Austin’s long and abandoned road to implementing synchronized or “smart” traffic lights.
COST Commentary: The recent KXAN article below addresses one of the most cost-effective ways to improve mobility, in cities similar to Austin, for all citizens. For the past 25 years, the City of Austin has advertised its objective to improve its signal lights’ timing/synchronization, with exiting technology, to upgrade the mobility of those using Austin’s roads. This is always one of the most cost effective ways to reduce citizens’ travel time and improve safety. However, many traffic lights and road intersections remain deficient in their timing and existing “smart” traffic light systems have not been implemented.
If one believed in conspiracy theories, you might conclude this ignoring of a foundation concept to improved mobility is purposeful and intended to discourage people from using private vehicles on the roads. This is consistent will numerous other transitions including conversion of one-way streets to two way and reducing car lanes in favor of wider sidewalks and protected bicycle lanes. All of these actions are increasing congestion and safety hazards resulting in discouraging citizens from driving in central Austin. And, guess what: The City’s actions are not resulting in more people entering the City center by riding public transit and bicycles.
Whatever the motivation in not effectively addressing Austin’s signal deficiencies, it is all part of Austin’s ineffective management of transportation programs and allocation of transportation funds to improve the overall mobility of citizens. Citizens continue to be constrained by City leadership and a transportation department which puts their perceived priorities ahead of citizens’ priorities. Elected officials and city employees do not seem to recognize they work for citizen taxpayers who pay their salaries and fund the mobility projects.
City reexamines worst traffic signals in Austin
By Kate Weidaw, KXAN, Published: July 6, 2016
AUSTIN – A recent study by the city of Austin’s Transportation Department reveals nearly 60-percent of drivers say they are unhappy with the timing of traffic signals.
As a result, the city has hired an engineer whose sole job is to reconfigure the timing of traffic lights so drivers can keep moving. But it can be a tricky job.
“Folks always say can’t you just change the signal timing,” said Jim Dale, Austin Transportation Department Assistant Director. “One of the things I like to say with that is: if you’re going to give someone more green time that means someone else is getting more red time. So there is that balance. Yes, I can give you more green time, but that may be at the expense of a side street.”
Each month the Transportation Department reports they receive more than one thousand requests for maintenance on lights. One problem is the significant boost in the number of cars on the road.
“A lot of folks when they’re driving during the peak periods, there are just too many cars on the road,” said Dale. “The signals cannot process that amount of traffic when everyone is trying to get to downtown or get their kids to school or to their jobs on time.”
As a result of the findings from this recent study city engineers have a goal of evaluating at least one-third of the signals each year. The city currently maintains about 950 traffic signals. Those wishing to request an engineer to look at the timing of a signal can call 311.
The intersection at Rustic Rock Drive and Spicewood Springs Road is partially blamed for the death of a 14-year-old boy was hit and killed in northwest Austin earlier this month. Walk Austin, a coalition of community advocates, says part of the issue was the flashing yellow lights at the intersection where the teen was killed.
“Drivers do not always yield the right of way, and it is imperative that we provide safe crossing opportunities for our most vulnerable populations during the most dangerous hours of the day on our most dangerous roadways,” stated Walk Austin in a letter sent to the city.