Tag Archives: traffic signals

‘Gapping out’ an annoyance at stop lights

The in basket: Tom Baker writes, “Sometimes you will hear a left turn had a short signal. If the drivers are distracted and not paying attention and the signal changes to green, if there is a break (gap) between the cars, the signal may think there are no more cars in the left turn, and change to red.

The gap can vary significantly between signals and time of day. I know that 11th and Naval will change quickly if there is a gap between the cars turning left. Westbound Loxie Eagans and National does not change even with large gaps, it may have a fixed time for the left turn.

“Usually the driver with the gap ahead gets through but not the ones behind,” he said.

The out basket: This is a frustrating fact of driving life, when someone ahead of you seems unaware of or indifferent to the concept of traffic signals “gapping out.”

Signals usually have a preset minimum and maximum length of green. If no vehicle crosses its detectors for a designated length of time, usually three or four seconds, after the minimum time has elapsed, it will conclude no cars are waiting and change to yellow before the maximum.

I see it most often at signals with a right turn lane. When one or more cars move right early, it can leave no one crossing the sensors in the through lane for that designated gap time.

Or, as Tom says, a driver may not see the light has changed, or just be a dawdler, and leave four seconds or so between him and the car ahead. That driver usually gets through on the yellow, but not those behind him.

There’s not much to be done abut the right turn lane situation, other than delaying one’s move to the right, which can create a lane change collision possibility. But I hope this column alerts a few uninformed drivers to what it means to those behind them when they don’t keep a short distance between them and the car ahead at green lights.

It occurred to me as I wrote this that I didn’t know if the new optical sensors mounted on the signal cross-arms that are replacing the in-pavement wires (called “loops”) that were the industry standard for decades, have gap times.

Yes, they do, says Jeff Shea, Kitsap County’s traffic engineer. “The optical detectors work the exact same way as loops, only they use optical technology.  The maximum and minimum greens and gaps are set up the same way they are for loops.  So if no traffic is on an approach after a certain length of time, the light can gap out and change phases.”

Power outage made for mad scramble at 6 intersections

The in basket: Tom Baker of the city of Bremerton electronics shop said driver behavior during an Aug. 26 power outage that darkened the traffic signals at seven West Bremerton intersections needs some comment and review of what the law requires during such outages.
“Most of the traffic did not stop at the dark signals – a lot of honking horns and near misses,” Tom said, asking that I remind my readers of what to do when they come to a signalized intersection where the signals are dark. “The city person who responded said it was ridiculous – no one was stopping in any direction.”

The six intersections are on Sixth Street at Wycoff, Callow, Montgomery and Naval, on Burwell at Callow and Montgomery, and at 11th and Kitsap Way.

“It’s unusual to have that many signals out at the same time,” he said. “We have portable generators and powered up some of the signals, and we are purchasing additional portable generators.”
The out basket: The law says to treat a signalized intersection as an all-way stop when the signals are dark. That means come to a stop where you would at a blinking red light, then proceed under the rules of an all-way stop, yielding to the car on your right, and to straight-through traffic if you’re turning left.
As a practical matter, though, I’ve found that taking turns based on who already has fully stopped vs. those who still must stop is a helpful guide in deciding whether to go or not.
State trooper Russ Winger adds, “It works very well if drivers pay attention to which vehicles arrive when. Courteousness and taking turns goes a long way as do making eye contact and/or motioning other drivers that they should continue first.
“The predominate  reason for honking horns and near misses is simply impatient/inattentive/unknowledgeable drivers,” Russ said.

What will detect cars at new PO traffic signals?


The in basket: The traffic signal in downtown Port Orchard seems still be operating on a timer while the state waits for the new signal poles, cross-arms and signals to be installed. 

I wondered if traffic detection there would be by in-pavement wires when the new signals go in, or would the state emulate Kitsap County and use the video cameras it’s using at more and more intersections lately. The cameras are mounted atop thin poles on the signal cross-arms and detect motion, not metal mass, as the in-pavement wires do.

The county says the overhead detectors are less costly to repair, and can remain in service when some project requires tearing up the pavement at a signalized intersection.

The out basket: Don Anders of the Olympic Region signal shop said Bay Street, also called Highway 166, which was just repaved, will have in-pavement wires restored, but detection of traffic on Sidney Avenue will be by video camera.

“The pavement loops are still the most cost effective detection system

available, and if installed under the top course of asphalt, they will

last for many years,” he said. “Video detection has improved over the past several

years but can be difficult to set up and aim. These units still have

some issues with missing calls (not reacting to waiting cars) in various conditions, and the cost is much higher.

