traffic signal

The in basket: Tom Baker (no relation) of the city of Bremerton electronics department was kind enough to let me know in an Oct. 19 e-mail that I was behind the curve in understanding changes the city will be making to Warren Avenue next year.

He was a few days ahead of Broadway Avenue resident Rena Caton in telling me there soon will be a new traffic signal on Warren at 13th Street, the southern end of Olympic College’s new parking lots.

I had been reporting that the city would extend the right turn lane on southbound Warren for turns onto 11th Street, but was unaware the college wanted to add a new signal.

I was glad for the opportunity to revisit the issue, as it had occurred to me that vehicles waiting in the southbound LEFT turn lane to go east on 11th were spilling into the inside through lanes, making their own contribution to the worsening backups on Warren.

The out basket: Gunnar Fridriksson of the city street engineers tells me, yes, he hopes to fold the college’s plans for a traffic signal at 13th and Warren into the city’s plans, so that both can be done at the same time.

The southbound left turn lane on Warren will be lengthened, he said, though not as much as the right turn lane.

“All we need (now) are two buses in the left hand turn lane and it blocks the inside southbound lane,” he said.

So the 11th and Warren intersection will get longer lanes for turns in both directions, and all new traffic signal equipment to replace the lights now hanging from wires there.

Left turns from Warren at 13th’s new signal will be prohibited, he said, allowing shorter stops and avoiding further delay of Warren Avenue through traffic.

Left turns will be allowed from 13th onto Warren, he said, good news for Rena and her neighbors, who otherwise would continue having trouble getting headed toward the Warren Avenue Bridge.

The yellow center line curbing that prohibits all left turns at 13th and Warren today will be removed when the signal goes in, he said.

Gunnar said the college will ask the city to turn the section of Broadway between 13th and 16th streets over to the college in what’s called a “vacation.”

If approved that stretch would remain a street, but under college control, he said. The college probably would make it off-limits to most vehicle traffic, to minimize danger to students crossing back and forth from the its new parking lots.

The one or two properties on that portion of Broadway not owed by the college would get easements to allow them a way in and out, Gunnar said.

Pedestrians will be allowed to cross Warren at 13th only on the southern part of the intersection. Configuration of a crosswalk on the northern side would endanger those on foot, he said.

The college will pay 100 percent of the 13th street signals, he said. The state will pay 86.5 percent of the 11th and Warren upgrades, with the city paying the rest.