Green means flow: Tulsa traffic engineers synchronize more lights
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
12/26/12 at 8:02 AM
It's like a carefully choreographed ballet - as vehicles flow down the street, one traffic light turns green, then another and then another.
As part of an intensive effort in 2012, the city has finished synchronizing the traffic signals at major intersections throughout the 71st Street, Memorial Drive and Yale Avenue arterial corridors and also around the Utica Square and Tulsa Hills shopping areas.
Data have been gathered - from what days and times of the week traffic loads are the heaviest to how many cars turn in each direction - to create specific timing plans for each intersection.
This means that as long as motorists are going the speed limit, they should hit few red lights, keeping the traffic dance going.
"A lot can be done to ease the traffic congestion on our street system simply by timing more of the lights," said Kurt Kraft, the city's traffic operations planning manager.
In the fall of 2010, the City Council approved a resolution in support of traffic-signal synchronization and the hiring of two more engineers to work toward the effort with existing staff.
The benefits of doing so are many, officials have said, citing the reduction in travel time, fuel consumption and air pollution.
But the results have been slow, with all of the engineers having other responsibilities, as well.
It took many months to hire the new employees, and one was subsequently recruited away.
Plus, the data-collection process has been time consuming, both on the streets and in front of computers, plugging in thousands of entries.
"The models are great, but they are a starting point," Kraft said. "We spend a lot of time field-tuning everything and making adjustments."
The new areas that have been completed this year join downtown Tulsa's lights in being synchronized down to an art.
Previously, the only synchronized area outside of downtown was 71st Street between Memorial Drive and Garnett Road, and that had only one timing plan running all the time, regardless of the day and time.
"Now we have multiple plans for all of these areas for the morning, afternoon and nights and weekdays and weekends," Kraft said.
"We've made a lot of progress so far, but there are still a lot more areas we want to address. Eventually, we want to do the whole city."
Next on the priority list, he said, is the Sheridan Road arterial corridor and the stretch of 41st Street east and west of the Tulsa Promenade mall at 41st Street and Yale Avenue.
Even as more of Tulsa's 565 traffic signals are targeted, the existing timing plans will have to be updated regularly to account for any changes in development and traffic patterns.
The equipment costs are relatively cheap. It costs about $5,000 to $6,000 to bring each intersection into the system through wireless connections.
Federal congestion mitigation and air-quality money is available to put toward capital expenses. And some of the $1.7 million set aside for the project in the 2006 Third-Penny sales tax package remains.
It's the manpower needed to complete more synchronization that always has been the hurdle, Kraft said.
"All cities struggle with the same problem because, typically, your staff size is too small," he said. "But the time spent is worth it, because it makes a real difference."
Kraft was previously the traffic operations planning manager in a different city.
His boss was complaining about hitting a lot of red traffic lights on his commute to work every day, Kraft said, so, unbeknownst to the boss, Kraft set up a timing plan on the route.
"I didn't hear anything again," he said. "That's the way it is, though. When you're sitting in traffic, it's irritating, but when it moves along, you think about other things."
Original Print Headline: Green means flow
Brian Barber 918-581-8322
Traffic moves through the intersection at 71st Street and Sheridan Road. The traffic lights on 71st have been synchronized, and those on Sheridan are among those next on the list for synchronization. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Westbound traffic waits at a red light on 71st Street at Sheridan Road, as eastbound traffic moves through the intersection. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World