“The reason we are using video on the side roads on the (Highway) 166 project is

that the side roads are city streets and the pavement is bad. The

pavement outside our right of way will not be repaired as part of our contract,

but will be later by the city. 

“We currently use video detection at several locations throughout the

region where we have poor asphalt conditions or the traffic volumes are

so high it is very difficult to maintain the loops,” Don said. “We will continue to

use loops as the primary method of detection because of the overall

cost, but I would guess that as the technology improves this may change

in the future.” 

Kitsap County public works, which is making liberal use of the overhead detectors, doesn’t agree about the cost difference, incidentally. Jeff Shea of that department, using the term “loop” to mean in-pavement wiring, says, “To install the loops in the road is about $1,200 per loop. You need four loops per leg times four legs per intersection, which totals about $19,200 per intersection in the ground. That’s comparable to the cost of video detection which runs around $4,000 per camera plus installation times four legs.”

All that hardware on downtown Bremerton signal poles

The in basket: Lonnie Scott  was looking at all the hardware on the traffic signal cross arms on Sixth Street in Bremerton, at its intersections with Pacific and Washington avenues.  “What are they?” he asked

In checking out those two intersections and a few others downtown, I noticed five different types of attachment on the signal arms.

One looked like the head of a duck with two bills, another was identical except for having only one bill, one looked like a small flood light, there were tall, thin poles with cameras pointing down at traffic and lastly there were horizontal antennas of some sort on one cross arm each at Pacific and at Washington.

I figured that I knew what all but the antennas were for, but I asked Greg Cryder of the city signal shop to fill in any gaps in my guesses.

The out basket: Greg confirmed my belief that the tall poles with cameras are the traffic detectors with which many jurisdictions are replacing their in-pavement wire detectors, both kinds of the ducks heads are receivers with which transit buses and emergency vehicles can control the lights to make or keep them green, and the small flood lights flash to indicate to drivers that such a vehicle is seeking control of the light and go solid when the connection is made.

As for the antennas, one provides wi-fi signals for people with laptops downtown, and others link the traffic signals between Sixth and Washington, Sixth and Warren and Burwell and Washington – and the master controller in the Norm Dicks government building – to coordinate the lights. They are part of the downtown tunnel project, he said.

Explaining the work in downtown Port Orchard


The in basket: I’ve been watching the work in downtown Port Orchard over the past month, sure that it would begin to make sense in time. I’d read that the pre-paving work was leading to new signals at Bay and Sidney, wheelchair-friendly curb cuts where there have been none, and city of Port Orchard utility work to avoid digging in the new pavement once it was laid. 

But no bases for the new light poles were evident and the torn up portions of sidewalk sat unrepaired for weeks. The signal at Bay and Sidney behaved strangely. After a start on the repaving at the Gorst end, nothing more happened for several days. 

And I came to wonder if the Sidewalk Closed signs at the torn-up ramp sites bore the same force of law as Road Closed signs – could a person be cited for ignoring them and walking through the closed area?

The out basket: Last things first, city Police Chief Al Townsend says a person wouldn’t be cited for ignoring the Sidewalk Closed signs, which are posted to reduce city liability. If a person walked through wet concrete or otherwise damaged something by crossing through the closed area, they might be arrested for something else, like vandalism, he said. 

Erik Cristopherson of Ace Paving, general contractor on the job, said the sidewalk restoration has been delayed by inability of his concrete subcontractor to get state approval of needed paperwork, so Ace will do that phase of the work. He hopes it will be completed the week of Sept. 8, he said. He originally expected the new ramps to have been done long before this, he said.

Field inspector Tom Barton of the state project office said the bases for the new signal poles that will replace the current wire-hung signals will be poured soon. They’re a little more complicated than in other locations due to the potential for sub-soil water intrusion along Bay Street, he said. 

The signals are on timers because the in-pavement traffic detectors have been severed by the utility work done by the city. They will remain so until the repaving downtown is complete. The timers don’t always match traffic demands. 

The paving through the downtown core will be preceded by two nights of grinding out the old pavement. West of town, where there are no storm drains, the new pavement is simply being laid over the old.

The first paving near Gorst was two test sections to be evaluated by the state. Ace was cleared for production paving in the last week. The weather in late August interfered as well. 

Tom said he hopes it will all be wrapped up, except for installation of the new signal poles at Bay and Sidney, by the end of September. The repaving will end at Blackjack Creek.