If it seems to you that the timing of some of the downtown St. Petersburg traffic signals is off lately, you're right.
Several readers have contacted us in recent weeks to proclaim that every traffic signal in town has gone nuts. And although the Doc is a transportation geek who goes all weak at the knees whenever someone brings up subjects like signal synchronization (not to mention speed tables, chicanes, roundabouts and potholes) the issue of the suddenly de-synched signals has really gotten my attention because it's also, according to readers, about the greenness of the city. Nearly every message we've received about the signals mentioned the "green" implications of wasted fuel.
Reader Bryan Otto wrote:
"Dear Dr. Delay. I am a longtime resident of St. Petersburg and I take pride in our wonderful synchronized traffic light system. I have grown so accustomed to it I take it for granted — until something goes wrong. Lately, I have noticed the signals along First Avenue N and S, Dr. MLK Jr. Street, Fourth Street and throughout downtown have gone completely crazy on the weekends.
They seem to correct them during the week, but every weekend, sure enough, I have been catching virtually every light red in these corridors that are normally an easygoing green light fantasy world.
Someone must be changing the signal timing for the weekends. My big question is why? And regardless of what answer they give, what can we do to convince them to change it back? This is a horrible waste of time and gas. The synchronized lights are one of the things that make downtown so desirable to live and play in."
And reader Gary Jordon wrote:
"Good Doctor, the 58th and 66th streets lights on First Avenue S have been out of sync for about a month. It would be a great 'green environment' thing to do to keep the 'green' lights timed as they have been for most of the last five years."
Jordan also noted last week that whatever is wrong with the signals seems to be spreading. He noticed that the desynchronization bug has crept east to include the signals at the intersections of First Avenues N and S and 34th and 20th Streets.
We got in touch with Bill Foster, the city's traffic signal coordinator, who was well aware of the hiccups in the timing. Foster said problems with the new signal management computer system are to blame and that he has been dogging the contractor, Computran, "almost daily" to remedy the situation. Computran has assured Foster that it is working to resolve the problem as soon as possible.
Reader Chip Caruana wrote to ask about the odd pavement on the western end of 102nd Avenue at the intersection of Antilles Drive (137th Street N) in Seminole, which he calls a "weird little turn-around."
Caruana wonders what its original purpose might have been and suggested one possible scenario: "Was it illegal to make a north turn onto Antilles years ago and now the signs are gone or something?" he asked.
The turn-around can best be described as a nearly round extra median on 102nd Avenue that's bisected by a few feet of sidewalk. It could easily be mistaken for a roundabout except that one cannot drive a full circle around it unless maybe they're driving a clown car. We checked in with Pinellas County Public Works and learned that the turn-around was designed a long time ago. So long ago, in fact, that no one seems to be 100 percent certain why it was installed.
"It is believed that it was provided to facilitate eastbound U-turns. Going through the intersection onto the east leg and then executing the U-turn could be a lesser challenge for some motorists," spokeswoman Meg Korakis told us. Korakis noted that a redesign of the Antilles Drive intersection is included in proposed designs for improvements to 102nd Avenue.
Please e-mail Dr. Delay at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your traffic concerns, comments and questions.