Transportation

Improved Traffic Light Timing? Really?

By Jason Leach
Published April 29, 2009

An article in today's Spectator outlines Hamilton's $400 million "wishlist" due this Friday for eligibility in the government stimulus funding package.

The last item on this list truly boggles the mind:

Traffic signal upgrades: $10 million

Improving the timing of Hamilton's traffic lights could save residents $3.5 million a year in fuel. It would also cut car emissions while making signals more sensitive to pedestrians. The city wants to install high-tech sensors to upgrade the system.

Do we really need to be improving the timing of Hamilton's traffic lights? Isn't it bad enough that you can drive with your eyes closed and not a miss a beat on Main Street from Dundurn to the Delta?

What exactly does "make the signals more sensitive to pedestrians" mean?

it's either one or the other, isn't it? If a signal is set up to give pedestrian control and bring up the walk signal, this will interrupt the timed flow for the vehicles. I wonder how they plan on doing both, or is the pedestrian comment in there just to sound good ... like most of Vision 2020?

Hamilton's addiction with freeway-style traffic all through the city needs to stop. We need a balanced transportation system, not one based purely on single-occupancy automobiles.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted April 29, 2009 at 15:03:42

Negatory, you can have both. Proper traffic signal timing can also involve things like left turn signals that aren't demand driven. It's not necessarily bad to have better signal timing.

Keep in mind that improving walkability and alternative modes of transportation shouldn't be done without giving those peds etc a place to go. Get rid of one way systems, add bike lanes, SLOW DOWN traffic and at the same time, make sure that destinations are being created along those routes...i.e. cafes, restaurants, galleries, festivals etc.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 29, 2009 at 16:14:26

I agree Frank. But how do we create those destinations along pseudo-freeways??

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By LL (registered) - website | Posted April 29, 2009 at 16:20:05

"..more sensitive to pedestrians."

That's newspeak for lights that won't give peds the white hand unless they touch the sensor. So if you arrive a second or two before the light changes, you have to wait for the whole cycle. What is the point of this?

All crosswalks should give pedestrians a white hand on every green light.

They should save the $10 mil. Hamilton has already been traffic engineered to death.

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By FenceSitter (anonymous) | Posted April 29, 2009 at 20:52:57

"more sensitive to pedestrians"

Maybe they new lights say pleasant comments to the pedestrians.

But seriously, there are a few lights around, say Gage South at Maplewood, which is permanently on green, as soon as you press the button it turns orange/red then you can walk across straight away.

How this works on Main/King is another matter.

A great addition would be a button that cyclists can trigger(as in Vancouver) when trying to cross busy intersections. This is presuming the cycle plan comes together.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted April 30, 2009 at 09:40:14

Jason, you have to do both at the same time. If you get rid of the freeways and don't have destinations for people to go to, the freeway addicts will simply say "See, it doesn't work. No one's going there anyway" and just convert it back to a freeway. If you build destinations and don't change the highway at the same time, no one will visit the destinations because it's impossible or life risking to do so and the freeway addicts will once again say "See, it doesn't work. No one's going there anyway."

To me that's the whole idea of planning...you plan and then implement. It's quite possible to slow down traffic through the core and improve pedestrian and cyclist movement and at the same time maintain or lower the number of cars travelling through the core. That's how I'd like to interpret the above. Of course, in the outlying areas the lights are poorly timed and aren't vehicle or pedestrian sensitive which is what my comment about advanced left turns is for. There are a number of lights in Stoney Creek that have long advanced greens when no one's even in the lane....

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:28:17

I agree with you completely Frank. I think you're misreading the Spec piece.

It talks about improving timing of lights to save $3.5 million per year in fuel costs. That means speeding everything up, not slowing it down.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted April 30, 2009 at 12:59:48

Ah ha! Not necessarily. Recall Ryan's repeated argument that as you slow traffic down you find fewer trips. Also, if you can lessen the number of people waiting for a left turn through two signals and things of that sort, you're lowering emissions and fuel consumption.

So no...it can also mean slowing the fast traffic down (which actually uses less fuel anyway) and lowering the amount of stopped traffic

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By Frank (registered) | Posted April 30, 2009 at 13:01:24

Add to that the people who no longer find it necessary to drive downtown because they're willing to take advantage of an improved transit system and you're laughin!

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 30, 2009 at 13:39:14

Jason, you have to do both at the same time. If you get rid of the freeways and don't have destinations for people to go to, the freeway addicts will simply say "See, it doesn't work. No one's going there anyway" and just convert it back to a freeway. If you build destinations and don't change the highway at the same time, no one will visit the destinations because it's impossible or life risking to do so and the freeway addicts will once again say "See, it doesn't work. No one's going there anyway."

I hate to say it, but I don't think the city can or should "build destinations". All the city can really do is create the conditions for private investment by scaling our streets for the creators of commercial and social interactions, ie. humans, rather than speeding vehicles. From a public policy point of view, getting rid of the freeways has to come first. (The reason that I hate to say it is because I realize I'm straying into A Smith territory here. Apologies if I've just sent another discussion off the rails.)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2009 at 14:23:48

highwater wrote:

The reason that I hate to say it is because I realize I'm straying into A Smith territory here.

There's nothing wrong with recognizing that private enterprise comes from private investment, that market forces can be an amazingly efficient engine for allocating resources and generating wealth, and that people respond positively to incentives. Most of this is so obvious it's almost tautological.

The problem, of course, is shrinking into the kind of blinkered dogmatism that presumes - from narrow, a priori reasoning and against all evidence - that markets are magically self-regulating, spontaneously generate the conditions under which market exchanges prosper and deliver every good and service that humans want.

Economists spend entire careers observing, defining and cataloguing the many ways that markets can fail; and it requires a very special kind of simplistic absolutism to dismiss the organizational complexity in human exchanges and the often non-commonsense ways that market forces manifest in the real world.

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By FactCheck (anonymous) | Posted April 30, 2009 at 14:39:31

That's the problem with zealots. Their fanaticism prevents any meaningful debate with their opponents and causes any moderates on their side to think twice before speaking out and risk getting associated with the fanatic.

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By Ward (anonymous) | Posted April 30, 2009 at 14:50:31

NOOOOOO, highwater! Invoking the name of He-Whose-Usename-Cannot-Be-Named only draws him hence, like saying "Candlejack". Oh cra-

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 01, 2009 at 08:28:56

I'm sorry folks, but I've lived in this city long enough to know that this statement does not mean that they are going to slow down traffic in order to see less cars on the road, therefore saving residents $3.5 million in fuel costs.

I hope I'm wrong, but who wants to be the first to lay a friendly wager?? This is Hamilton. That statement means one thing and one thing only.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 01, 2009 at 09:23:55

I never said that what I've been saying is what WILL happen. I do, however know it's a possibility. Remember that the money was supposed to go to things that would not have been possible without it. Also, we know that the traffic planners here love to make things zippy for drivers and they are constantly doing so...perhaps, maybe, possibly they'll do something properly for once.

The guys in traffic need to give their heads a shake. They're heading down the same road as the Big Three...then they'll get to where they're going and wonder how they got so far off track.

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By One-eyed Jack (anonymous) | Posted May 01, 2009 at 12:28:36

"Isn't it bad enough that you can drive with your eyes closed and not a miss a beat on Main Street from Dundurn to the Delta?"

Could this be turned into an annual fund-raising competition, with corporate sponsors, friends and families pledging donations for every 1,000 feet transited?

I mean, if we can close city expressways to raise funds for cancers caused by car exhaust fumes, why not close Main St. once a year for the blind?

ARE WE NOT A CITY THAT TRULY CARES?

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