Citizens, engineers talk traffic at open houses

September 23, 2008

By Jon Savelle

Get involved

Intelligent Transportation System open house

46 p.m. Oct. 2, Council Chambers City Hall South, 4135 E. Sunset Way.

A series of open houses about the city’s Intelligent Transportation System has succeeded in attracting citizens who want to know more about it or suggest improvements, including possible traffic snapshots from Web cameras.

Three such events have been held so far. Each has attracted a small number of visitors who asked questions, watched traffic camera monitors and filled out questionnaires.

The public’s interest has been gratifying and visitors’ comments on the recently completed system have been useful, said ITS engineer Fay Schafi.

“I guess if people were opposed to this, there would be more turnout,” Schafi observed at the Sept. 18 event, where she and Transportation Manager Gary Costa chatted with interested citizens.

Now comes the task of incorporating their suggestions into the ITS network, built after voters in 2004 approved a $3.63 million bond to pay for it. Of that amount, $1.89 million was unspent because state and federal grants were obtained to replace it.

The question is, how to use that $1.89 million to improve the ITS.

Comprised of traffic sensors and cameras linked to a central control room — where Schafi herself is the hidden wizard — the ITS allows traffic signals to be controlled and adjusted as conditions change. It already has improved traffic flow, according to city engineers.

That success has spurred an effort to find more efficiencies. Schafi said the following ideas are under consideration:

4Upgrade emergency vehicle pre-emption devices, a type of strobe light that triggers traffic signals to give them priority. This would allow city staff to code and block these devices from illegal use by the public or nonemergency vehicles. By reducing the number of illegal traffic signal pre-emptions, traffic flow would be significantly improved along major roadways during peak periods.

4Provide snapshots from traffic cameras and a traffic flow map on the city’s Web site. This would provide real-time traffic information to the traveling public.

4Install additional traffic cameras to monitor traffic conditions and provide more information to the public.

4Install additional variable message signs to disseminate up-to-the-minute traffic information (road closures, construction activity, incidents, special events, etc.) to travelers on city streets.

4Create an automated traffic-data collection and archiving system for development of signal timing plans, a real-time traffic flow map, an updated traffic-count database and for sharing data with other jurisdictions.

4Install roadway surface sensors at key locations to collect current information on temperature, moisture and ice formation. This would enable maintenance staff to assess roadway surface conditions and take necessary actions to improve safety.

Schafi said survey results have not yet been tabulated. But once the final open house has been held, the information will be presented to the City Council for policy direction.

One resident who offered a suggestion at the Sept. 18 meeting was Frank Curtis, a retired aerospace engineer on hand to look over the ITS displays.

“I’m interested in traffic flow in general,” he said. “But other than the ITS, I don’t see any big plans for road projects.”

Curtis said his suggestion was to concentrate on the Interstate 90 interchange at state Route 900, which he said causes a cascade of congestion throughout the city. But he was somewhat dismayed to learn that the state Department of Transportation has jurisdiction there.

Another of Curtis’ ideas was to create a street link, on the north side of I-90, from the Costco area east to the planned undercrossing at the post office. This idea, Schafi said, had already been discussed with Costco and may prove workable.

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