Smart signals could impact Wichita drive times

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Are you tired of sitting at red traffic lights? Are you even more tired of sitting at consecutive red traffic lights, even when no other cars are around?

The City of Wichita has a new plan set in place to reduce the amount of time drivers spend at red lights on three key routes in the city. The three areas impacted are the downtown corridor, Rock Road, and Central.

The Problem

There are about 500 traffic signals in Wichita. Some of the signals use vehicle radar detection to change the lights from red to green and green to red. The change is made more frequently or less frequently depending on the traffic counts at that particular intersection.

However, a majority of the traffic signals in the city are set on preset timers. The timers automatically turn the lights from red to green and green to red. These types of signals do not rely on traffic counts, therefore drivers can sit at red lights for long periods of times whether there are other cars around or not.

Driver’s React

Wichita drivers tell KSN when they run into red lights in town they are often greeted by another red light at the very next intersection and so on.

“It’s kind of aggravating sometimes if you are in a hurry,” said driver Doug Naaz.

“If you see the light turning yellow, you know that you just lost five minutes.” said driver Susan Adams. “It’s tempting to lose your temper.”

“If you miss one of them you’ve had it. You’re going to stop at every one,” said driver Time Deever.

KSN Timed Routes – How long do you sit at a red light?

KSN drove and timed out three problemed routes to find out how long people spend at red lights.

1. Murdock from Waco to I-35

  • 1.3 mile stretch
  • 4 minutes and 10 seconds to complete route
  • 1 minute and 10 seconds or 30 percent of the time spent stopped at red light

2. Rock Road from E Lincoln Street to 37 Street E

  • 5.6 mile stretch
  • 13 minutes and 25 seconds to complete route
  • 3 minutes and 25 seconds or 27 percent of the time spent stopped at red light

3. Central from Hillside to 137 Street E

  • 5.1 mile stretch
  • 13 minutes and 10 seconds to complete route
  • 1 minute and 50 seconds or 14 percent of the time spent stopped at red light

The Solution

“We are certainly not here to tell anybody you need to live with it. We are going to move on. We want to do better. We know we can do better,” said Janzen.

City traffic engineers plan to install smart traffic signals in the three problemed areas mentioned above. The smart signals will be able to communicate with one another and will ultimately allow drivers to hit more green lights in a row.

“Technology is now to where that signal in that particular area can teach itself what to expect, if you will, and help to program itself during certain times of the day,” said City of Wichita Engineer Gary Janzen. “To go beyond what we have tried in the past, we are taking one step farther now is to have the signals talk to each other.”

The signals will also be able to monitor vehicle numbers and make real time changes to avoid congestion when possible.

“An achievable goal on a traffic signal with timing 20 seconds is maybe to cut maybe a couple seconds off, possibly,” Janzen said. “We can save people. Time is money, right?”

The city council has approved about $500,000 for the capital improvement fund. The fund will be used to help pay for the smart lights and the installation of them.

Project Timeline

1. Downtown Corridor: Waco to Murdock to I-35 to Kellogg: completed by the summer of 2017.

2. Rock Road from Lincoln Street to 37th Street: completed by end of 2016.

3. Central from Hillside to 127th Street E: completed by end of 2016.